The US department of defence up come up with some odd ideas. Commissioning the Village People to record a recruiting song and producing a major film showing how exciting it is to fly in the Navy are just two of the things which go to make America great.
Another two things which make America great are Tom Cruise, voted "Hollywood's Top Gun" by Playboy magazine, and Kelly McGillis similarly voted "Prime Prospect, female". They are the stars of the movie version of Top Gun - although some people would claim that the aircraft are the real stars - and they are also featured on the loading screen of the computer version in glorious Mode 0.
Unfortunately that is the last you will see of the dynamic duo. The game is about flying, not sex symbols. The mid-air action takes place in your F14 Tomcat, pitting your wits against another equally matched plane.
The two player, head-to-head option make the controls a bit difficult to operate. The best bet is to go for the two joystick option, but you either have to use an Amstrad JY-2 or a joystick splitter. The menu, which offers you the choice of joysticks or keyboard controls for one or two players, could have been better designed. The red, white and blue logo looks good enough but pressing fire on the joystick puts you straight into the game with keyboard control.
The options are re-set at the start of every game, but you soon learn not to be too trigger happy.
To the background music of the track "Dangerzone" the rival planes launch from remarkably similar looking aircraft carriers set against remarkably similar looking backgrounds.
The graphics on this screen are stunning and provide a stark contrast with those which follow, two monochrome windows with a single line across the width of each window.
This is when you try to remember what the instructions said. Top Gun is perhaps the simplest flight simulator the Amstrad has seen, no messing with an undercarriage or flaps. In many ways it is to flying what Elecktraglide is to driving, simple, fast and exciting.
This does not mean that it is inaccurate; unfettered by details, the handling has been tweaked, the planes are less stable at low speed and handle badly when inverted.
Still, even a grossly simplified version of a multi-million dollar F-14 has to have some instruments. A head up display (HUD to the pros) shows your height and speed. Dashboard-mounted controls show you the plane's attitude - dive, climb or level flight with several readings in between. Your angle of ascent or descent has an important effect on your speed.
In a dogfight it is more important to know where your foe is than where you are yourself. The radar shows your position in the centre and the bandit in relation to it. Only one plane attacks you at a time so the radar doesn't get too confusing.
Sticks and stones will bounce off an F-14, but bullets will really hurt you. How much damage you have sustained is shown by an indicator. You ate OK while the meter is still true blue, but when it gets into the red you've got something to worry about, and he's usually on your tail pumping bullets at you.
That's not the worst of it. If you're really unlucky he won't be shooting bullets but missiles. A light on the instrument panel will warn you of this and allow you to take evasive action. No human player seemed to have the knack of out-flying heat-seeking missiles, but the computer managed it. Mere mortals can confuse the sidewinder menace by dropping flares.
Even smart missiles can't work out what to blow to kingdom come without being told - they need to lock-on. In Elite they do this instantly, but a Cobra Mk III is a little better equipped than a Tomcat F14.
Twentieth century missiles take three seconds to work out what you are going on about. And I thought that the bomb in Dark Star was dumb. These seconds tick away on a bar graph. Keep the blighter in your sights for long enough and he will have the biggest and last shock of his life just after you squeeze the trigger.
Even shooting at your foe is limited by the gun temperature. If it overheats you have to wait. A thermometer warns of this impending restriction.
Two gauges show the weapon in use, the dash-mounted one is rendered pointless by the gun sights. A crosshair points to the destination of your bullets, a box indicates missile mode and the absence of any aiming device suggests that pressing the button will release a flare.
In an evenly matched battle it is important to learn quickly. Winning or losing depends on your proficiency at getting your opponent into your danger zone and at staying out of his.
- Learn to bank sharply but don't over do it or you will end up where you started. Try to get away from the other plane before turning so that he is in your sights for as long as possible when you are facing him.
- Keep high - it is very easy to crash into the sea. You can outfly the other plane, even under computer control, and force it into the drink, but it is tricky and not worth the risk. Build your speed and climb; build and climb alternately for the fastest rate of ascent. Getting high allows you to swoop, building up speed. This is useful if you want to loom up on the enemy from behind.
- Remember which way is up. The limited style vector graphics don't give much of a clue as to where the sea is. If in doubt let go of the controls and the F14 will right itself into straight and level flight.
- When you have just downed one plane keep climbing. The next one will then appear a little below you.
- As soon as you leave the carrier apply thrust and turn. This prevents the other plane getting you in its sights before you know what is going on.
- Learn to look at the whole screen. Most of your time will be spent looking at the radar, but keep an eye on your opponent's screen. The damage indicator will help you to decide between missiles and bullets the next time he is in your sights. Your rival's horizon tells you which direction the other F14 is going in, and helps you to avoid the danger zone. Keep an eye on the sights, and be prepared to drop a flare when a missile appears.
- You can't "viff". OK, so only Jump Jets can really viff but you cannot fool the computer into overtaking you by braking too hard.
- Don't mess with Charlie.