Fire Force was originally released for the Dragon 32 and 64 in the UK, and was more recently ported to the Coco. One of the most ambitious titles done for the Dragon, it featured 4 voice music (including a full length title page song) using digitized samples vs. the more standard "organ" style music most games had. It also had animations even between levels, cheat modes, and 3 distinct areas of play. It also allowed switching color sets to artifacted color on an NTSC Coco 1/2 or Dragon. It used a lower graphics mode (128x96x4) to keep the speed up, and is very professionally done. My only complaint is how hard the game is (or maybe I am just getting old!). Having the cheat mode (see below) to start at any level or give yourself infinite lives definitely helps. The game does give you a generous (at first glance) number of lives - 8 of them - but you will go through these rather quickly. There are also musical interludes when you die, complete levels, etc.
The first stage is similar to arcade games like Commando or other Coco games like Rush 'n Assault, where you travel up a scrolling screen dodging bullets, shooting bad guys, and dodging in, under and around terrain. The collision detection seems a little off to me, making the game more difficult. But if you get far enough, you will complete the mission, and earn bonus points based on how many men you have left.
The second stage has you running sideways across one of the bridges that you have seen on the first stage; here you have men coming at you from both sides, shooting away. You can shoot them, and you can duck (their bullets will always travel over your head if you squat down). Here you have to last long enough to complete the level, but at the end of the stage you get bonus points based on how far you penetrated into enemy territory running on the bridge. You have a yellow timer bar to show how much time you have left, and a blue bar to show far you have made it. It's a mad scramble of firing, ducking and running.
The third stage changes the gameplay again; this time your are in a fighter jet, flying over varied terrain and shooting/dodging enemy jets, which more often than not come in pairs. The game tantalizingly will let you shoot between two planes, but your jet will not fit through them, and you die. You also have to adjust your height to fly under bridges, over buildings, and collect power (you do have an altimeter on the lower left in this level to help gauge your height).
The game features a high score board that can fit fairly long names. The "cheat" codes can be entered on the color selection screen; in addition to hitting R for the green/yellow/blue/red color set, or M for the black/blue/orange/white character set, you can also hit A to activate the Authorization Code screen. Hitting C on this screen takes you to the joystick controlled Passcode screen, where there are 4 codes that I know of:
IMFTC - start on stage 1
UGLY - start on stage 2
TECHNIX - start on stage 3
ENDLESS - infinite lives
Aside from the insane difficulty when not using the codes, this is extremely well done game that pushed the boundaries. It should be noted that another game called Fire Force was released from the UK 6 years later for the Commodore Amiga and the Atari ST, that has very different gameplay but also lists one of the authors as Dave Gibbons. While I am not 100% sure, I suspect that this is the same author.
A promotion ad from the November 1986 issue of Dragon User magazine mentions that the game took "three programmers six months to develop";other than Dave Gibbons and Chris Jolly, I don't know who the other programmer is.
Title: Fire Force
Author: Dave Gibbons, music by Chris Jolly (using his AMS "Advanced Music System" software)
Publisher: Quickbeam Software (licensed from Future Software Systems)
Requires: Color Computer 1,2,3 ONLY, 32K RAM, joystick.
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