Fast Break logo

Electronic Arts
Price: £9.95 cass; £14.95 disk

You could write everything I know about basketball on a bitesize Mars bar wrapper. But having played Fast Break, I reckon I could make a mess of coaching the Harlem Globetrotters.

The reason for this is that Fast Break panders to that American obsession with 'plays': general strategies and player statistics. Without all this basketball would simply be netball for tall people with arms like drainpipes.

Fast Break looks to me like being a cut above the average basketball sim. The programmers have made the incredible discovery that in reality basketball is quite fast, so they've made the game live up to its name and delivered action that's sometimes so quick that you wander what's going on. Admittedly this only happens when the computer is in control of a team but it's still very impressive.

The two teams in question are the Slammers and the Jammers. You can be either team playing against the computer or choose the two-player option. Unlike the real game, this version is three-a-side and before you start, you must choose three from the squad of six players at your disposal.

You also get figures on field goals attempted/gained, personal fouls, steals and turnovers (giving the ball to the other side when you shouldn't).

Basketball would be nothing without its 'plays' so a set of fifteen are included from which you can choose up to four for each player. This section will prove difficult for basketball birdbrains because, although the names of plays are listed, nowhere is it explained what they do. So what's a Double Screen Left or a Pick 'n' Roll? (The last one's about nasal excavation - Ed).

Now for the actual gameplay. It is good, although very biased to the computer if you choose that option. Movement is slick, passing fast, and shooting is simple: hold the joystick button down, wait for your man to jump and then let go to watch him shoot. You use the same action in defence when you're trying to stop a basket.

Attention to detail is good. Shots sometimes roll round the basket rim or bounce off. Computer-controlled players do make what look like 'plays'.

You can also use the plays you selected during the match. Dribble the ball into the opponents' half, turn back to the centre and play freezes. A display of that man's possible plays appears with an arrow direction for each one. Push the joystick in the direction of the arrow for that play and you activate it. Since I never knew what the plays were supposed to do, I couldn't tell whether they succeeded or not. This also rather interferes with the flow of the game as you can imagine.

Fast Break deserves to be among the best of the batch of basketball sims so far but it is aimed at a small group of punters who understand the game and enjoy its technicalities. Whether the worlds needs another basketball sim I don't know.