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Ariolasoft UK Ltd
Ray Tobey
1985
Arcade: Shoot-em-up
£8.95
Multiple languages (see individual downloads)
ZX Spectrum 48K
Multiple schemes (see individual downloads)

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43
Jerry Muir
Chris Bourne

WOULD I like to fly one of these for real? Fly one of what? A Skyfox fighter - that's what!

Just crank up the auto-pilot and sit back until you're in the combat zone then zoom around at 200 mph, dropping to six feet above the ground, blasting alien tanks. Then up to 36,000 feet to take pot shots at enemy aircraft. Hell, you can even run the thing into the ground with impunity! The worst you get - on the lower levels, at least - is a message on your hi-tech console, warning you to take off again before you start collecting parking fines!

But flying a Skyfox for real is unlikely because despite its surface trappings of being a combat-orientated flight simulator, Skyfox is really unreal - a strange amalgam of all the military fetishist's wet dreams and a dose of sci-fi.

The graphics suggest nothing so much as Middle Eastern conflict with the rocky desert landscape and crawling tanks, and the jet fighters are undoubtedly earthly looking, but still the instructions talk about motherships, aliens and home bases. So don't expect a Fighter Pilot; let the computers in your plane and at home base do the navigating... and settle down to a good bit of blasting action.

First though, ignore the instructions reference to a multi-part load for different missions. It's an error to be grateful for, as the game is complete without delays for further sections of code. Secondly, while loading, search for the keyboard direction instructions. They sure weren't on our copy, so for those without a Kempston or Sinclair joystick to steer the machine, left is J, right is K, pull back on the stick is M and push forward I. And now you're ready to take on those reds, be they Martians or of a more terrestrial kind.

First the menu, which comes zooming down out of the sky into your cockpit. As well as your level - there are five, from the forgiving Cadet to the ultimately testing Ace of the Base - you choose the scenario. Recommended is Tank Training, which lets you zoom around at crop-dusting height but at 200 mph.

Here you'll get your first taste of how good the graphics are in this game. Though the approach of the tanks looks rather stepped, they're well drawn, shaded monochrome sprites. There are some nice sound effects as well, though as always one wishes the hardware could give them more volume.

At this easy level your flying will concentrate almost solely on turning and keeping as low as possible without scraping the ground. You may wish to accelerate away then dive back in, but that's slightly less than convenient - plus and minus are the speed controls, meaning you have to use symbol shift too.

Once you tire of this you can move up to Tank Training Two. Now the tanks are spread across the map and you'll need auto-pilot to take you from area to area. Not that pressing A will give you problems - it's just that you have to be ready for action immediately you begin to slow down from mach two.

There are three Plane Training Scenarios. The first one has that ever-handy auto to put you on the tail of the enemy - blast them quickly or they'll soon turn the tables. You'll need to be even quicker in the second scenario as they're coming straight at you, while the third presents a pattern spread around the map.

You'll find air combat calls for somewhat different flying techniques and much more dependence on your radar's vertical scan, which toggles with an overhead view. There's also a chance to use your missiles - you're equipped with limited numbers of both heat-seeking and guided. Arm them with the respective initial key, target the enemy, then let fly. Once again the sprites are effective, with an exciting sense of high speed jet combat.

Other practice modes introduce you to high and low combat, flying through a dead zone of clouds to take out forces on the ground and in the air, but by this time you'll be hungry for some real action - and Skyfox offers everything from a small invasion to a massive onslaught, where you'll have to face up to six motherships which you'll need to destroy before they launch even more tanks 'n' planes towards your base.

It's here that the real strategy appears. Using the base computer map you can check up on the position of the enemy so that you can defend your weak spots. The auto-pilot may still be useful but you'll also need human judgement. You'll also find yourself running out of fuel as you alternate between high and low combat, or using the power hungry afterburners for quick thrust, which means landing at your base to refuel and repair shields. Again this calls for instrument navigation, if you need to know the details of a map square, there's a handy zoom magnification facility.

Every so often a 'Launch Detected' message will flash up, which means that the mothership has sent out a bomber against your base. Intercept it during its run if you're to stay in the game. And if all that hasn't been enough, there are five special strategy attacks with multiple motherships to keep you on your toes.

There you have it. Skyfox isn't as complex to control as Fighter Pilot but that means it's a lot easier to get into and there are many thrills on the way. Apart from one or two complaints about control, such as the need to use shifted keys and a slight tendency for too fast a repeat, it's an exciting shoot 'em up that gets the adrenalin pumping. And real or not, I don't care who the enemy is... just let me at 'em!

Jerry Muir

Publisher: Ariolasoft
Price: £8.95
Memory: 48K
Joystick: Kempston, Sinclair

****

4/5