If the name of Centaur's new shoot 'em up sounds familiar, that's because it's based on the Academy Award-winning film of the same name.
Made in 1966, Fantastic Voyage starred Stephen Boyd, Raquel Welch and Donald Pleasance in a battle against time to save a dying scientist. In true Cold War-style, the defecting professor had been badly hurt in an assassination attempt by the 'other side' (i.e. the commies). Suffering serious brain damage, the dying man is vitally important to secret tests being carried out into miniaturisation, and the powers-that-be decide to shrink a mini-sub and its crew to microscopic size and inject them into the man's circulatory system to destroy the clot in his brain.
Such B-movie pretentions were at odds with the film's lavish special effects, which won the movie an Oscar. Much the same can be said of the game. Although the graphics are superb, the actual gameplay is pedestrian and uncreative.
The scenario follows the film almost to the letter. The game begins in an artery near the neck of the patient. Controlling the submarine, Proteus, you have to guide the miniature vessel through the maze-like byways of the human body, avoiding antibody cells and other defence systems, in an attempt to reach the brain and destroy the blood clot with a laser.
Along the way, nine pieces of a circuit board have to be recovered in order to operate the laser, as well as fuel and oxygen pods to keep Proteus operational. Failure to do so will result in either the ship exploding or its occupants turning a very dark shade of blue!
There are three difficulty levels to choose from (Beginner, Advanced or Pro) and these determine how many hits the Proteus can sustain. Starting with three lives, with two continues for added longevity, the ship can move in eight directions via the joystick.
In all, there are three huge levels to navigate, all made up of intricate passageways through the human body. The first involves what look like massive flying marshmallows which, I'm reliably informed, are antibodies, together with cancer cells and other miscreant nasties.
Most of these have been based on electron microscope photographs of the interiors of blood vessels and cells, although some are obvious flights of fancy, especially when they start shooting back.
Level two is even more bizarre featuring organisms based upon 'tracks created in the bubble chamber of particle accelerators when they are subjected to beams of sub-atomic particles'. Sure guys, but they still look like marshmallows to me! After collecting all the microchips and completing the last level, it's off to fry the blood clod and complete the mission.
Graphically, Fantastic Voyage is superb. The area immediately surrounding the vessel is illuminated with the rest of the screen masked in varying degrees of darkness. The programmers have also used the effect first seen in Battle Squadron, which distorts certain parts of the screen and causes a liquid-like ripple. Here it's used to brilliant effect and at times it almost seems that you are indeed piloting a ship down a human artery.
Despite the flashy graphics, there's no hiding the fact that the gameplay is a bit 'tired'- the ship moves at a snail's pace and it's easy to avoid the on-coming bio-slugs and attack waves. To some extent this is excusable as the variety of bio-beasts on the loose is superb; it's just a pity that the overall design is a bit sloppy.
The film set the medical crew a time limit of sixty minutes to complete their mission before they grew back to real size. A similar time element introduced in the game would have given a certain urgency to the proceedings, but as it stands, there's nothing here to set the pulse racing.