Prowler is probably the best futuristic helicopter simulations/shoot-'em-up budget game you'll see, oooh, this afternoon. It's a good combination of depth and straightforward shooty fun.
The time; the future. About 4.30. Nasty aliens have invaded absolutely everywhere, and your task is to defend your planet using a heavily-armed helicopter. Your out-of-cockpit view shows the (oddly featureless) background scrolling by happily as you zip about your mission.
You have some spiffy weapons to help you out. The Stinger cannon with 999 shells to expend, the Hornet missile which can knock out up to five targets at once, the Dragon heavy duty missile for taking out motherships, the Wolfpack air-to-ground missile for destroying groups of tanks, and the Hammer short range air to ground missile for anything that might be left over. Weapons are selected with appropriate keys, and the instrument display tells you which is currently armed. Instruments also give you readouts for altitude, vertical velocity, ground speed, coordinates, heading and power.
A targeting computer allows you to select the nearest baddie to home in on, while key F switches on your tactical display. This divides the planet into a grid, each box of which is marked with the number of enemy fighters, tanks and motherships it contains. By moving the highlight to the desired box, you can bring up a heading display. On returning to the main screen, you can launch remote missiles into the sector, or head towards it and engage in close combat.
One of the best features of the game is the radar display. This can be zoomed in and out using the space bar and CAPS SHIFT key, so you can use it to locate concentrations of enemy ships at a distance, then step up the magnification to engage when you see the whites of their eyes.
There are several skill levels and six types of mission to choose from. Some of the missions are training flights which allow you to master the controls without getting killed (although you can still crash the ship). Others are horrendously difficult, with every sector crammed with enemies. An updated version of the sort of Star Trek or Codename MAT prototype. Prowler is excellent value for money. A pity, then, that the instructions are full of mistakes - command keys duplicated, references to mysterious "function keys" on the Spectrum, a Help page which refuses to appear - and it seems quite possible to spend ages chasing down targets without coming into contact with so much as a stray Hoover. Still, worth checkin' out.
Author: Icon Design
Reviewer: Chris Jenkins
Sophisticated budget hybrid of helicopter sim and shoot-'em-up.