Producer: Digital Integration
Retail Price: £8.95
Author: Ian Beynon, Neil Coxhead and Kevin Bezant
Lockheed's Advanced Tactical Fighter isn't even in production yet, and its already being acclaimed as the fighter of the next decade. So Digital Integration hits the runway yet again in its search for the simulated 'real thing' with a 3-D arcade/simulation game, ATF.
Your ATF is at the forefront of futuristic technocombat when two factions go to war in a nameless 'world' of islands (a new world is generated for each game). Your attacks can destroy opposition land and sea forces and devastate their morale, disrupt their communications, destroy arms-producing industry, and obliterate the air bases where they rearm and refuel. But of course what you can do to them they can do to you...
Your own refuelling and rearming is vital, and weaponry must be balanced against fuel supplies so that the ATF can fly within safe weight limits. (The composition of arms and fuel is shown on bar graphs.)
The ATF can be loaded with three types of weapon: fast-firing cannon which can destroy incoming interceptors, visually-guided ASRAAM missiles, and more powerful Maverick missiles which can take out land targets. These Maverick missiles can be guided to targets outside visual range, selected from a database.
Once you're armed and fuelled the main mission can begin. After a takeoff using maximum thrust, the ATF's speed must be kept up if the craft is not to stall, lose height and crash. (If you do stall, immediate thrust is essential.)
Flying low over a vertically-scrolling landscape, the ATF comes under constant attack from enemy forces. It can bank to the left and right, increase and decrease thrust, dive and climb to avoid attack and home in on potential targets.
Enemy radar can be avoided with terrain-following equipment, but this reduces your speed - and the craft's slow reactions could send you hurtling into a hillside.
A head-up display superimposed on the main screen shows engine thrust, the ATF's speed, ground height and altitude. (It's bad news when ground height and aircraft altitude coincide...) The missile system available, the current direction of flight and a target's range and bearing are also shown.
Beneath the main screen, further indicators show fuel level and undercarriage status, and warn of incoming missiles. An inflight message window gives vital information on your mission, and a short-range scanner to the side of the main screen shows the type terrain below and nearby enemy objects.
Approaching ground-to-air SAM missiles register on a warning system, and with skill they can be jammed in time using the ATF's onboard jammer.
Then there's the ATF's flight computer, showing enemy positions on a world map and the status of weapons systems and the ATF itself. The computer also holds a database for locking on to targets.
An automatic landing light is activated when the ATF enters the catchment area surrounding allied bases. When a base has been chosen, an automatic landing sequence can be engaged.
And a war situation report - giving a rundown of all recent gains and losses of allied and enemy bases, ground and sea forces, and communications and industrial complexes - is called up whenever the ATF returns to an allied base. This strategically valuable information can make all the difference between success or failure in war.
Joysticks: Cursor, Kempston, Sinclair
Graphics: the smoothly-scrolling landscape gives a powerful 3-D impression, and enemy fighters are tremendously detailed
Sound: very simple white-noise effects
Options: eight difficulty levels, sound on/off
ATF is awesome - the graphics are superb, and the landscapes give it a futuristic feel. The enemy ships look most impressive and realistic when they're tailing your ATF, darting around at speed and copying your every move. And unlike other flight aims it's fast, responsive and easy to control; it's easy to glance at onscreen information without being shot to pieces or crashing into a mound of earth. ATF is a state-of-the-art simulation, capturing the movement of a supercharged aircraft.
Digital Integration doesn't come out with many products, but every one is a leader in its field - Fighter Pilot is a fantastic flight simulator, Bobsleigh admirably transfers a very hard-to-computerise sport to the Spectrum, and now ATF is a superb shoot- 'em-up. What's most impressive throughout ATF is the construction and animation of the graphics: Digital Integration has found a new way to overcome the graphical limitations of the Spectrum. Gone are the hollow wireframe graphics of Tank Duel and its kind. Here the landscape seems very solid - especially when you hit it! - and colour bands are widely used to add variation. My only gripe is that the gameplay is very repetitive - even more so than Starglider. But, like Rainbird's Smash of a year ago, ATF mustn't be missed.
Like all flight sims, ATF has quite a few buttons to keep your eyes on. But it's not as slow and laborious as other flight sims - such as Gunship - and not that complicated either. Seeing your ship on the screen does a lot for the gems, too. You can see your enemies coming from behind, and tell at a glance how your undercarriage is and how fast the ground is coming up, all without having to look at banks of instruments. Still, as a flight sim ATF demands real involvement - and a lot of reading in the flight manual. Becoming an expert will take some work, but you could play ATF for a long time and still enjoy it.
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