Friday, 10 August 2018

Computer Shmups #6

Fire Track (1987)
By: Aardvark Software / Electric Dreams Genre: Shooting Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: BBC Micro First Day Score: 98,380
Also Available For: Electron, Commodore 64

Not the most beautiful title screen ever...
While the BBC Micro might not be known in the retro community for shoot 'em ups (it's not really the first system to come to mind as far as gaming is concerned generally, I suppose), it did play host to a few, and one of the better known examples is probably Firetrack. It was programmed by Nick "Orlando" Pelling - known for Frak! among others - and takes the form of a spacey vertical scroller somewhat akin to the likes of Star Force. You, in command of a sleek attack craft, are charged with taking down eight mining colonies in the asteroid belt which have broken away from Earth. The ungrateful rapscallions certainly seem to have formidable defence capabilities for mere colonists though, with fleets of attack craft determined to put you down, as well, presumably, as any other Earth scum who pass by.

Taking out ground targets and fighters simultaneously...
The eight colonies might be filled with treacherous pirates but they are certainly colourful places, with a variety of bright monochrome schemes used. Flying over the floaty islands are the seemingly endless swarms of enemies. There are several different types of these which each have distinctive patterns of movement and they attack in groups, often covering the whole width of the screen as they swoop and wibble all over the place. To make matters even more difficult, your fighter is armed only with one forward cannon - and that's it! That means it has no bombs or gadgets of any other kind and there are no power-ups to be found either. Even the ship's movement is restricted to the bottom half of the screen.

These dumbbell things are indestructible...
The going isn't too manic though, to begin with at least, and you're even likely to find time to take out some of the colony buildings and structures you're passing over for bonus points - keep a lookout for what might be medical facilities (marked by a cross) as these will add to your bonus accumulator. At the end of the stage lies a power reactor - destroy this and you'll get a second run over the colony, this time in the frosty darkness. This gives you another opportunity to take out as many buildings as possible, exposing the villainous scum contained within to the cold vacuum of space where, if you get close enough, you might just get to watch their lungs explode as you fly past leaving them with a victorious cackle to remember as their organs shut down and their tears freeze solid on their stupid faces.

Perhaps the most eye-watering colour scheme in the game...
You may not get to do too much gloating though, as the game does get mighty tough from about the third or fourth stage onwards and getting through all the stages on the four lives you're given is a tall order, but it's worth the effort as restart points are generous, the collision detection is passable, and technically it's superb. Some of the colour schemes are a bit garish but the stages are detailed and it all moves very smoothly. The audio is great too, consisting of decent arcade-style effects as well as a nice jingly tune, but the best thing for me is that thanks to the abundance of destructible objects, it's an ace game for high-score chasers. There really aren't any bad points though, I've enjoyed this one a lot. I haven't played a huge number of shooters on the BBC admittedly, but I'm pretty confident that no others will be anywhere near as good as this.

RKS Score: 8/10


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