SUICIDE EXPRESS

Tony Crowther is probably the UK's best Commodore 64 programmer - with several masterpieces under his belt. Now, working with Gremlin Graphics, he's written Suicide Express. OK, so it's a sort of Son of Loco idea, but the implementation and execution are streets ahead.

The game uses a fast loader. There are 15 levels of play, but you must start off below level 10. Rumour has it that reaching a very high score makes the train take off.

At the foot of the screen is your score with an ammo count, level indicator, number of trains left and so on. Above this is an aerial map of the track layout, largely in black and grey. Your train is an orange and white rectangle, and in pursuit are a purple hovercraft, green and white planes and grey motherships.

Ammo to be collected appears as white dots which move to and fro. Tunnels are shown in blue. Above this is a superb side-view of the train. As you move along, telegraph posts pass by and the background scrolls smoothly past. Trees, derelict buildings and mazes hurtle past. The detail is nothing short of superb.

You can increase the speed by moving the joystick to the right, left slows you down and if you stop you can freeze the game. Passing over ammo collects it, but if you exceed 40 units, warning bells sound. You're well advised to fire a few times to avoid critical mass.

Pressing the fire button launches two missiles - a rocket skims away forward while another pops up, flips over and zaps off backwards. All too often the hovercraft sneaks up from behind and if you don't switch tracks to dodge it you'll see your train rotating in three separate pieces. Let this happen three times and that's your lot. It's best to dodge the hovercraft, then blast it from behind for extra points.

Each time you pass Gremlin carved in stone in the background, you hop up a level, and that's where the fun really starts. This is where you need your retro-rockets since the planes which scream in from your rear will drop bombs which can only be destroyed by your rockets - and, as the bomber's aim is spot on, it's as well to hammer on fire when you see a plane.

You can't shoot the planes down, but the motherships pose a different problem. Hit them and they dive for you, so a good tactic is to shoot and stop dead so they flash safely overhead.

The background music is from the Sky 2 album, and is nicely done. There's even a voice synthesis feature which announces the start and end of each turn, as well as spelling out your score.

Bryan Skinner