It's funny isn't it, how the most cheesy storylione can be constructed around such a fantastic game? Take Firefly, for example. It's probably got the most enduring gameplay to be found in any game around this month, and the graphics are just great, but the storyline would be enough to make you pass out through sheer disinterest and sense of deja vu. The world is under threat from alien blobs and it's up to you to quash the empire-build intentions of the little critters.
Heard it all before? To bloody right, but hang on, you almost certainly haven't played anything with quite as many different elements.
Special FX, which is Ocean's hot new coding team, has gone to incredible lengths to include - almost entirely successfully - strategic, arcade and luck-of-the-draw elements among others.
The game is easy to play but complicated to explain. Here goes: pay attention. The aliens are building up a huge network of girders and platforms throughout the whole solar system. The more they manage to build, the closer they are to victory.
By guiding your Firefly icon (yours is the good ship Firefly) over a grid of squares, you can select which sector of the solar system to attack first. You can only attack the sector adjacent to a 'dead area - ie, one that you've cleared already. To start off, you have a row of dead areas down the left hand side of the grid.
Once you zap yourself down to the sector, the readout in the bottom of the screen will pop up a schematic representation of the whole sector, with the maze layout - for each sector is essentially a maze - and various important things marked. There are three important things on this map. Teleports, Energy Points and You. Large boulders are indicated too, but as far as I could tell, they're of absolutely no consequence whatsoever.
Teleports beam you about the sector. Once you enter one (you fly over it and wait hopefully) ) the screen changes to show your ship and a circle of alternate red and blue squares. Your ship spins around in the centre, and the square at which the nose of the craft is pointing is highlighted. The aim here is to come (phnar phnar - Freddy Sick, Acting review-reader) ) with a combination of blue squares which will teleport you to the right place. You have to get three squares and each time your spaceship rotates faster than the last. If you hit red too many times, you'll exit the teleport and explode into a million bits.
It's vital that you get the hang of the teleport, as most of the mazes have at least one Energy Point that you can't get to by simple flying. Energy Points? Yes, they're the rapidly-flashing dots on your scanner. All the time, they spew out energy blobs. Once four have been collected, you can enter the Point in the same way as a teleport, and prime a charge to knock it out, thus depleting the aliens' security system and, eventually, after taking out all the Points in a sector, rendering it "dead".
OK, so it's strategy city, isn't it? Well, not really. You see, all the time you're flying around in the sectors, which is at least 80 percent of the gameplay, you have to fight off the bad guys. There are stacks of different types. Some fire at you, some just fling themselves against your ship. All drain your energy if you're not careful (your energy is represented by a bar at the bottom of the screen).
I if you remember the kind of thrill you got from games like Jetpac, waiting to see what the next sheet of aliens looked like, you'll be able to understand a part of the appeal of Firefly. Th aliens, and especially the backgrounds, are so varied and exciting, you get the impression that you'll never run out of things to discover. The mazes vary from deserted unconstructed foundations, to high-tech constructions, each providing a new angle, forcing you to fly in a slightly different way.
The firefights you get into with the aliens are great, and as you're totally free to move around in the 8-way scrolling landscape, you've got some genuine dogfight elements thrown in too.
The graphics are good and varied, and the gameplay feels somehow superior to most games in the same field. If Special FX can top this, it'll shortly be able to rank itself up with names like Ultimate. Impressive.
What a debut! More durable than any straightforward blast, and more fun than just a strategy game.