Rescue on Fractalus

Reviewed by Jim Short


Issue 19

Jan/Feb 86

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48k Cassette

48k Disk 14.95
1 player


This game was first conceived by Lucasfilm something like one year ago under the title BEHIND JAGGI LINES. For various reasons, it never hit the market except in illegal form, and for many months it looked as if Atari owners were going to miss out on this remarkable game. Firstly, Epyx were rumoured to be releasing it under license, but sadly that deal fell through. However, you'll be delighted to learn that Activision have come to the rescue, with 'rescue' being the appropriate word. They have taken the old JAGGI LINES, and after one or two minor improvements have finally released it under the title RESCUE ON FRACTALUS.

FRACTALUS is a three-dimensional space game which successfully combines flight simulation with arcade action. Lucasfilm have taken various elements of several leading games and merged them together to form a totally unique concept which deserves to be a classic in its own right.

You begin the game at the controls of your Valkyrie spacefighter as it sits in the take-off bay oft he mothership. Your view is through the cockpit window of your spacefighter. Your instrument panel is spread out in front of you, consisting of an impressive array of flashing lights and dials. Press the firebutton and the take-off doors slide open, accompanied by some truly excellent sound effects, whereupon you are rocketed out through the take-off port into space. Once out in space, you automatically drop down into the harsh atmosphere of the planet FRACTALUS and then down towards the mountainous surface of the planet itself. The instrument panel suddenly bursts into life as your ship switches over to manual control. Now it's up to you!

The game theme is fairly simple. You are at war with an evil alien race called J'hagga Ra Kachatki - or 'Jaggis' for short. Out in space, the Jaggis were fairly easy pickings for your elite Ethercorps pilots, but now the fiends have dug in on Fractalus, a particularly inhospitable planet with its atmosphere of deadly cyanitric acid. Casualties are high, and it's your job to fly down to the mountainous surface of the planet in a search for stranded Ethercorps pilots who are waiting to be rescued. The Jaggis don't take any prisoners, so they desperately need your help - fast!

A combination of joystick and keyboard controls are required to operate your ship, but thankfully the keyboard options are kept to a minimum and gameplay is surprisingly simple. If only all flight simulators were that easy!

Graphically, the game is a masterpiece. The visual effect of navigating your ship through the mountains is really quite stunning. In fact, it's easy to get carried away and imagine that you actually are sitting at the controls of a Valkyrie spacefighter rather than a computer keyboard. I suppose all flight simulators are supposed to convey this effect, but how many of them do? FRACTALUS leaves them all standing in the realism department.

Lucasfilm are sticklers for detail. When you land to rescue a pilot you actually see him - all kitted out in spacesuit and helmet - walking hurriedly towards your ship, growing progressively larger as he approaches. A knock on the airlock door lets you know that he's reached the ship. If you impishly refuse to open the airlock door, his knocks become increasingly more urgent. I'm told that if you still refuse to open the Airlock his knocks get weaker and weaker until he finally collapses and dies, killed by the acid air eating its way through his suit. I haven't got positive proof of this though, as so far I haven't had the heart to kill a pilot off like this. Those desperate knocks get to you in the end and you'd have to be a real sadist not to give in and open that airlock!

There are a set number of pilots to be rescued on each level, with bonus points awarded for rescuing 'ace' pilots (ace pilots have purple helmets, ordinary pilots have white ones). When you have completed your task you then boost back to the mothership, where you will be given a scoring bonus before advancing onto the next level of play.

The initial levels are fairly routine in order to let you get the hang of the various controls. The action is stepped up from Level 4 onwards, where you must blast your way through Jaggi gun emplacements situated in the mountains with your AMB laser cannon. Suicide saucers make life extremely hazardous, and you will also encounter the infamous Fractalus 'nine minute day' where you will be forced into some tricky night flying. Life as a rescue pilot certainly isn't easy and the surprises come thick and fast as the levels increase. One particular surprise is guaranteed to make your hair stand on end (literally!), but I won't spoil it by divulging it here. All I'm going to say is watch out for those pilots with green helmets!

As far as I know, there are 99 levels of play, but only the first sixteen are selectable at the start. Having seen what the action is like on Level 16, I don't even want to think what Level 99 is like!

If you've seen any of those pathetic little games that frequently grace the top of the software charts for other computers, and, like me, have sniggered under your breath at them, then you'll appreciate that RESCUE ON FRACTALUS has little chance of being a raging success amongst Commodore and Spectrum owners. It's far too sophisticated for that. Atari owners are used to a higher level of sophistication though, and consequently can recognise a real classy game when they see it. RESCUE ON FRACTALUS is a masterpiece of programming and I cannot recommend it highly enough. The graphics are 'out of this world', with the sound effects almost equally so. I would rate it second only to the legendary STAR RAIDERS. What more can I say, except go out and buy it ... immediately!