James V. Trunzo
The creators of Airstrike warn you in their advertisements that Airstrike is "very, very difficult" and that it is "The definitive, super-fast, multiple-skill, shoot-out game for Atari 400/800...." This warning is the last mercy the game designers do for you. Airstrike turns you into the "Rocky" of game players; it keeps knocking you down and you keep coming back for more.
At first glance, Airstrike appears to be little more than a typical see 'em and shoot' em arcade-style game. Like Scrambler and Cosmic Avenger, Airstrike puts the player in the cockpit of a fighter bomber and sends him careening across the screen, firing at anything that moves. Surface to air missiles must be destroyed before they destroy you. Like Caverns of Mars turned on its side, Airstrike forces you to navigate through a field of fission bombs that move randomly up and down the display screen. Unlike other games, however, Airstrike takes these ideas one step further, moving them from the realm of the difficult to the almost impossible. And Airstrike throws in more than a few original ideas and variations of its own.
When play begins, the player is given three Mark V fighter bombers capable of one-way flight (though it can be jockeyed up and down) and armed with both a laser cannon and quark bombs. The cannon is front-mounted and is controlled by the fire button on the joystick, the shot traveling horizontally; the bombs, controlled by the space bar, arch out of the vessel, dropping on targets below.
Several things should be mentioned concerning the weapons. Unlike other games, pressing the fire button does not fire the cannon while simultaneously releasing a bomb. What this means is that the player who typically keeps both hands on the joystick must adjust to the necessity of freeing one hand to drop bombs. Also, because the bombs arch away from the ship, timing becomes a bit more precise. And it is crucial that the space bar be completely depressed or the bomb will not be released, and the amount of ammunition you have is limited.
On the easiest of the five levels, you begin with 10 quark bombs and 40 shots in the laser cannon. You cannot simply fire shot after shot and release bomb after bomb. Accuracy becomes essential to completing a mission and achieving a good score. Actually, the destruction of most ships will be the direct result of having missed a shot. This is due, for the most part, to the fact that successful play occurs after the player has established a pattern of sorts and fallen into a rhythm. Missing a crucial shot upsets the pattern and disrupts that rhythm, and then another Mark V goes up in a nicely done graphic explosion.
Incidentally, though you begin the mission with a limited amount of fire power, you can gain extra missiles and bombs by destroying ammo dumps. (Don't miss the last ammo dump before entering the meteor shower; that's almost certain doom.)
To complete one full mission, you must traverse a number of screens. The first two screens are made up of basic mountain-type terrain. These ranges are defended by surface to air missiles and fission bombs, the latter of which are really nasty because of their erratic movement.
Once you're past the mountain ranges, the next display forces you to navigate across an entire screen of descending meteors whose slightest touch spells instant extinction. The meteor shower looks suspiciously like a lot of fission bombs raining down upon your ship, but in any case, this screen is no easier than the first two.
Assuming you pass safely through the meteors, you approach a series of sliding airlocks which must be blown open (achieved by hitting an area about the size of a pinhead-while it's moving) in order to complete your first pass. And did I mention that all the airlocks after the first are guarded by alien ships that must be circumvented in order to survive? Or that the locks are in various positions on the screen and not a straight shot so joystick maneuvering is a must? Very, very difficult, and this is level one.
If there's anything after this, I wouldn't know because I've never made it through a complete pass. The instructions indicate that once through the sliding air-locks, the player proceeds to the next color-coded level at which point, I assume, the mission repeats itself. The added difficulty, from what information could be gleaned by selecting a higher complexity level to begin with, stems from the fact that the enemy defenses move much faster and the player's vessel begins its run with less ammunition.
Airstrike comes with several options. For openers, there are five difficulty levels at which to begin play. In addition, the game can be played by either one or two players, alternating turns. Also, a game may be interrupted during the course of play by depressing the CTRL key and 1 together.
A minor annoyance occurs after you lose one of your three ships: the next one appears so fast that there is little time to regroup. The only other complaint that might be registered is that until you are within the sliding locks area, any destruction of your ship sends you back to the very beginning of the program. Because it's so difficult to advance from screen to screen, especially for novices, this can be a tad frustrating.
All in all, Airstrike is exactly what it claims to be — a very demanding program. If you want a challenge, Airstrike is the game for you.
Mechanically, the game is quite strong. The scrolling and the graphics are very well done. The player's ship, missiles, bombs, and targets are clearly defined and, with the exception of the spaceship itself, all graphics are flicker-free. In addition, colors are vivid and the sound effects, though limited to explosions of one type or another, are more than adequate.
English Software Company
P.O. Box 3185
Redondo Beach, CA 90277