In space, nobody can hear you scream... "Oh no, not that lousy job!" The lousy job in question is a reconaissance trip round the outside of a Star Class Liner, to make sure that all's ship-shape. At least you only have to do it once every five years, which wouldn't be too bad if it wasn't for the fact that the on-board computer has decided to make this the week for its nervous breakdown.
So there you are, all alone at the tail of a space juggernaut, and the only entry hatch lies for'ard, in the control section. Just to spice things up the defence mechanisms are still active and under the impression that you're a dangerous piece of space debris. So, they hurl everything that they've got at you!
Skimming across the surface of space liners has become an extremely popular pursuit, following the trail-blazed by Uridium. But don't think for one minute that Shadow Skimmer is yet another clone. Overcome the initial similarity and you're playing a whole new ball game. The one I have in mind is pinball.
If you've ever wondered what that silver bearing feels like as it ricochets off the pillars and sides of a pin table, wonder no more. Your skimmer behaves in just the same fashion whenever it collides with a piece of space architecture. Even worse, it recoils when it's hit. Suddenly you find yourself bouncing wildly from screen to screen.
Complete control is the key to escape. Unlike the Uridium craft, which looped and soared, the skimmers really feel like they're gliding just above the surface, with quite deadly acceleration but rather less accurate brakes. Such are the hazards of minimal gravity. Their pulse lasers only fire when you're moving too, which means you have to fly into the face of the enemy to blast them.
Skimmers fly low, but not so low that they can't flip over on their backs. This leaves them less well defended, but it also serves to sneak under some deck structures. It's a crucial manoeuvre and one that you'll need to perfect as soon as possible if you're to progress from level one.
The Star Class Liner has three sections, all of which are interlinked, but not necessarily on the surface. Apart from zooming round tight corners and flipping under bulkheads, you have to descend into the cargo holds, through hatches which only open when you stop above them. By this stage you'll probably suspect that the designer of this Liner was a frustrated maze freak.
An added complication is that, before you can progress from one section to another, you have to destroy the key defence mechanism for the sector. The control panel, which surrounds the action window, shows you what this looks like, but it's still fairly well hidden and has to be shot. An accidental collision destroys it, but doesn't open the path to freedom!
You only have three shields, which won't last long if you insist on straying into the path of the defence droids as they stream out of their ports. You even lose strength if you do nothing, which does wonder to help maintain a sense of urgency! Add the maze element to the shooting and dodging, and you may wonder if you stand any chance at all.
Time, then, to slow down and admire the scenery for a moment. Seldom has the Spectrum looked so bright and colourful. There's been a revolution in Sinclair graphics, and at last ways are being found to cheat the notorious attribute clash. This is one of the finest examples yet.
The hull is a mass of girders and pipes, the mouths of boosters and unexplained deck machinery. It even appears to follow a logical layout, so that if you took the screens and laid them side by side, you'd have a jigsaw of a totally believable ship design.
My only fear about Shadow Skimmer is that, once you've solved it, it may lose some of its appeal. But possibly not, because when you know your way through the hazards, there's always the temptation to fine tune your performance and go for ever faster escape times.