Your Sinclair1st December 1990
Published in Your Sinclair #60
Now this is an odd one. It's not a flight sim, not really (though it has a great deal in common with one), and its not exactly a shoot-'em-up (the controls are far too complicated, and there's not really enough around to shoot at most of the time). I guess its a bit of an in-betweeny really, which makes for a rather strange game. Luckily though, it's also rather fun (for a while).
The scenario is some dodgy old thing about military strikes on Columbian drug barons. Your plane is apparently some soopa-doopa brand-newie, though from the loading screen it looks exactly like an ordinary old F-14 Tomcat. There are ten missions, half land-based and half carrier-based, blessed with such intriguing titles as 'Demolish drug warehouse' and 'Sink enemy aircraft carrier'. They follow more or less the same pattern - take off (easy), fly about a bit (hopefully in the direction of your target), fight some enemy Migs (which come in different varieties, but all look the same), identify the target, blow it up, get shot down (optional), fly home and land safely (one of the trickiest bits of the game).
There's quite a bit of other stuff in here though which gives it all more depth. First there's the front end - after you've picked your nickname (I chose Sexy) you still have to get yourself a co-pilot (some are polite and informative, some a bit stroppy) and the weather conditions you fancy.
Then there are the in-game options and information screens. There's the control-room-back-at-base screen - you move the flight-deck officer's hands over his control panel to call up weather status, global status (strategic info like the positions of friendly and enemy bases) and combat status (your performance so far, how many missiles you've used and so on). There's also a special control screen you get when you eject from your plane which helps you float down safely to within pick-upable distance of your home base. And there's a pilot records screen (telling of past mission accomplishments and giving points for everything from time efficiency to safety record), and probably a couple of others I forgot. It all gives a bit of depth and atmosphere to what, in the flying sequences, is rather a simple game.
So what of the actual flying itself, eh? Well, taking off is easy enough but then it gets really weird. The graphics do your head in for a start - half are really nice and fast-moving 3D vector stuff (things like the aircraft carriers, the ground-based targets and the like), while the rest is full of not-particularly-impressive monochrome sprites. The clouds are all sprites for instance, as are the enemy planes (which can only be seen head-on, making the dogfights a bizarre combination of real flight sim stuff and Op WOlf style shoot-'em-up). It really is most peculiar.
Ah, yes. The dogfights. There's none of your heat-seeking or radar-guided missiles here, matey - it's simply a case of selecting the weapon you want (either air-to-air missile or a very satisfying cannon), swinging your plane round so you're hopefully facing the enemy, locking the gun (or missile) on and banging away. There're chaff and flares to confuse incomings too, and you might want to keep an eye on the central radar screen to make sure there's nothing behind you. But that's about it. Taking out land- or sea-based targets is a similar affair - select a different sort of missile (an air-to-surface one), line up your target (easier since it isn't swinging about so much) and fire - they need more hits and blow themselves up a bit better (3D, y'see) but that s about it. This is stuff that'd make you go all wibbly if you'd never played a flight sim and were just getting bored of ordinary shoot-'em-ups, though for the rest of us it carries a bit of a "So what?" stigma about it.
Everything in Snow Strike seems to have been put together rather well, it's more the overall concept of the game that's at fault. And US Gold, who develop and market 8-bit versions of Epyx games over here, don't seem all that sure what to make of it either - they're insistent it isn't a flight sim, and rightly so, but haven't figured out quite what to call it instead. With Christmas looming, it now looks as if it'll get lost in the rush of titles, which is a shame, because certain aspects (like the speedy 3D graphics) are very good indeed.
Snow Strike will probably win its fans - I just don t know who they'll be.
Part flight sim, part shoot-'em-up, it can't really make its mind up. (Quite well put together though).