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Rescue on Fractalus! (Atari 8-bit)

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100 point score based on reviews from various critics.
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Written by  :  Jeremy Johnson (638)
Written on  :  Apr 08, 2007
Platform  :  Atari 8-bit
Rating  :  5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars

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Summary

Definitely ahead of its time.

The Good

Rescue on Fractalus is one of those games that I played as a young lad on my beloved Atari 800XL. I spent numerous nights and days during the 80s (and 90s!) playing this game, and have gotten my fair share of entertainment out of it. While this means that I do have sentimental ties to the game, it does have a lot of really neat features under the hood.

First off, I really have to say that the graphics for this game are truly outstanding for the time. It has height-mapped terrain (and not that pseudo 3D stuff you see in late 80s/early 90s efforts like LHX Attack Helicopter or even LucasArts own Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe), generated using the same engine used in the game Koronis Rift - another good title from LucasArts made during the same period. And that engine is FAST, running full tilt on the hardware of the time without missing a beat or with any weird artifacts or instances of clipping popping up. True, the resolution is a bit wanting (especially on the sprites), but you really can't ask for too much from something released in 1985.

The cinematics are also quite good. Again, the resolution is a bit low, but they are quite well animated and have an impressive color palette available to them. I really have to highlight the takeoff/atmospheric entry sequence - really one of the best sequences I've seen in a 80s game, with a real feeling of speed to it.

All these great graphics mean nothing without gameplay, however. And Rescue is an excellent game. Its sort of an action-arcade/flight simulator, with all the features as such as that would entail. You fly around and take out gun emplacements and enemy flying saucers, but the only way to pass a mission is to rescue downed pilots (hence the name of the game).

This entails landing on the planet's surface near the downed craft, turning off your shields and opening your airlock so that the pilot can hitch a lift back to the mothership. Most of the time this pilot is a normal one who gives you some additional fuel and points, but sometimes you get a high-scoring ace pilot. You also have to deal with the occasional disguised alien as well, so you have to search around a bit and find a spot that allows you to get a clear view of the pilot as he comes towards you. If he has a green helmet, up go your shields and away goes bug-eyes. Of course, you can also choose to vaporize innocent pilots this way too. Or you can just leave your hatch closed and let them dissolve in the acidic atmosphere of the planet if you are in a really sadistic mood. Rescue has quite a number of small details like that, which makes it immensely enjoyable for quite a long while. Even the planetary environment changes so as to allow you to do missions with fluctuating times of day (including at night) after a certain point.

The sound is also worthy of note. While there is only one song in this game, it’s pretty good and doesn't play all the time so it doesn't get annoying. In game, you get the standard assortment jet noises, shield and weapon noises and so on. However, since there's all this multichannel-sounding stuff going on, it sounds a bit more realistic than many of the other games of the era. I really don't think that there are more than two channels though, but it sounds like they have three or four going at the same time in some spots. Most impressive.

I also want to get to the manual for a second. It's the size of an NES manual, but it has a load more personality. I'm usually not really impressed with many manuals, but this is the exception. The layout of it is one of the best I've seen. It’s colorful, but not annoyingly so. It’s got the right amount of artwork and photographs. It uses a nice font that doesn't make blood shoot out of your eyes. Aside from instructions and the plot, it also has a bit of fiction and a technical break down of you fighter craft. Someone even built a model of it and had it professionally photographed, making appear as though it was full-sized. See if you can find that detail these days!

The Bad

It gets a little repetitive after awhile, and I'm not sure if there is an ending or not. This is a very minor quibble, though, considering the release date and the genre.

You know, it might be due to sentiment, but I really cannot find anything to seriously complain about in regards to this particular game. In fact, I'm surprised that LucasArts didn't bother to do a sequel to this one.

The Bottom Line

Again, I have to apologize for the gushing review here, but I really have to shoot straight with you in saying that I think this is a AAA-grade game here. If you can get a copy and find some way to run it, you are in for a real treat.