Line of Fire - Arcade, Amiga, Atari ST, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, Master System (1989)
Sega's Line of Fire is a miliary themed shooting gallery game, much like Taito's Operation Wolf. The story focuses on two 80s action movie-type heroes, who are captured by enemy forces but escape in a powerful weaponized vehicle. While this vehicle starts off as a jeep, it transforms into a boat and a helicopter later in the game. Mechnically, however, there's little difference between then. You blaze forward, through jungles, canyons and deserts, firing at everything in sight, shooting down knives and missiles before they get close enough to damage you. Ammunition for the machine gun is unlimited, but there are screen clearing missiles to find along the way.
What separates it from the pack is the 3D effects, courtesy of Sega's super scaler technology, running on the Sega System X board. Rather than scrolling slowly from left-to-right, like other shooting gallery games of the 80s, the movement is fully 3D, though the route is still guided on rails. And it looks DAMN good. The first stage takes place inside of an enemy base, running through a straight corridor, before it takes a ninety degrees turn. It's an incredible use of sprite manipulation, considering it's done without the use of texture mapped polygons, which is how the effect was used in true 3D games. At a few points, the viewpoint even angles upwards and downwards, to attack enemies in the sky or on the ground. It doesn't quite look right, since the sprites themselves are still viewed straight-on, just manipulated to appear in different positions.
Gameplay-wise, it's nothing spectacular, as it's just a typical game wrapped in a technological showcase. But the wow factor of 1989 - this was two years before true first person shooters began showing up - it's an impressive demo.
Line of Fire was ported to all of the major European computers, with the code work being done by Creative Materials. None of these computers had light guns, so the cursor is controlled by a mouse (for the systems that support one), a joystick, or a keyboard. Obviously, a light gun game without a light gun is kind of pointless, especially for a game like Line of Fire where its biggest draw is its technical effects, which were far beyond the capabilities of any home machine.
The Amiga and Atari ST versions are the closest to the arcade, relatively speaking, in that it has a fairly accurate replication of the introduction, and tries to keep the scaling effects. It's an admirable attempt, and looks halfway impressive for the era, but obviously it comes up short. The animation is very choppy, the backgrounds have been reduced to one or two sprites pasted over and over, and the sprites are blocky even at a distance. It's glitchy and there are far too many enemies to deal with, making it quite frustrating.
The Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC and ZX Spectrum are looser interpretations. The first stage in each of these ports actually looks pretty decent, with smooth scrolling hallways that would have looked pretty nice in a first person dungeon crawler. Subsequent levels are an impossible mess, though, with animation that might average a frame or two a second. Compared to the overt difficult to the Amiga/Atari ST versions, these are more sparsely populated, to the point of boredom.
Sega brought Line of Fire to the Sega Master System in European and Australian territories, though the game was actually developed by Sanritsu. Though they could have made a Light Phaser game, instead they decided to go a completely different route by ditching the shooting gallery genre altogether, and turning it into an overhead shooter.
At first glance, it looks a bit like Konami's Jackal. It's not quite the same though - it uses forced scrolling like any other vertical shooter, and you can only move about halfway up the screen before you're stopped by an invisible wall. You can't even run over human soldiers, which is a little disappointing, considering how fun it was in Jackal.
Like the arcade game, you're armed with two weapons - a standard machine gun, and a bazooka with limited ammo. The machine gun works for ground based enemies, while the missiles work for airborne foes, a reversal of the same concept introduced in Xevious. Oddly, you can control the trajectory of the missiles in mid-flight by moving back and forth. There are also ramps that let you jump over rivers or attack enemies in mid-air. Yes, that means you hurtle a jeep into the sky and use it to take down a helicopter. Due to the 2D graphics, though, it's not nearly as dramatic as it sounds.
The map screen looks similar to the arcade game, though there are only six levels instead of eight. The level themes are vaguely similar, as you jump into other vehicles throughout. One of the levels sticks you in a boat, while the two final stages have you piloting a helicopter, reversing the dynamic of the machine guns and missiles. It's not particularly difficult - you can take several hits before dying, have three lives, and two continues - nor is it particularly long, but it's reasonably fun.
Although it's not advertised anywhere on the game's box or even in the manual, Line of Fire has a secret 3D mode, for use with the system's 3D glasses. This is activated by holding both buttons on the control pad and powering up the system.
Interestingly, after Sega ripped of Operation Wolf with this game, Taito repaid them the favor with 1990's Space Gun, another gallery shooting which used 3D graphics. However, neither Taito's programmers nor their technology was up to par, and the game looks slightly anemic compared to Line of Fire. They did, however, develop a fairly decent port for the Sega Master System, while Sega's version of Line of Fire for the platform was a completely different type of game.