Zzap1st September 1991
Published in Zzap #77
The demise of Hewson delayed Rubicon, but could not stop it. The meanest, slickest blast-'em-up since Turrican II has finally arrived on the C64 with an astonishing collection of radioactive mutants to shock, stun and basically tear you limb from limb. Stuart Wynne wraps himself in bacofoil for a quick blast.
Koala Island was once the leading fortress of Soviet forces in the north - a barren posting continually below freezing point yet packed with more lethal hardware than anywhere else in the world. In the 1990s Gorbachev gave the USSR a more peaceful, less aggressive stance yet even he could not wholly dismantle this fearsome relic of the Cold War. Today, twenty years later, his failure seems likely to have fearsome consequences.
A few months ago, a Soviet powerplant on Koala Island went critical, its containment dome ruptured and radioactivity was soon blowing over 300 square miles. Mass evacuation of Finland and much of the USSR was a massive undertaking - many thousands are already fatally contaminated - but this pales into insignificance beside the latest news from Koala Island...
Fantastic concentrations of radiation appear to have produced radical mutations among the local wildlife, scientific observers claim their intelligence rivals our own, while their aggression is phenomenal. Satellite pictures showing their investigation of mothballed nuclear weapons has plunged world statesmen into shock.
So step foward another long-haired, muscle-bound hero so hard he wears only a T-shirt and 501s even in the Arctic Circle! The scenario is a familiar one, and the game itself isn't that original, but both are executed with such panache that it doesn't really matter.
Each of the five parallax-scrolling levels are split into a series of sections where the scrolling is stopped until the aliens are defeated - rather like Golden Axe/Alien Storm, although the variety and imagination of the attack waves is far superior. Sometimes the aliens are no more impressive than a formation of fast-moving globes, more often they're such stunning opponents as huge jellyfish, leaping flames. Then there's the mega-monsters which you'd normally expect of the end of the level - in Rubicon there are so many the term loses its meaning. Personal favourites include a huge green blob that transforms into a giant before your eyes, a pink monster who pounding fists shake loose debris from the ceiling, and a couple of superbly engineered walkers. Also, look out for an Alien-style face hugger - when that spidery monster gets a hold of you, the old heart rate certainly soars!
The background graphics, boasting a slick parallax scroll, are generally quite good. The first level is set on the chilly surface of the island, the second takes you into a castle-like building complete with mines and a trapped beastie which you can free, and then ride!
Level three is a weirdo one with some beautiful blue crystals and Gigeresque aliens, while level four is set in space with floating platforms and lots of electrical beams! The final level is in the caverns where you must find and deactivate the Soviet nuclear weapons. The mutations are at their most dramatic here, there are all sorts of fantasy-type creations. You also have to swim through a lake...
Beat the last monster and just one question remains - after you've fought your way through the most radioactive place on Earth, been splattered with mutant blood and probably swallowed a fair bit of radioactive water, what's going to happen to you?
Standby for Rubicon II: The Suicide Game!
To help you stave off your death a little longer, you begin your quest with three lives shown as circles near the centre of the control panel, just above them is your energy bar. If you lose a life you go back to the start of the section; die completely and you get one continue-play, restarting the level you're on. The control panel also shows your score, and below that there's a scrolling message panel, warning of mines, traps and also informing you what you've just picked up. There aren't that many pick-ups in the game, but by shooting complete enemy formations you can get such things as a jetpack (level one) and - most importantly - SW packs which enable you to defuse the nuclear stockpile at the end of the game.
To be honest completing the game probably won't take that long, your rapid-fire machine gun will make short work of most aliens once the stunning effect of their graphics wear off. Once you know what attack pattern to expect, counter-tactics are fairly easy to work out. Nevertheless, the levels are big, packed with more mega-monsters than Turrican II. Urged on by a rousing Maniacs Of Noise soundtrack, this highly entertaining challenge will keep you playing for days.
In short, a great blast-'em-up with more imaginative tricks 'n treats than a couple dozen coin-op conversions!
The graphic style is suggestive enough of Hawkeye to raise thoughts of Bamboo, the near-forgotten sequel, but in my opinion this plays a lot better than Hawkeye ever did.
Okay it's just another 'march right and blast everything'-type game, but there's plenty of sections per level and the variety in both graphics and attack patterns is superb.
I especially like the creature which you can free on level two and even the familiar bas-relief effect of level four's space station is somehow new. Graphics are top-notch throughout, although no sprite overlays are used everything looks quite sharply defined with bags of colour. Rubicon doesn't offer much that's new but, from the slick intro credits, through to the neat control panel warnings, it's a professional product positively oozing quality.
A Twisted Mind Program
Concept and Programming: Fredrik Kahl
Graphics: Joachim Ljunggren
Music: Maniacs Of Noise
Superslick, opening with stylish pics of the programmers, neat 'running man' animation while loading levels and a game-complete sequence. Multi-load could be irksome on tape, but levels are fairly big and there's a continue-play.
Great backdrops with superslick parallax scrolling, plus plenty of huge, imaginative aliens and a nice main sprite. Excellent.
A rousing Maniacs Of Noise soundtrack.
Extremely easy to get into, with nicely graded gameplay so you always seem to get further. Vast majority of level-sections can easily be defeated once you work out the right tactics.
Five levels aren't that many and we've already got to Level Three, but they're all pretty big and even if it doesn't take you months to complete you certainly get value-for-money in a continually surprising and entertaining challenge.
A dazzling arcade experience!