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Developed and published by Sega in 1987
Clearly influenced by the huge success of (the sadly deceased) Tony Scott's film, Top Gun, Sega developed and released this iconic arcade-shooter in 1987. Despite what the name suggests, After Burner II is really a revised version of the original game, introducing a throttle control, additional levels and gameplay tweaks.
Strapping the player into the cockpit of the iconic fighter jet, the F-14 Tomcat, the game is a retina-melting, synapse-frying experience where the objective is to shoot down as many enemy targets as possible, whilst not getting shot down in return.
Your plane is equipped with twin, rapid-firing vulcan cannons and an extensive supply of heat-seeking missiles. Whilst the gun is capable of shooting down targets, the sheer speed of the game makes reliance on the gun difficult if you're looking to rack up a high score, whereas missiles can be much more effective, providing you manage to establish a target lock. Moving the plane's targeting reticle over an enemy plane will initiate a target lock; any missile fired once locked will home in an take out the target.
Enemy jets appear in the distance and will launch their own barrage of missiles at your plane. It takes quick reactions to avoid the oncoming fire, but is also doubly tricky if you want to try and shoot down the oncoming plane as well; all to often, the game becomes more a case of simply avoiding enemy missiles than shooting anything down. The threat can also come from behind as jets attempt to shoot you down with guns and missile locks; the only way to survive is to fly fast and fly well!
Every so often, a supply plane will appear and will initiate a mid-air fuel and ammo transfer to resupply you with missiles, which looks extremely cool and also gives you a chance to catch your breath and to regain some feeling in your trigger finger.
Other stages remove any air-born threat and, instead, require the player to fly along a narrow desert canyon whilst strafing a succession of military supply tents, hangars and radio antenna. The trick here is to avoid crashing into the cliffs at the side of the screen or flying into the radio towers.
Based on Sega's X-Board platform, the game boasts some truly remarkable sprite scaling technology that came as close as possible to delivering a 3D experience using 2D technology. Even today, the scaling effect is remarkably effective and is still great to look at.
The game also boasts some truly excellent sound and music. The rock soundtrack features some great guitar and drum samples and really was ahead of it's time for 1987. The gun fire, explosions and sampled speech effects are extremely clear and really add to the the game's atmosphere.
Of course, perhaps the most memorable feature about this game has to be the fantastic rotating cockpit cabinet and flight stick; something that can't be experienced through emulation, unfortunately.
Whilst the game is certainly a lot of fun, I think that the technical lavishness sometimes gets in the way of the fun and makes things awkward. For example, the player's missiles leave a big vapour trail that makes it incredibly difficult to see anything in front of your plane and makes it difficult to see where/when enemy missiles are approaching. The game is difficult enough without having your view obscured most of the time.
Even so, there's no denying that After Burner II is one of the greatest and most iconic arcade games ever made and is a sad reminder of the days when Sega was a dominating force in both games hardware and software design.