576 S. Telegraph
Pontiac, MI 48053
Low resolution $39.95
by Andy Eddy
MichTron is one of the ST's biggest software development supporters, and, with the assistance of their British sister company, MicroDeal, they have provided ST users with a wealth of quality titles for work and play. But you have to figure that, every once and a while, their quest for excellence slips, letting a below-par effort through. With that in mind, we'll introduce Shuttle II, which was produced by MicroDeal. It's not a terrible game per se; it just has problems in some of its player interaction.
Your objective is to control a Space Shuttle mission through its paces, from choosing a launch site until the touchdown. Along the way, you face challenges such as takeoff, booster and external tank separation, tracking and retrieving a satellite, atmospheric reentry, and, finally, landing. Every main flying stage has an accompanying chart showing the flight path you're supposed to take, which you must keep to as much as possible, to get the highest score.
As explained in the manual, it's not an arcade like simulation, but rather a "highly enjoyable pointsscoring game." Unfortunately, gameplay is inconsistent. I frequently found myself watching the screen with little to do; at other times, I was at a loss to keep up with the chores required of me. At further stages, my keyboard inputs didn't do what they were supposed to. This supplanted most of the intended "enjoyable points scoring."
Goals like tank separations (tasks that will earn you an added bonus if you complete them successfully and at the correct time) are accomplished by hitting a particular key on the keyboard. These game sections either didn't work for me, or the time allowed to strike the key was so short I found it difficult to hit at the right moment. Strangely enough-though I am thankful, under the circumstances-the mission won't be squashed by those failings. The computer will take care of missed jobs, but you lose the bonus you would have received.
When you've reached outer space, your next task is to find a wayward satellite. Maneuvering with the aid of your onboard guidance system is easy enough, but using the mouse to control thrusters (nose up/down, wing roll and forward thrust) lacks the necessary quick response. Similarly, trying to keep your eyes on your guidance system reading and the mouse pointer location is a strain.
Retrieving the satellite is a bother, also. The documentation claims that all you have to do is space-walk your astronaut up to the floating cargo and "touch" its wings to dock with it. Many times, I cruised him up, down and crossways in juxtaposition to the satellite-to no avail; when I did link with it, it seemed to be at arbitrary moments.
During the last two phases, you're reentering the atmosphere and landing the shuttle. While reentering, the craft is subject to severe heat, so you must monitor the shell temperature, as well as control the craft through an S-turn on approach to the runway. I've had a hard time getting out of this with my ship intact. But, regardless of how you complete this phase, you're moved on to the landing phase-a difficult phase to complete with a hunk of unpilotable scrap metal.
The landing screen is equally difficult to clear, and, no matter what the outcome -usually unsuccessful-you reach the high score table with congratulations on a fine mission. Hmmm, not the kind of reception you'd expect for a poor navigating job.
I don't want to say that Shuttle II is a total waste. It's just that, with so many choices in the ST marketplace, you could do better. On the other hand, the programming is decent and the graphics well conceived, showing that the creators have the ability to put together a satisfactory contest, provided the concept is good. Too bad it wasn't in this case.
Andy Eddy works as a cable TV technician in Connecticut, but has been interested in computers since high school. While his family's Atari 800 is four years old, he's been avidly playing arcade games since Space Invaders and is a former record holder on Battlezone.