Budget titles always have been, and always will be, mixed bags. You might get a hidden gem of a game or you might get stuck with a bunch of trash. I honestly don’t know how it was back in the 80’s with computer and console gaming being a bit more of a fledgling market, or even which publishers were considered budget, well I know of a few. The publisher of today’s game is most certainly a budget company, it’s pretty obvious, their tagline is “The best in low-priced entertainment software™” for crying out loud. Avantage, a name so poor that Word thinks I’m misspelling advantage and keeps correcting it for me, was a subsidiary of Accolade inc. and was responsible for selling games on Commodore 64/128, IBM PC’s and compatibles, as well as Tandy computers, and the game I’m looking at today was released on all three, at the same time on the same disk.
Okay so, Harrier 7, I found this game in the basement of my local game store sitting in a plastic bin with a few other games. The box was in all around decent condition due to it still being sealed but it, and the other games it was with, had a splash of water thrown on them from the building’s boiler. The owner of the store let me have Harrier 7 as well as the other games that weren’t irredeemably moldy for a low price, so who am I to pass up a bargain. I think the Harrier 7 box is really cool with its two-tone yellow and blue front and its well drawn, but very small, artwork of what I presume is a Harrier jet fighter taking off from an aircraft carrier. The rest of the box is fairly standard, a bunch of blurbs on the back about how good the game is and screenshots that I’m pretty sure are from the Commodore version since the IBM version (which is the one I’m playing) is stuck in CGA mode. The documentation is fairly sparse with a standard registration card, instruction card (you’re not getting a full manual here), a warranty slip, and a small product/ordering flyer with some Russian on the front. An overall compact package to be sure, but let’s get into the real meat of the review, the game itself.
Well, as I said earlier this particular game is set in CGA video, which means everything is magenta, turquoise, and black. This is frankly unacceptable since when this game was released both EGA and VGA were available, and there are no options to change the graphics anywhere in the game files or alluded to in the manual. This is why the screenshots on the back were from the C64 version, I know this wasn’t uncommon among home computers but that doesn’t mean I condone it. Frankly it’s embarrassing that such cutting edge machines are having their butts whooped by a (at the time) six year old microcomputer. I would comment on the graphics more but I can barely make out what anything is, at least there isn’t any noticeable flicker or graphical tearing, but that’s the least an IBM machine should be able to do. Actually I was worried if I could even get this game to work at all since with older games the speed of the game was tied into the speed of the processor, that’s why many machines had a turbo button (which did the exact opposite), and due to this being a budget release I would be in no way surprised if it fell back on that antiquated feature.
Sounds… Well this game has them but just like with the graphics their stuck at one of the worst available options. Harrier 7 has no sound card support, you are just forced to use the IBM speaker and deal with it. This is just a step above using the PC speaker, imagine the 2600 but with a single channel and everything is chunky and lumpy sounding, and that’s what you get, and as such just about any noise this game makes is a terrible mess of farts and crushed dreams. There is actually menu music and it’s so terrible that I recoiled the first time I heard it, it was so jarring and unnerving. There’s no need to say it but the C64 version is obviously better due to its fantastic SID chip, but I unfortunately cannot get the game to run reliably on my emulator so I’ll have to play it on my C64 later on.
The gameplay, well it’s almost a fun game it’s so close, but it’s ruined by the controls. The standard control layout is 1,2,3,4,F,S,Q for weapons, mission status, and to quit the game, while the buttons used to control the plane are A,Z,N,M and Space Bar. I don’t know what kind of alien hands the programmer had but this is not a very good control scheme, thankfully you are allowed to rebind the keys so it’s a bit more manageable but you are still not allowed to reassign the steering to the arrow keys, something all IBM keyboards had to some extent. I think they went with this strange control style to accommodate the Commodore users who didn’t have arrow keys even though the game is compatible with controllers on the C64 version despite there being no controller option for the IBM version. The control snafu completely overshadows the game itself which is a fairly standard Defender/Choplifter style shooter, where you shoot down enemy MIG’s and bomb bases while trying not to die. The game is difficult and could probably be fairly enjoyable if the controls were just more intuitive.
I don’t know if any gaming publications actually covered this game back in the day, it seems to be fairly unknown, so much so that Lemon 64 a website entirely dedicated to Commodore and their machines has no record of this game whatsoever, and frankly I think it should stay that way. A mediocre came to fill out your shelf and perhaps start a conversation or two. If you feel the need to own this game for yourself there is a single CIB copy on Ebay for 28 dollars. Who knows this might actually be a fairly rare game, even so that doesn’t justify any of the crap this game makes you put up with, Collector’s Zone for sure.