Reviewer: Rich Pelley
Flight sims - how could we ever live without 'em, eh? Where else can you quite happily blat about in 30 tons of plane, see what happens if you try to land on a river, blow up your air base if you're feeling a bit scampish, and still be home in time for tea? And all with absolutely no worry whatsoever about complaints from the neighbours or a £30 million (ish) bill winging its way through your letter box! They're brill!
And Fighter Bomber is no exception! in fact, its especially brill. Up until now, you see, most of the (really, really) good flight sims have been confined to the 16-bit machines, with the ones on the Speccy being much less ambitious. There have been exceptions - like MicroProse's Project Stealth Fighter, say - but Fighter Bomber seems to be an advance over even the best of them in two significant ways. First off, it's not a wire-frame vector graphics jobbie (which can all too often look like a load of squiggly lines crawling all over the screen, no matter how clever they are). Instead it features solid-filled 3D graphics, which look great. And secondly, the emphasis is taken off shooting down other planes (which normally means hanging around for absolutely ages until they turn up) and onto attacking ground-based targets. Now this might not sound quite as exciting, but in actual fact it means there's far more ground detail (so you get more to look at) and there's always something to hit if your real target doesn't turn up (ie you can't find it). "What, no tank formation? Might as well drop my load on this innocent-looking bridge then!" - that kind of thing.
So how does it all work? Well, Vektor Graphix (who programmed the thing for Activision) may have missed out some of the plane choices and stuff for the Speccy version, but the gameplay from the 16-bits is all more or less here. This adds sup to about six squillion key commands, for everything from raising your undercarriage through firing your Sidewinders to operating the on-board coffee-maker - it all takes some learning. The game gives you the choice of eight different missions, which get increasingly difficult as you progress - at the start you begin from flying at 8,000 feet or whatever (ie avoiding the tricky process of taking off), but some of the later ones expect you to carry out such horrific tasks as landing your plane (gasp) to pick up more weapons - all a bit too complicated for me at the moment, considering my piloting 'skills'.
Talking of weapons, you've got a whole host to choose from, depending a bit on which plane you use. There are bombs (of course - wouldn't be much of a bomber game without them, would it?), flares (ones you fire, not ones you wear), chaff (which distracts radar-homing missiles), Maverick and Sidewinder missiles (air-to-ground and air-to-air respectively), your trusty cannon - and probably a few more I've not worked out how to use yet. A fairly good selection, I think you'll agree, but before you get to use any of them there's a bit more choosing to be done - like which plane you're going to use.
In the Speccy version Vektor Graphix gives you a choice of four - there's the rather ancient but still pretty nifty Phantom, the (also rather ancient and very Swedish) Saab Viggen, the rather more up-to-date and ultra-snazzy Tornado and (I'm a bit confused as to why it's in here but perhaps I'm missing something) the MIG 27 'Flogger'. You see, the whole game is inspired by a sort of international bombing contest the Americans run in some desert somewhere, so what the Russians are doing there I'm not sure. Still, it might in fact be a MIG from some other more friendly country that uses them or something - I mean, what do I know?
To aid in the picking process the program first gives you a very nice colour piccy of each plane, quickly followed by a brief description of its history and capabilities, and then a brilliant solid 3D image of it, as it appears in the game, spinning frantically towards you. Lummocks! They're all very recognisable - the giant tail fin of the Tornado, the canard wing arrangement on the Saab, the Phantom's unusual tail planes and droopy nose and the red star on the fin of the MIG (which rather ruins my 'friendly air forces' theory). Just watching them twiddle is really quite stunning - never thought I'd see graphics like this on the good old Speccy! (You could almost just leave them up and running all day - it'd be like watching tropical fish in a tank.)
So which one shall I have? I think it'll have to be the pretty green one. (But they're nearly all green! Ed) Okay, the blotchy brown one then (the MIG). Right, I've chosen my plane so now I'd better see what my mission is. Blimey! A large (and green) map pops up showing a hefty chunk of the good old US of A. Click on a target, click on 'Mission Text' for some extra into (eg what exactly I have to do), then on 'Target Recon' for a 3D close-up of what I'm meant to be bombing, and we're away. Actually, 'Target Recon' is a really good bit, with tres brillo animation sequences. Where I'm going looks quite pretty this time - shame it's soon going to be in about a trillion tiny pieces (heehee).
Actually flying the thing is a bit more complex. First off, start the engine (always a good point to remember when trying to fly a plane), now off with the brakes, push forward on the accelerator, pull back on the joystick (well, keys actually - you don't seem to be able to use a joystick) and we're airborne! Hoorah! Things are peaceful, the sun is shining, birds are flying past and... hmm. That's a rather big bird, isn't it? Yikes!! It's a huge SAM zooming towards me (no, not a Coupe, it's a Surface-to-Air Missile actually, folks)! Blimey! Let's release a flare to confuse the git! By a million to one chance I get the right button, the flare zooms out and... the missile ignores it! Booom! I blow up. Ho hum, back to the air field.
Right, what I did wrong there, folks, was release a flare - these only distract heat-seekers, so if its a radar-homing missile (like that one was) it'll still keep coming. No, what I wanted was chaff - lots of little bits of metal that float prettily through the air and 'look' like a nice big fat juicy target to the SAm. Hmm. Better luck next time.
Y'see, I've been having great fun with Fighter Bomber for hours, and I've not hit a single target yet! Half the fun is watching your plane go through manouvres, fire missiles, drop bombs, sweep the wings back (if it's a Tornado or MIG), raise the undercarriage - the game comes with an absolutely ace choice of external views, which I could watch for ages. Alright, they're not new - Chuck Yeager's Advanced Flight Trainer had them as well, but there are more of them here, and they're a lot prettier too.
Fighter Bomber is one of those games it would really take three or four weeks to assess properly, finding out exactly where its strengths and limitations lie, but unfortunately we don't have that much time (because we've got to get this ish out!). What I can say though is that this has to be the best Speccy flight sim I've ever seen - I must've had 15 quids' worth of enjoyment just mucking around with it! The missions (what I've achieved of them, which is nothing to write home about) have been fun and well thought-out, and, graphically, it's almost unbelievably good, managing to cope with updating everything at quite a rate. So what's wrong with it? Well, not much really. The sound's a bit crap, but then that's hardly a major part of the whole caboodle, is it? This has to be the most realistic flight sim we've seen on the Speccy, really stretching the limits, and, despite our slight fears, the lack of very much to shoot down hardly hampers things at all - if this sort of thing's your bag, it's a must-buy.
THE COMPLETE YS GUIDE TO FLIGHT SIMS
Oh cripes. Whose idea was this? Couldn't we do it on something else? Nah, we promised. How about putting if off for another month? Or we could make JONATHAN DAVIS do it? Heh heh. Right, where's he got to? Ah ha!
Neeeeeow! Dakka dakka dakka! Kaboom! "Crikey, Ginger, pull up! Over."
"I can't! I think my flaps have gone a bit funny. Over." Neeeow! Boom!
"Bail out! Bail out! Over." Dakka dakka dakka. (Ricochet noises.)
"Er, okay then. Over and out."
Sorry about that, just trying to inject a bit of excitement into this thing because, let's face it, flight sims aren't exactly the most exciting bits of software around.
Or are they?
No, They're not. But there are loads of them about, and people keep buying them. Why is this? Perhaps we'd better investigate.
For thousands of years man has dreamt of flight... (Cut the crap, Ed) Erm, well, perhaps it's because they demand a bit more thought than your average arcade game. Fast reactions are all very well, but what about using your noddle occasionally? Keeping a plane in flight isn't just a matter of wobbling your joystick about a bit, which is the impression that lesser games give. You've got angles of attack to worry about, altitude, navigation, weapons systems, undercarriage... the list is endless. As are the manuals usually. And that's another thing. If you've never played one before you'll need to spend hours wading through one of these breeze-block tomes before you can even get off the ground.
Once you've got the thing up in the air though you're well away. With any luck there'll be lots of scenery to look at and plenty of enemy thingies to 'take out'. You might even like to indulge in a bit of aerobatics to pass the time. The one thing you should always keep an eye on though is the ground. Stay away from this at all costs. Unless you're landing, of course, which is another story altogether.
SO WHAT'S A FLIGHT SIM THEN, EH?
In compiling this guide I was faced with the usual problem - what exactly is a flight simulation? What are the criteria? Where do you draw the line? I decided to seek the advice of one of Europe's leading experts in the field of computer games.
"Er, Matt? (Cough.) Matt?' I ventured.
"Would you have said that, say, Fighter Pilot was a flight sim? Huh? Matt?" I enquired cheerily.
"Er, probably," he replied.
"How about Harrier Attack?"
"I expect it is, yes."
"Or Night Raider?"
"Um, look, I've got to go out. To the, er, shops. I'll see you later. Maybe."
Unperturbed. I decided to try Andy, but he didn't appear to hear me. I also tried ringing up a few friends. They all seemed to be out.
So it's all down to me then. Well, I reckon that really, in a flight sim, you ought to be in control of a plane of some sort. Ideally you'd get a 3D view out of the cockpit, but I'll be flexible and allow ones where you see the plane on the screen from the back (like ATF) and even ones where you see the view in 2D (from the top or something).
Another important guideline is the number of keys. Preferably there should be at least 2,452 of them, each with about three different functions. But, again, I'll allow a generous margin of error and set the bottom line at six.
And finally there's the manual. Obviously this should be as large and impenetrable as possible, with lots of incomprehensible acronyms that you have to keep looking up in the glossary at the back. A rough guide to length? Let's say 500-600 pages for a decent one or, if the game comes in an ordinary cassette box, an inlay card that folds out into a thin strip long enough to wrap round Matt's tummy at least two and a half times.
So now we know just what makes up a flight sim, let's take a look at a few…
Once again, the normally-so-versatile YS rating system doesn't really seem too appropriate here (Instant appeal? Addictiveness?). So what we've done is to come up with a revised system, specially tailored to meet the needs of today's flight sim. Let's have a nosey...
The View: Can you see anything nice out of the window? Or is it all just green and blue wiggly lines? And does the scenery glide around smoothly or jerk around like an Allegro with a dodgy clutch?
Realism: This can often be determined by the number of keys the game uses. So that's just what we've done. Counted 'em. As there are 40 keys on your basic Speccy, and each one can be doubled or even tripled up, the maximum comes out to exactly 100. Handy, eh?
Dakka Factor: Is there much to shoot? Or is it all a matter of map-reading, gauge-watching and other such nonsense? And once you've shot whatever it is, does it explode dramatically and plummet to the ground leaving a trail of smoke behind it? Or not?
Net Weight: A crucial part of any flight sim is all the junk that comes with it. So, adding together all the disks, maps, manuals, stickers and the box, what do the YS scales make of it? (All weights are, of course, approximate.) (In degrees.)
While Fighter Bomber isn't regarded as one of the most technically-accurate flight sims on the ST and Amiga, it's brilliant fun and ideal for Speccysation. It wouldn't have been quite the same without the solid 3D graphics, so they've bunged those in with astonishing success. They've also given you the same choice of planes to fly (but cut down a bit) so you can choose between the F-4 Phantom, the SAAB Viggen, the Tornado and the MiG 27 'Flogger'. They all handle differently and can carry different pay loads, and the Tornado and the MiG have authentic sweeping-back wings. On top of all this there's a range of missions to go on, and plenty of weaponry. The emphasis is on attacking ground targets, although air-to-air combat does feature. Oh, and there's the 'hop outside and look at your plane from all sorts of positions' option too. It could quite possibly be the best flight sim ever.
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