Amstrad Action1st November 1989
Published in Amstrad Action #50
Treetop level is where it's at in this "where have I heard that name before" helicopter sim from Codemasters. The gameplay? Skimming over the surface at crazy speeds with guns cocked, missiles primed and a wicked grin on your face.
Your mission, however, is one of mercy. Eight hostages are being held on a series of islands, and your job's to get them out. The task requires clinical precision, expert timing and excessive force. Some are held in the open, others are held inside buildings. Rescue requires first that you trash the building and then lower a ladder to whisk them away to safety. Of course the enemy aren't too pleased about you running off with their meal ticket and will try to shoot you down.
Your main armaments are chain guns and rockets which have the power to waste everything you're going to meet in this private little war. The guns have an almost limitless amount of ammunition while your very tight supply of missiles can do some serious damage.
This Oliver Twins blast-'em-up extravaganaza is classic Codemasters: not much plot, simple gameplay and very engrossing. The little (and I do mean little) chopper simply has to fly around this mapped world blowing open houses to find hostages. You get shot at and you shoot back, nothing too difficult there at all. Real damage rarely seems to be done to your machine and so the only real restriction is the amount of fuel you can carry.
You start off at an allied heli-base and have to buzz around trying to find where your mob may be hidden; there are a series of islands that make up the backbone of some banana republic and once you found them it's time to let a few rounds rip and show them the advantages of a developed techno-logical economy - namely bigger guns!
You find the way by using map grids marked around the screen's border and you'd better brush upon your map reading skills or you'll spend hours wandering around over the sea looking for something to kill. This is actually the most depressing part of the game. You've rescued seven out of the eight and have to spend your last few drops of fuel trying to hunt down that last hostage. It makes finding needles in haystacks look a doddle.
There's no subtlety involved in flying this gunship, no up or down, just forward turn and reverse. The weapons available are machine guns and missiles, each launched separately and aimed with one of those ever popular roving cursors. Bullets take time to destroy things, missiles are more instant but are harder to replace.
Once you spot hostages, diving in to rescue them is pretty tricky. To lower a ladder you've got to be directly over the top and stay stationary, and this makes you rather vulnerable. Not only this but it's darned difficult to bring a moving helicopter to a dead stop at a precise point. A panel flashes irritating messages at you, winding you up as you try to wind the hostage in.
Once you're rescued someone then you've the option to take them back to base to earn points and extra ammunition. No more fuel is an alien as this is used instead of a timer. This is the major failing of the game, as the implications are not thought out. While letting/hostage down the rope ladder to safety, you lose a lot of time (and therefore fuel) - especially if you hang around for an ammo refill - because you're still a valid target for the opposition. The idea is sound but it means that, after some highly enjoyable blasting fun, the pace of the game dissolves into tedium while you offload.
You only have the one life, which means the chopper has to be very tough. This allows you just to hang around over a hostage regardless of what forces are on the ground, thus denying the need to develop any real skill. If the game had been built around more lives with less armour and a quicker drop off with less fuel the game would have been far, far better. What could have been a fast, tricky bout of blasting has become a slow and fiddly exercise.
All the other aspects of the game are irreparably harmed and much good work is squandered. The incidental graphics are up to Neil Adamson's usual excellent standard, especially the unfurling of the games screen and the brilliant explosions. A budget game of high quality is not classic Oliver's fare, so Treasure Island Gunship won't be following. Which leaves them free to work on more "eggciting" projects for Christmas...
A great budget game, it has all the usual Olivers trademarks. Not for the 'sophisticated' player, however - but then who needs sophistication when you can blast like this!
Green Screen View
Operation Gunship is still playable.
First Day Target Score
P. Colourful playing screen.
N. Very small figures.
P. Good intro tune.
N. Average chopper effects.
Grab Factor 59%
N. Difficult to find people to rescue.
Staying Power 73%
P. Four levels of skill.
N. Very slow going in parts.
P. Good concept...
N. ...reasonably executed!