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Philip Nendrick
Arcade: Action
ZX Spectrum 16K

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Chris Bourne

Hands up who likes destruction and mayhem?

One...two...three... eleven thousand...twelve and a half million... oh, lots and lots of you anyway. Good. You'll like X-Out.

It's pronounced Crossout, by the way, and I'm sure there's a plot in there somewhere, probably involving the Deathlord Dargon and his plan to infect the oceans of the world with a hideous new kind of brain-sucking jellyfish or something like that, but you can forget it all anyway, because what we have here is a horizontally-scrolling blaster in the R-Type mould, but set in the watery deeps where no-one can hear you gurgle, rather than in space.

Up until now most R-Type imitations have been pale reflections of the original, but, blasphemy sacrilege heresy, X-Out may be even BETTER! Gaspo de gasp! I base this opinion mainly on the sheer amount of weaponry shooting around the screen. In the opening section, after a spot of sampled music and a quick flash of your grim-jawed sub pilot, you get the chance to tool up at the underwater weapons shop. Depending on how many credits you start off with, you can choose to buy either a small number of well-endowed insect-like ships, or a larger number of punier ones; weapons available include single, double and triple cannon, different types of lasers, and drones which can be dropped from your ship to deal death and destruction until you pick them up (but you'll lose them if they crash into a solid object). There aren't any weapons to pick up in each level; but the more aliens you blast, the more credits you get to spend in the shop at the end. You can end up with a fearsome array of death-dealing hardware which fills the screen with destruction at the touch of a button, and, let's face it, that's what life is all about.

Your targets include a vast array of buildings and aliens; mid-level aliens, end-of-level aliens, big aliens, little aliens, slow aliens and fast aliens. But like all aliens, they're slimy scum and they deserve to die. In addition to all this blasting there's also a lot of manoeuvring around solid objects such as stalactites and reefs to do, because a collision costs you a life. This adds an element to the game which other blast-'em-ups just don't have.

The great thing about X-Out is that although it's very very monochrome, the background scrolls upwards and downwards as well as right-to-left, so you get a big playing area, unlike some R-Type derivatives where it's a pain to play because there isn't enough space to manoeuvre. And the aliens are great; well-designed, clear, fast-moving, and they die explosively. My favourites include the spitting Sea-snake with the diver mounted on its back, the huge end-of-level nasty looking like a cross between an in side-out chicken and a bicycle pump, and the gigantic seabed fortifications which spew out endless heat-sensing missiles and bombs.

As you'd expect (well, demand actually), in addition to your everyday lasers and missiles you get a BIG weapon which works on the energy-pump principle; hold the fire-button down and release when the charge builds up enough. You also get the obligatory energy level meters, credit indicator and so forth on the bottom of the screen. When The Big Guy hands out the lifetime awards for originality, the programmers of X-Out won't be towards the front of the queue. But they'll be well up there in the Death-spittin'-lasershootin'-alienzappin'-brain-meltin'-megablast stakes, and well deserved too.

Label: Rainbow Arts
Author: ARC
Price: £8.99
Memory: 48K/128K
Joystick: various
Reviewer: ?

Get stuck into the best horizontally-scrolling underwater blast-'em-up of all time.