CHEQUEBOOKS at 5 o'clock. With a flash of a Parker on the dotted line, the biggest arcade licence of '88 was won for Activision. The rights to convert Sega's Afterburner for home computers went for between £100,000 and £250,000, depending on who you believe.
It was down to Argonaut Software to create a game which justified Activision's handout to Sega. The F-14 Tomcat is an awesome fighter, capable of taking on six enemy planes at once. Afterburner really tests your flying skills by presenting you and your Tomcat with dozens of enemy craft.
This is no simulator, it's a seat of the pants blast-'em-up. As the skies fill with targets you can take them out with either your constantly firing machine gun or move a crosshair over the foe and target a Sparrow-
Your main problem is spotting the incoming missiles among those you have sent on a mission of death. I guess real F-14 pilots have much the same problem. I found a good technique was to alternate between minimum and maximum thrust.
It all gets a little repetitive, although a phase of flying down a canyon is quite fun.
There are interludes to rearm and refuel at the end of each level, all of which have been copied across from the arcade game. A flying tanker can top you up with the best unleaded the USAF can provide, while later on you land among a collection of bowsers and a ground crew.
It is in these interludes that the arcade programmers have included some nice touches. Sprites from other games appear, such as the Super Hang On motorbike and the Out Run Testarossa. They have suffered a little in the translation - I'm told the colours had to be restricted to get a multimegabyte game on to two discs.
Afterburner was a feast of fast action the arcade, complemented by great hydraulics. At home the game fails to live up to that, but then there is no way an £500 home machine, even an Amiga, can compete with £9,000 worth of dedicated hardware.
The Amiga version is by far the best, a good deal faster and slicker than the ST game, but still fails to live up to the promise of the screen shots on the box. Activision may be the winner in the battle of the licenses, but it is the gamesplayer who loses the war.