Lightforce is the first release from the new Gargoyle label, Faster Than Light, and it's a shoot 'em up. Remember Imagine's Arcadia? Well, this is the same thing three years on, with the addition of vertical scrolling and super-large characters.
You start the game in an asteroid shower, which should warn you that things can only get worse. Your simple choice is to dodge them or blast them. The way to survive is a combination of these two, which should get you through to the first alien craft. You then have to score multiple hits on its control chambers if you want an extra life.
But, of course, the enemy is well protected, with craft that drop down - only you can't blast these! And things have hardly started to get difficult yet, because the enemy fighters perform elaborate little dances. Before you can say Red Arrows, they're weaving all over the place dropping bombs on you.
Nobody could deny that Lightforce looks nice, and you'd expect nothing less of a Gargoyle game. But it doesn't quite seem to have captured the elements that make a shoot 'em up totally addictive. Instead it becomes frustrating and though the graphics move fast for their size, they seem rather sluggish on-screen. So though it's definitely not a 40 watt bulb on a snail, it's not Faster Than Light either.
When I first started on YS a couple of years back there was a great controversy over this game. It was one of the first vertically scrolling shooters to appear on the Speccy. Gwyn and Rachael hated it, Phil hated it, but I loved it. Sure, it's not the fastest game in the world, but the graphics are superb - full of colour and imagination - and the gameplay - easy at first, but getting gradually harder - is perfectly judged. I played it for months.
Written by those funsters at Gargoyle — one of the most underrated programming teams in Spectrum history, Id say — it was a great success and paved the way for around 60000 similar programms. Gwyn and Rachael gave it seven at the time, but they were wong: it still plays like a dream and I'll give it eight.
When Gargoyle Games, the company responsible for some of the technically best games on the Spectrum, and the company to which Elite turned when Scooby Doo became a nightmare, announces that it is starting a label on which to release games of a more arcade nature, you know that the result will not be disappointing.
Lightforce is a shoot-'em-up of almost unparalleled quality, at least on any machine except the Commodore. Using vertical scrolling, it combines the natural 'kill everything' feeling with a sense of urgency which has the player trying frequently to find that elusive extra bullet to get him out of a very sticky corner.
Graphically, Lightforce makes the most of the various machine facilities. On the Spectrum it avoids colour clash well and the graphics are carefully and well-defined. On the Amstrad the game is colourful, and the shading is excellent, especially on the later, shrubbed masses.
As you play the game it becomes apparent that, as with all classic shoot-'em-ups, there is method behind the madness. To achieve success, you must be quick-witted and also be able to guess from where the next few enemies are likely to appear. Using this method it is possible to get to grips with the first two stages relatively easily.
Points are scored for shooting baddies and for blowing-up the specified amount of control centres. The latter is also rewarded with an extra life. Overall, Lightforce bodes well for FTL.
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