A Load Of Volgans
These days I tend to like games that are so simple that you can bang them in and play them without having to read a load of instructions. Stryker's Run, by Superior/Acornsoft, is one such game because your mission, as John Stryker, is exactly that - to run. You're running from the left of the screen to the right and you're on a war-torn strip of land littered with landmines, soldiers, aircrafts and missile launchers. The blurb states that you are assisting the Allied Nations in its struggle against the Volgans.
Easy On The Eye And Brain
Stryker's Run is very easy on the eye. Everything is rendered in Mode 2, with cartoony-looking, large sprites. Soldiers throw big fat bombs and fire big wide bullets. Helicopters glide through the skies dropping bombs as large as your head, and landmines are as evident as they are copious. With all seven colours available, the game has artwork the like of which you seldom see in Electron games. Backgrounds of mountains, tanks, aircraft stations, craters, and ubiquitous signposts urging you onward, ever onward, until you run either through the last screen, or run out of lives.
As noted, Stryker's Run is also very easy on the old grey matter. You have an inexhaustible supply of bullets and grenades, meaning you can let these loose upon those dodgy-looking landmines or the enemy Volgans without any hesitation. That said, however, there is a noticeable peculiarity about impacts.
Brace For Impact
On most, if not all games, when you hit an enemy with a bullet, you get a sound. Usually an explosion or (on less limited computers) a cry of pain from the wounded combatant. In Stryker's Run, you only get an impact sound if you throw a bomb at something. If you hit someone with a bullet he still dies but he does so in silence. The same applies if you are hit by a bullet yourself. This startling omission of noise has a profound impact on the mechanics of the gameplay.
Almost from the first time you play Stryker's Run, you perceive that successful combat is all about range. Soldiers run at you somewhat kamikazi-like. They do sometimes stop and shoot at you, or turn around and retreat away from you but often they stand still, mechanically firing at you. From the weapon they are holding, a large red oblong bullet travels towards you for a few feet, and then disappears. If you wander too close to the firing insurgent, you'll be "within range" and that bullet may hit you and wipe out one of your lives. But the insurgent can only fire one bullet at a time. So if you can time your approach right, you can stand just out of the "within range" area, wait for the bullet to disappear, run "within range" and fire your own bullet which has exactly the same range, and then run out of the "within range" area. Done correctly, you will always wipe out your adversary. Your bullet range is exactly the same as his.
However, he never runs away. You, on the other hand, are always free to run away yourself. The trouble is that, you often have only milliseconds to spare in executing this manoeuvre. Edging up to the very last pixel where his bullet disappears is made problematic by the fact that if you've gone that one step too far, and actually his bullets are now actually slamming into your chest and wiping out your lives, you don't hear it!
The range thing is weird enough but there are other odd techniques that need to be mastered too. Remember the helicopters that are patrolling the skies above you? Well, these shoot at you too and their bombs fall diagonally. The helicopters are big, and when one approaches you it will release its bombs when it thinks it is most likely to hit you. Any helicopter's bombs fall slowly enough that, if you're running towards it, you are often under the bombs' trajectories at such an angle that they fall safely over your head and land behind you. However, helicopters can immediately turn around; this can sometimes result both in lots of bombs suddenly landing on your head and "James Bond" moments where you are sprinting along with volleys of bombs exploding just behind your feet!
Even weirder however is the method that you can invoke to escape these dogged airborne stalkers. For some reason, you and the helicopters can travel from screen-to-screen, but the bombs cannot. Hence if you hang around on the extreme left or extreme right of a screen, the helicopter will fly over your head. You can sort of 'dance' between two screens, flicking between entering the screen, pausing, then running back the way you came, and the helicopter sails over you without dropping any bombs.
Now these features are very odd, but also very much part of what makes Stryker's Run such a unique game. Master the "within range" battle method, and master the "flick-between-screens-to-avoid-helicopters" technique and you'll be able to run across lots and lots of screens, and wipe out lots and lots of bad guys. I forgot to mention that the grenades you can throw also have a slightly longer range than the bullets you can fire, so you may also prefer to try and wipe out any soldier running towards you by just lobbing a grenade at him and then running in the opposite direction. Nine times out of ten he will simply run into it!
When you lose your last life or when one of those Volgans is despatched, a nice animation of a skeleton crumbling into dust replaces the sprite in question. The bombs dropped by the helicopters sometimes hit their own soldiers too, which is particularly satisfying.
You have nine lives which, if you have read all of the review so far, you might think would be more than adequate to finish the game. Hah, you wish! Stryker's Run, for all its cartoony graphics, is actually very tough. This is because, even if you know the techniques to avoid having one of your lives wiped out, your best laid plans often come crashing down because of the randomness of attacks from both directions. For example, you can be sidling up to a soldier attempting to chuck a well-timed bomb at him - when a low-flying helicopter approaches your position from the other side of the screen. Now you've got a problem. The lowest flying helicopters are so low that their bombs are on your head half a second after they have released them (due to your cartoon sprite being so large)! So you either have to get past that soldier before the helicopters get anywhere near you, or you have to try and run under their bombs (usually impossible). But, in either situation, you need an edge to run to in order to flick-screen yourself out of danger. More often than not, you lose a life in the process. With several hundred screens to run through, even if you only lose one life every 10 screens or so, you're not going to make it. I never have.
In case you grow weary of running, the Allies have handily provided a number of planes at regular intervals. You can clamber into these, take to the skies and have a pop at all of those annoying helicopters that would otherwise rain bombs down on you. This is actually extremely fun. However, if you take the controls of a plane the helicopters send bullets in your direction and the otherwise inactive missile launchers at ground level also try to shoot you down. Some of the planes can fire bullets, some can fire bombs, some can fire bombs and bullets, some can't fire a thing. And all of them fly for only a very short time before their fuel runs out and they come gliding back down to earth. All of this seems to be a question of luck and this means it's often more tactical to ignore the planes and just keep running.
Stryker's Run is a very likeable, and very lavish-looking, game indeed and one that requires virtually no instruction. Making progress, as indicated, is based on instinctively discovering a bunch of odd playing techniques. This is either a disadvantage or a feature of the game. It depends how you want to look at it. The one real irk of the game is its speed is dependant on how many combatants and helicopters are on each screen. On action-packed screens it slows down considerably and, as you deal with the soldiers and helicopters, it obligingly speeds up again. This is probably due to having to power multi-coloured machine code graphics in the Electron's slowest Mode. You pay for the beauty of the graphics on-screen with this very annoying and very noticeable side-effect. (With a turbo Electron however, it disappears.)
Overall, despite the quirks, I would say that Stryker's Run is varied enough to appeal to most arcade fans. It's certainly a game I come back to time and time again.