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Some people think games like this are too violent for you to play. What a bunch of muddy funsters they are, eh chums?

Did anyone watch RoboCop on TV a few weeks ago? How we laughed. In a tribute to censors the world over, and in light of recent developments in the videogame biz, the rest of this review will (for your own protection) be written in the style of a film shown on ITV at half past ten on a Saturday night. Thank you.

('Flip' - Ed) me! What a ('Freaking' - Ed) great game! There's all these ('Crumbag' - Ed) soldiers running around ('Kissing' - Ed) loads of hostages, right, and you fly all over the place in your helicopter and ('Shout' - Ed) at them with your ('Mischief gunk' - Ed). Sometimes the nasty little ('Cork servers' - Ed) launch ('Mistletoe' - Ed) at you, though, so you have to fire off ('Rococos' - Ed) and completely ('Annoy' - Ed) them with ('Napkins' - Ed). Sometimes, the hostages get ('Short' - Ed) by mistake, though, and lie on the ground oozing ('Absolutely nothing at all' - Ed) all over the shop, so you have to fly back to your hospital tent and bring some people with stretchers in to carry them away before they ('Diet' - Ed).

The game starts off being quite tricky, but the later levels are real ('Melon farmers' - Ed), with some real ('Bus stops' - Ed) of enemy fortifications making your life incredibly hard. Many was the time I yelled ('Flaming heck' - Ed) and ('Pinched' - Ed) the wall beside my desk as I plunged to the ground in a ball of ('Confusion' - Ed) after being hit by a well-camouflaged ('Bulletin' - Ed) from a hidden ('Nun' - Ed) position. I hate those sons of ('Ladies' - Ed).

The very best bit of all, though, is when (This passage has been 'edited for scheduling reasons'. - Ed) - is that brilliant or what? Yes, this is a game of ('Violins' - Ed) in more ways than one.

Censors, eh? What a load of ('Publishers' - Ed). I can't stand self-appointed moral guardians of any kind (Even given that 'right' and 'wrong' were any kind of scientific absolutes, which they're obviously not, what makes Mary Whitehouse, say, any better judge of them than, say, Madonna?), and it ('Parks my car' - Ed) that they're starting to creep into our little world now too.

Apocalypse is almost certainly the kind of game that would get a '15-17' in the new videogame rating system ('realistic' graphics, little people getting wounded as well as killed, the screams of the dying, politically sensitive plot scenario, whatever), and I'm not really sure quite where it's all going to get us, save for making the industry look more 'responsible' in the eyes of a group who don't really give a ('Fig' - Ed) about it anyway. I mean, if you're a parent, what really worries you more - the fact that little Jimmy's seeing a bit of splotchy computer blood in Mortal Kombat, or the fact that he's forking out 60 quid for it in the first place? Exactly. Anyway, back to Apocalypse.

Apocalypse, as I'm sure you all know by know, is an updated version of Choplifter, a hugely popular shoot-'em-up from the early days of the C64 and the Atari 400. You pilot a helicopter into enemy territory, blast open prison huts, and ferry the thus-released hostages back to the safety of your base in your chopper. Enemy units (tanks, infantry, helicopters, gun positions) try to shoot both you and the hostages, and there endeth the plot. It's a straightforward and old-fashioned arcade game, and Apocalypse doesn't mess with the winning formula. As well as being a strength, though, that's possibly the game's greatest weakness - what's alright for a fiver in 1985 doesn't necessarily make for a good deal in 1994 at 30. Apocalypse is beautiful while it lasts, but you only get five levels, and there's a limit to how many times you can go back and play them again before it gets a little dull.

I'm getting a little ahead of myself, though. Let's talk about the gameplay for a bit (go on, you know you want to). Like I said, it's Choplifter with a few frills, namely some power-ups and some pretty scenery. But what pretty scenery - Apocalypse's lush greenery and mist-shrouded mountains conjure up the image of the best Vietnam movie you've never seen. Level two is especially lovely , with waterfalls cascading into shimmering pools beside terraces of jungle huts snuggling together underneath skyscraping machine-gun towers, but every level (well, the four I've played) is a verdant symphony of mellifluous - er, sorry, getting a bit carried away there. It's nice, anyway.

It's a satisfyingly difficult game, too. You start off with no continues, earning one only for saving every single hostage on a level. Without them your chances are minimal, because Apocalypse starts off hard and gets exponentially harder, but there's always a way through - keep plugging away and you'll always get somewhere. It helps to discover the best order to destroy the various buildings in - for example, on level one you can save yourself an awful lot of trouble by taking out the big gun mounted on the hillside and then the enemy radio hut nearby, which prevents enemy choppers from being summoned to attack you every time you land to pick up hostages. This is pretty much the only element of strategy in the game, so make the most of it.

The only annoying thing about the gameplay structure, in fact, is that you can only carry six little geezers in your chopper at once (or two if you've got a medical team on board to pick up the wounded). This is, of course, a deliberate ploy gamewise, but it's a bit of a pain on the second level, where the only sensible way to play is to wipe out all opposition first, then release the hostages and take them back without the danger of accidentally wasting them in a firefight. The problem is that there's 40 of the little bleeders, so you have to do seven trips laboriously trudging backwards and forwards across almost the entire length of the stage, taxi-ing your charges with no intervention from any enemies whatsoever (unless you have to get the medical team, in which case you quite often find a tank lurking implausibly on their launchpad), and it's a bit pointlessly dull.

Um... anything else I can tell you about Apocalypse? No, don't think so.

UPPERS Beautiful-looking, tough and addictive.

DOWNERS Hard as they are, five levels aren't going to last you forever. And it doesn't, would you believe, recognise a second disk drive. Five percent off.

THE BOTTOM LINE Overpriced at 30 quid, undoubtedly, but a deeply enjoyable game all the same, and well worth at least 81%.


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