Alright, so I think this’ll be a good game to start the 5200 with, Rescue on Fractalus! RoF was one of the first in a long line of games from Lucasarts, and as first games go this is amazing. I won’t bore you with a history of Lucasarts or of the 5200; I already did a whole write up on that, so let’s just jump into Rescue on Fractalus!
FRACTALS! I don’t know what they are, or how they are utilized in this game, all I know is that they were used to make a full fledged 3D world for you to fly around in. Due to what I imagine is immense strain on the CPU and RAM the game runs in single digit framerates making for a very choppy experience, but I’m still overwhelmed that I can have it at all, and on the 5200 no less. The world is all brown, with only a grid of black lines to indicate changes in terrain, it’s very simple but it’s also effective because shaded 3D landscapes were probably a few light years out of the 5200’s reach at the time. It seems most of the work went into making the terrain as the rest of the game looks fairly simplistic by comparison, the enemies are vague shapes and your cockpit, though busy, isn’t all that complex and not nearly as cool looking as Phaser Patrol on the 2600. There are a few other effects that I really enjoy, entering the planet’s atmosphere is one of them, approaching an ominous sandy orb, fog fills your screen and then the craggy peaks fade in as the atmosphere lessens, it’s a little touch that goes a long way. According to the manual, I have not tested this myself, there is a day night cycle in the higher difficulties, as cool as I think it would be, I think I’ll pass, I’m not that much of a masochist.
The sounds are a fairly standard assortment of space shooter pastimes. The chunky sounds of laser cannons, the roar of the booster rockets as you skim over the planet’s surface, the crack of a well place shot obliterating an enemy turret, they’re all fairly standard but they do their job well. Much of the game is dominated by the sound of the ship’s engine, but due to the 5200’s POKEY chip you can have more than two sounds playing at once so you can have a laser battle while not having any of the sound stepping over each other. Well everything seems pretty good so far, how does the gameplay add to this overall package.
Well, if I had to compare it to anything it would have to be Choplifter, first person choplifter in spaceships. All the game amounts to is flying around the map, shooting enemy gun emplacements and an occasional flying enemy and picking up stranded pilots. There is a handy radar system that extends in a cone shape from the front of your ship and is very handy for locating well hidden pilots. You can also see a white indicator on the ships themselves which is helpful for close range pickups. All of these indicators are necessary because your viewing window is actually very small only taking up a third of the screen at most. Picking up the pilots is a bit of a process, fist you must locate them and press one to land, you must then turn your systems off so you don’t fry the pilot, then you must wait for the guy to run over to your ship, then open the airlock with three, when you hear them knocking it’s time to close the airlock turn on your systems and launch with six. The overall difficulty is increased due to you wrestling with the controls most of the time, but that’s in most part due to the low framerate messing with your reaction times and not the controller. Thankfully the programmers knew of this issue and gave your shots a blast radius so you don’t have to hit the enemies perfectly to destroy them. The non centering joystick actually works pretty well as a flight stick, it’s a pity that a few of the buttons on my keypad still refuse to work, I’m looking at you number seven. Speaking of the keypad, Rescue on Fractalus doesn’t have a keypad overlay, despite most of the button being used, thankfully somebody has made one of their own and you can find it with a simple Google search.
The game is fun, but despite the nifty graphics it’s not really all that much of a game, and I think its way too easy. I have to jack the difficulty up to eight or twelve just feel a bit of challenge. Finding the Mothership is also a pain, there is no indicator of it until you’re right on it so once you destroy all the enemies and collect all the pilots you’re stuck flying in circles until you get to just the right spot that looks exactly the same as the rest of them. So yeah, it’s a game that’s good in short bursts, but not much to play for long periods of time, usually I’ll just reset it once I destroy all the enemies because the button I need to dock with the Mothership doesn’t work, I’m looking at you SEVEN. As of now there aren’t any loose copies listed on Ebay, only boxed copies. The cheapest copy is 35 dollars NIB, which isn’t a bad deal; I got my copy for the same price. If you can find a loose copy for ten dollars or a boxed copy for 20 dollars this game is well worth your time and money.