ZX Computing

Alien Highway
By Vortex
Spectrum 48K

Published in ZX Computing #27

Vortex are back on the road again with a robotic jaywalk into alien territory

Alien Highway

Alien Highway is Vortex's follow-up to their earlier hit, Highway Encounter and continues the saga of Earth versus the Aliens with you as the hero of the hour in control of the Vorton robot.

In Highway Encounter, the Aliens were attacking Earth, but this time around, their attack has been thwarted and the Vorton is retaliating by preparing to strike deep into the Alien's own empire where a final attack on their Industrial Complex should put paid to their hash once and for all.

As is the way with sequels this one looks remarkably similar to the original. The highway along which you have to travel with the Vorton looks just like the one in the earlier game, and the types of obstacle and aliens that you'll have to deal with are also much the same. For those who are unfamiliar with Highway Encounter, the Vorton is a small Dalek-like robot which glides along the highway pushing the Terratron along the front of it. The Terratron is a little pyramid shaped object which is your secret weapon and which will burst into action when you reach your final destination. The hard part is getting the Terratron all the way along the highway.

Alien Highway Encounter 2

Controlling the Vorton is relatiely simple, just accelerate/decelerate, rotate left/right and fire (though I wasn't all that keen on the choice of keyboard controls which aren't redefinable). As long as you're in line with the Terratron it will trundle along in front of you, but as soon as you start to dodge around in order to avoid the aliens and other obstacles you're almost certain to lose control of it which means that having successful navigated down a dangerous stretch of highway, the chances are that you'll just have to go back to pick up the Terratron again.

The graphics are drawn in a quite distinctive style that lends the game much of its flavour. If you can imagine a futuristic and rather less cute version of Knight Lore then that's what this looks like.

As with Knight Lore, you've got a slightly overhead, 3D perspective view of the highway, but instead of enclosed rooms you're given a short stretch of the highway which travels from the bottom left to top right of the screen. On each side of the highway is a force field which drains the Vorton's energy whenever you collide with it, as does contact with the aliens.

Alien Highway Encounter 2

Trying to control the Vorton (which has a habit of going wildly out of control if you're not careful) and keep the Terratron in tow at the same time as dodging the obstacles and zapping the aliens will keep you pinned to your keyboard or joystick for quite a while. This is the sort of game that starts off slowly enough but then gets hectic as everything starts to gang up on you.

One feature that I wasn't too keen on is that you only have the one life to play with. The Vorton has a limited amount of energy and, when this is drained, the game ends. It is possible to recharge at points along the highway, as there are energization stations at which you build up the Terratron's own energy levels, but if you get caught in a sticky corner of the highway all your energy can be drained in one or two seconds.

This means that you can get a long way into the game only to see all your effort wasted by one wrong move, so I think a couple of extra lives would have helped improve the game's addictiveness. Other than that, the only criticism of the game that I can think of is that it is so similar to its predecessor. If you've got Highway Encounter then you might be reluctant to shell out more money for a game that is so similar, but if you haven't played the earlier game then Alien Highway is a classy and challenging shoot-'em-up.