After all the vest-wearing, keep-their-lunch-money-in-a-purse type quiz show licences and sports games they've been making me play lately, it's a relief to get my hands on a real man's game for a change. Something Dennis the Menace would play on his Speccy, rather than Walter the Softy.
And P47, needless to say, is just such a game - a traditional horizontally-scrolling shoot-'em-up, in that, um, it scrolls horizontally and you have to shoot things. It's also pretty traditional in the authenticity stakes. Okay, so it's set in World War II, but you wouldn't know it from looking at the historically inaccurate helicopters, SAMs and other bits of weird machinery zooming across the screen. It's enough to make Planespotters rip up their Pan Am bags in annoyance.
This is the type of game in which you don't have to buy the farm - there are sufficient numbers of dirty scoundrels out there more than willing to give it to you for free. Their arsenals include missiles, bombs and some rather nifty bullets which fragment in mid-air - all the usual stuff you find down at the Super Weaponry Warehouse basically. And guess what, most of the planes leave behind these pretty little weapon tokens when they're hit. Blimey.
Just as compulsory for this type of thing are the large, ginormous, huge and really quite big enemies you've got to cope with at the end of every level. Here, you come up against a massive train, a humungous plane, a whopping great tank, a ginormous ship (which fills about three screens!!) and, erm, that's as far as I got!
You destroy most of them by knocking out a section at a time, until eventually they explode in an impressive mass of beefy explosions, a fine example of P47s solid-looking, detailed sprites.
Other graphics are pretty scrummy too. For instance, there's a serene and smoothly-scrolling mountain backdrop on Level One and a red and yellow sunset on Level Two both of which would almost be beautiful were it not for all those rum enemy-types intent on blocking your view and downing your bird. But here's where we come to the game's one and only prob. Die to the gritty detail of these backdrops, the bullets sometimes get lost among the pixels and sneak up on you unseen (especially since there's often so much going on-screen that you can't take it all in anyway). Luckily, the programmers saw fit to include a mono option on the title screen to take care of this - it might not be as pretty in black and white, but at least you can tell what's going on. But I shouldn't care really. There are a hundred games that are much worse in the "I can't tell what's going on!" stakes - it's just an unwelcome reminder that the Speccy can't always be colourful and playable at the same time.
And so to the conclusion, and it's pretty positive actually. P47 may be no R-Type, but it's a perfectly competent and satisfying addition to the Speccy stable of shoot-'em-ups. It's just a pity that there are so many of them about already, and some really neat ones at that, both at full price and on budget. It's good but it's no Megagame. Still, this may well be the last game Microprose puts out on the now more-or-less obsolete Firebird label, so it's good to see the name going out in (some) style. Yep, if you want a good old reliable horizontal-scroller in which the machine guns go ratatatat, the explosions look a bit dangerous and the bandits can be depended on to turn up dead on three o' clock (well, you might not be that lucky!) then this will do nicely.
Nothing revolutionary or amazing but it's a jolly wizard blast for all that. Not a bad one to be remembered for, Firebird.