No sweat at all this one. In Dark Star you're the pilot of the spaceship Liar, and you goal is to "liberate your galaxy from domination by the Evil Lord's tyrannical Empire". The galaxy's divided up into a 16 x 16 grid of sectors, each sector containing an indeterminate number of planets.
Now the planets in the lightly defended sectors have a couple of alien bases, the odd fuel dump, and maybe a spaceport. The bases are crawling with air defence towers, and all you've got to do to knock them out is fly through a skyful of flak, a particularly nasty force field and knock out the planetary defence system in the centre.
Then it's on to the next base, and so on until you've liberated the planet. Then you deal with the other 200 or so planets in the galaxy - no problem...
Having dealt with the pipedream section I supposed we'd best move on to the truth. The Liar is a relatively nippy but simple little point and shoot style ship. Your basic controls are up, down, left, right and fire, with the addition of a speed control and a toggle switch that allows you to view a map of the galaxy or the planet you're currently on.
The initial screen display is a forward view of the space you're flying through , and you'll meet the odd enemy spacecraft here, but generally they're nothing to worry about. Your two major concerns at this level are the planets which you fly past and the hyperspace gates. You get to the surface of a planet by pointing the Liar at it, whereupon your flight computer does the rest.
You then consult your tactical map and head for the nearest enemy concentration. Broadly speaking, these aren't really much of a problem - it's just a matter of flying low, dodging the missiles and knocking out the air defence towers. But the nasty part is the force field.
You can't see the field, but your computer identifies holes in it. These are presented as rectangles through which you must fly, and if you don't the field drains your power. Meanwhile, as you're holding a steady course you're a sitting duck for the aforementioned ack-ack. You seem to score extra points for flying through the field, but it's so hairy I counted myself lucky if I came out the other side at all, never mind in one piece.
So really it's all still to play for. I've managed to wipe out one small spaceport on one small planet, and I reckon an hour's hard flying might just be enough to liberate the whole of the planet. Once you've done this it's back into space, find a hyperspace gate and fly through it to the next system. This is just as easy as the rest of the game - a series of rectangles forms a tunnel, and you have to fly through this. You lose energy points if you stray off course, but with practice I'm confident that I can survive the ordeal some of the time.
If you've ever played Time Gate, you'll have some idea of what Dark Star is about, but Dark Star is more complicated, and much more difficult. It'll keep you busy for a long time, and try as I may I can't think of a better arcade game for the Spectrum. Right now I'm off to see if I can check out a heavily-defended system without getting killed.
John Lettice Stop Press: John Lettice disappeared into Dark Star last Friday. He has not been seen since.