You won't be old enough to remember the cinema B-movie serials like King Of The Rocket Men and Radar Men From The Moon which inspired Rocket Ranger. Fortunately, great serials like these, Flash Gorgon and Buck Rogers, are being revived on Saturday morning TV, so now you can see what you missed in the 30s! Rocket Ranger is the latest, and easily the best, Cinemaware game from Mirrorsoft. Like all the Cinemaware range, it features state-of-the-art graphics, sophisticated music and sound effects, and snazzy packaging. This time they've remember to put a game in too!
The big problem with early Cinemaware titles like Defender Of The Crown was that, while the graphics were stunning, there was very little gameplay, so you could see everything in an hour and never want to play it again. Rocket Ranger doesn't have that problem at all; it's a complex blend of arcade and strategy sequences guaranteed to keep you playing for ages.
Using clever digitised photo-montages of maps, historical photos, and even a little animated Hitler, the prologue sequence explains the background to the game. As government scientist Cody, you are chosen by resistance fighters from a future world dominated by the super-science of the victorious Nazis, to receive the technological gifts which can help you to change history. From the moment when the time-transferred weapons materialise in front of your eyes, you are Rocket Ranger! The short novella enclosed explains the capabilities of your weapons, but there's an element of trial and error in working out how to use them.
One of the most entertaining aspects of Rocket Ranger is the way in which the 30s serial has been lovingly recreated without a hint of parody. The pseudo-futuristic designs of the costumes, rocket ships and other pieces of technology; the helpless heroine constantly getting into dangerous scrapes; the potty professor, the evil sadistic baddies and the cliff-hanging perils are all there. It may not be as up-to-date as your Star Wars or your Terminators, but it has a charm all of its own.
Each new episode is introduced by cinema-style captions and stirring martial music, and most game choices are made by selecting an option from a small menu.
The real plot begins when top scientist Professor Barnstorff and his gorgeous pouting daughter Jane are kidnapped by a Nazi airship. The main strategy section of the game is controlled of five spies in twenty-five countries, in your attempt to thwart the Nazis. By using the menu system to issue orders, change priorities and monitor messages, you must discover five hidden sections of a space ship, and its fuel supply of lunarium (an element found only on the moon) then fly to each supply dump and fight for what you need. Once you've found these, you must figure out how to assemble the ship in the Rocket Lab, and how to use the Fuel Depot to charge your space ship and rocket pack. The key to success in the game is in discovering and stealing supplies of lunarium, then handling them properly to reach the climax of the game on the Moon.
While the maps and graphics of the introductory sequences are fine, even better are the animated arcade sequences, beginning with you trying to take off wearing your rocket pack. To calculate the amount of fuel needed to fly from one country to another you must use the card Decoder Wheel supplied (a neat anti-piracy technique, by the way). In the Take-off sequence you run along the Fort Dix parade ground, hitting the joystick fire button in rhythm until you reach take-off speed, and push forward to launch - or land in a crumpled heap if you get your timing wrong. The more fuel you carry, the harder it is to take off. A successful launch brings up the destination screen, where you click on the country you need to visit, and hope that you can get there without running out of fuel and plunging into the sea!
There are eight excellent arcade sequences, such as the episode in which you have to intercept a fleeing Zeppelin using your Radium Pistol. Later episodes see you fighting off Messershmidt fighters, joining in hand-to-hand combat with a brutal guard and shooting it out with zombie sex slaves (Yes, you heard me right!).
To aid you in your mission you also have a wrist-computer. In any location except Fort Dix you can access the computer to pick a new destination, or call for help if you have run out of fuel. The monitor will also show you some pretty gruesome torture scenes if you are too late is rescuing Jane from the Nazis. On this note, it's worth pointing out that, like Defender Of The Crown, the graphics of Rocket Ranger make liberal use of glinting thighs and plunging cleavages; there's also the odd bit of fetishism and bondage, so on the whole it's pretty unsuitable for adults.
Oddly enough, there's no save game feature; the manual claims that a complete game normally takes only an hour, which sounds to me like an underestimate.
If there is a problem with Rocket Ranger, it is that there is a certain inevitable amount of repetition involved in playing the game. Unlike, say, a straightforward shoot-'em-up, where you progress from one level to the next blasting successfully more challenging waves of targets, Rocket Ranger shares some of the features of an adventure game. If you fail to complete one section, you won't necessarily lose the game; you'll just find yourself back in an earlier situation, forced to play through the scenario again. Basically, this is only likely to become a problem if you aren't any good at playing the game!