It's been a long time since Fighter Pilot - the revolutionary flight simulator from Digital Integration that revived a whole genre by giving the opportunity of killing things. Well now it's the turn of the helicopter pilot to take off from the comfort of his own living room and keep the Western World free from whichever menace owns the bases, tanks, guns and other choppers that take pot shots at you.
Ignoring the militarism for a moment, this is a real treat for those of you who've only ever flown Cessnas with your Spectrum before. You won't believe how hi-tech the helicopter of today is. What with the chips that keep the nose level and the ones that tell you where the next target is, flying time before you arrive, when the pubs open... well, there's the equivalent of a couple of ZX81's here making flying a doddle.
I really enjoyed road-testing this machine, swooping low around the smooth 3D vector graphics of the landscape, clipping the tree tops, swerving among the mountain peaks. But Uncle Sam has a mission for me so it's out of practice mode, a quick look at the map, and I align my heading with the target radar dot - just time to check upon the combat mode before we encounter Ivan!
It should come as no surprise that you've hardly been short changed on weaponry. I was spoilt for choice between guns and missiles but finally plumped for a rocket to take out their field gun. After all. I could hardly keep them wailing while I hovered around making up my mind! Tilt nose down, target and fire. A satisfying explosion blows them into a thousand pixels and it's onto the next base. Of course I was on Trainee rating, flying without crosswinds, by day, but one day it'll be a force nine gale with only infra-red sights and then I'll deserve the Ace rating. Clint Eastwood, watch out.
Yes, it looks like D.I. has done it again - I got a real kick out of Tomahawk. My only quibble was the Lenslock security system that it's using. It's like something dreamt up by the MoD to protect official secrets, and I'm sure Tomahawk isn't that accurate!
Over 7,000 ground features and some of the best wire-frame 3D graphics this side of Novagen's long-awaited Mercenary, Tomahawk puts you in control of the US Army's latest attack helicopter, the Apache. Promoted by Hughes as "an extension of the pilot's will", it's appropriate that the Spectrum simulation of such a hi-tech heli marks the commercial debut of the Lenslok protection system. This, of course, is a game in itself - hours of fun to be had squinting through a plastic lens at the VDU guessing at the combinations of any two letters of the alphabet.
Once past this hurdle, you can open the throttle, ease forward on the collective, and leave the pad. As the 3D world display unreels you will see landing pads, buildings, trees, transmission pylons, mountains, enemy tanks (moving and firing), field guns, and airborne enemy helicopters.
A number of mission scenarios are available to you: flying training or combat, with different difficulty levels, you can select a low cloudbase of a night mission. In this last you can try out the infra-red vision - same game but in red and black. The display will be familiar to aficionados of DI's Fighter Pilot, but is much more than an enhanced version. All helicopter characteristics are faithfully reproduced; slowing down is best achieved by use of the cyclic pitch controls rather than reducing throttle level - you tend to plummet - and you can fly sideways or backwards. Weapons include eight Hellfire missiles which automatically destroy anything in your sights plus 38 unguided rockets and a machine gun. The Target Acquisition and Designation System tells you whether your target is friend or foe - most modern military hardware has a built-in identification signal.
The system has been designed with Interface 2 in mind, so that it's possible to fly like a real helicopter pilot using one joystick for throttle control, the other for altitude control.
Much more accessible to the casual player than Fighter Pilot, what more can I say than that our fellow journalists on Flight magazine have, over a cup of coffee, voted this one of their favourite games.
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.)
This one's the sequel to Fighter Pilot, and there are a number of differences between the two games. Number one is that you're flying a helicopter. This is a big step-up from a mere F-15, and doubles the number of keys under your fingers at a stroke. Number two is that you've got a choice of different weapons to play with, some of which lock on and home in automatically - brilliant fun. Number three? Erm, well there are some nice-looking mountains to fly between, plenty of trees and a fair few buildings. All of these were new at the time. And, ooh, I'm losing count now, but there's an enemy helicopter to shoot down and lots of tanks and things on the ground as well. And (and! And!) there's a 'strategy' element to it where you've got to win a war or something. So it's a pretty complicated game then. And, what's more, it's extremely playable. The helicopter handles very convincingly, and is fairly simple to fly once you've worked out what's what. And the large quantity of shootables means that you won't get bored of it in a hurry.
All information in this page is provided by ZXSR instead of ZXDB