|The YS Complete Guide To Flight Sims|
|Published in the Oct 1990 YS58 issue|
ATF Chuck Yeager's Advanced Flight Trainer Deep Strike F-16 Fighting Falcon Fighter Bomber Fighter Pilot Flight Simulation Lightning Simulator MiG 29 Soviet Fighter Night Raider Project Stealth Fighter Strike Force Harrier Tomahawk Tomcat
Oh cripes. Whose idea was this? Couldn't we do it on something else? Nah, we promised.
How about putting it off another month? Or we could make JONATHAN DAVIES 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?
As everyone I spoke to had is or her own opinion as to what is, and is not, a flight sim here are my ground rules. 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 your tummy at least two and a half times.
So now you know just what makes up a flight sim, read on...
THE FIRST FLIGHT SIM EVER
Ha. This one's easy. It was Flight Simulation, one of the first games that ever came out on the Speccy. It was also the first game I bought. (Aargh! The secret's out.) It was one of those Psion games which came out on Sinclair's own label, and despite the mind-numbingly tedious piccy on the box (the instrument panel of a plane) it hung around near the top of the charts for years. In actual fact, Flight Simulation is a conversion of a ZX81 game of the same name. Yikes. We'll take a closer look at this one later on.
Once again, the normal rating system doesn't really seem too appropriate here. 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 'TRUE' FLIGHT SIM
The obvious example of one of these is the original Flight Simulation, but that was pretty crap. What we're basically talking about here is the sort where you're placed in the cockpit looking out of the window. In the bottom half of the screen (or, worse, on another screen altogether) is the instrument panel, which can generally be ignored, and in the top half is the view. This is generally green on the bottom and blue on the top. If it's the other way round you're probably in trouble. Scattered about will be lots of squiggly lines, and maybe a few dots on the ground to give the impression of 'speed' (ahem).
These ones are really the next step down from the True Flight Sim. They're essentially the same, except that instead of a view out of the cockpit you get a view of the back of the plane. This isn't quite as pointless as it sounds, because usually the plane is small enough so that you can see past it to the 'scenery' beyond. This type of view generally makes it easier to judge landings and to see if you're about to fly into anything, but there is often a corresponding reduction in the number of knobs and dials, and an increase in things to do. Not what we want at all. ATF is the perfect example of this sort of thing.
Now these really are the business. They're like a cross between the True Flight Sim and the Looking-At-It-From-Behind one, with lots more as well. In fact, what you can do is look at your plane from all sorts of different angles, including weird ones like from-the-ground and from-the-front-of-the-plane. To tell the truth, games like this are a bit scarce on the Speccy (they tend to flourish on posh computers like the Atari ST) but there are one or two good ones. Chuck Yeager is a notable example, as is Fighter Bomber.
Now we're in dicey territory. We're talking about things like TLL here. Quite frankly, they're not really, are they? Flight sims, I mean. They've rarely got more than four or five keys, placing them firmly on the arcade side of things. So let's pass over them.
Now we're looking at things like Harrier Attack. And they're certainly not flight sims. In fact, they're usually just scrolling shoot-'em-ups with planes instead of spaceships. There's always plenty of stuff to shoot, but technical accuracy is very limited indeed. You never have to worry about setting your flaps at the right angle or the navigational computer to the appropriate beacon, or watching your airspeed in case you stall. Useless.
So what's this one got going for it? Three
things actually. One, it's a proper flight simulator, no question
about it. Two, it's got solid 3D graphics. And three, you get a choice
of 14 different planes to fly, ranging from a 1918 Sopwith Camel to
the SR-71 Blackbird. The cons? Well, Chuck Yeager might be an
important historical figure and everything, but his contribution to
the game consists mainly of irritating comments after you crash. And
the other one is those 3D graphics. They look very nice generally, but
sometimes the various shades of grey gang up against you so it's very
hard to see what's going on. And they're not as smooth as they might
have been either. There's another thing while we're at it too. While
the 128K version is absolutely packed with features and things to do,
the 48K one has been radically cut down and isn't nearly such an
attractive proposition. Assuming you've got a 128K then Chuck
Yeager is a stonking flight sim, with everything you could
possible want and a lot that other flight sims don't have (like racing
against other planes and 'test flying').
Here's the first of these
looking-at-it-from-behind ones, and it's easily the best of its type
around. You're in one of these Stealth Plane things, but, spookily
enough, you actually get to see it on the screen in front of you, with
the landscape undulating underneath. Hills and dippy bits are shown by
grid line thingies which bend around. The trouble is that you can only
do left and right turns and go up and down a bit - no rolls or loops.
In fact, you don't even have to do this half the time as you can
switch on your terrain-following radar and let the plane do it for
you. Opposition is provided by planes which swoop around you,
hopefully flying straight into your line of fire. (They invariably
do.) It's not the most stimulating game around combat-wise then, but
underneath all this blatant arcadeyness lurks a strong strategic
element where you've got to destroy certain targets and eventually win
a war. All this happens over a huge map - lots of islands with sea
between them. ATF isn't really a flight sim at all,
but it's pretty good fun (for a while) all the same.
If an award had to go to the most
comprehensive, option-packed and, quite simply, darned complicated
flight sim around, it might just get pinned onto Project
Stealth Fighter's uniform. Which is handy, as that's just
what we're looking at now. Like most recent flight sims it's all about
the legendary Stealth Fighter (which actually turned out to be not so
legendary, and completely different to how everyone thought). This
doesn't actually make a lot of difference to the way the game works -
it's really just an excuse for another flight sim. Technically PSF
doesn't break any new ground. We've all seen wire-frame graphics
before, although these ones are about twice as detailed as anything
before, and a bit faster. There is, however, masses to see/shoot. You
can fly over land and sea, which means there are destroyers and
aircraft carriers to take out as well as the usual tanks and
buildings, and there's also a huge range of weapons and missions to
use them on. Ideologically though, this one goes out the window. You
have to spend the whole time beating up Russians and Arabs when really
it ought to be the Welsh. (Just kidding.)
This was the next 'biggie' after Flight
Simulation and introduced a number of innovations. First, and
most importantly, there are things to shoot. They look pretty awful,
and don't fly around terribly imaginatively, but they do explode very
satisfyingly when shot (this can only be done with your machine gun).
The other great thing about it is that your F-15 (for that's what
it is) can zoom around at a fair old rate, and is much more fun to fly
than the old Flight Simulation Cessna. This is partly
because it's a more wazzy plane, but credit must also be given to the
superior programming. There's also a bit more to look at on the
ground, including a better runway and some strange square things
dotted about. And the ground is green which is a great advantage.
There are one or two oddities though - you can fly along for miles
upside-down at an altitude of zero, which isn't too encouraging, but
at least the compass is correct (Flight Simulation's
had 370°) and there's a nice head-up display with all the
important bits on. This took over as the definitive flight sim for
ages, and is still worth taking up for a spin occasionally.
Okay, this time round you're piloting a
Grumman Avenger, which is one of those chubby American WWII bombers,
and your mission is to wipe out the Bismark - "the most
fearsome battle machine ever to haunt the seas". Luckily the ship has
already been crippled by some Royal Navy biplanes, so all you've got
to do is take off from the Ark Royal and finish it off. Simple really.
Unfortunately, though, your plane seems to have a crew of one - you -
so you've got to fly the plane, work the guns and do the engineery
bits (like fiddling about with the engines) by flipping between a
whole load of different screens. Luckily for Gremlin, the attack took
place at night so the graphics are limited to the moon glistening off
the sea and the enemy planes buzzing past the windows. This, along
with the very restricted flying abilities of your plane, means that
the game hasn't really got a lot to recommend it, apart from your
bullets which look very nice whizzing off into the night. The flying
parts are just a case of keeping on course to the Bismark, and the
shooting parts are really just another Operation Wolf
thing. Not really a proper flight sim then, and not a massively
enjoyable shoot-'em-up either. Shame about that. There's a nice pic on
the box though.
As we found earlier, this was the first
Speccy flight sim ever, and it shows. It comes on a cassette with the
game on one side and 'Blank Tape' conveniently written on the other.
See which one you prefer. It actually looks quite promising (the inlay
card is massive, with loads of minuscule instructions) and, despite
the fact that it's largely written in Basic, the game moves along at a
fair old rate. The problem is the scenery. All there is to look at on
the ground (which is blue) is the runway, Lake Orb (which is round),
Lake Tri (which is triangular) and some hills (which you can't
actually see at all, but you'll know if you crash into them). The
plane responds to your controls very sluggishly, but luckily you don't
have to use them much because a 'flight' generally consists of taking
off, pointing the plane towards the other airport, coming back three
and a half hours later and landing. If you crash there's a lengthy
disaster effect and then you're asked if you want another flight.
Press N and the program stops. Hmm. A legend in its own time, but a
bit crap in this one.
Right, so we all know what a Harrier is.
What you might not know though is that it's one of the fiddliest
planes to actually fly. To get it to take off you've got to have the
nozzle things pointing downwards, and then point them backwards to
make it fly along. There are also all kinds of things in-between, and
all of them are faithfully incorporated into this ageing sim. It's a
proper looking-out-of-the-cockpit job, and features ground attack as
well as aerial combat. These tend to be split into two sections - one
below the clouds and one above. Graphically we're talking seriously
ropey here. There's plenty to see, particularly on the ground, but
everything is made up of very small sprites which never seem to get
especially close (and hence stay very small). But the flying is
generally well done, and all this 'thrust vectoring' business works
quite well. There is, of course, a war to fight and it mainly seems to
consist of destroying tanks. So it's okayish, but very old-look
without much in the way of lasting interest.
A couple of major questions hang over this
one. Firstly, why has it got a picture of a Harrier (with an extra
tail fin) on the loading screen? And, secondly, why bother releasing
it at all? (It's a bit crap.) The second question is easy enough to
answer. It originally came out with the highly successful (?) Magnum
lightgun, and obviously appeared to have some mileage left in it.
Flight sim-wise, things don't look so hot either. It's a blatant Afterburner
rip-off (but without the rocking landscape) and as Afterburner
wasn't a flight sim this isn't either. Oops.
Cor blimey. This is almost exactly the same as F-16. What's going on? Could it be the light-gun connection again? There are a few minor differences (improvements, luckily). There are things to collect, which come down on parachutes, and it's a bit easier. Apart from that, no difference. It's still a bit crap, and doesn't even come close to being a sim. Let's search on...
Encouraged by the name (a Tomcat, apart from
being a feline of the male gender, is a rather spanky US Navy plane),
and, in sheer desperation, I decided to give this one a whirl. Bad
idea. It's a very ordinary vertically-scrolling shooter with one
outstanding feature - it's completely impossible to get anywhere in.
The aeroplane theme is a bit weak too, as you could easily replace it
with a space-ship or something and not notice the difference. Still no
At last! A real, genuine, bona fide budget flight sim! As you might have guessed, it 'simulates' a Lightning which is a fast but extremely old RAF plane. Lightning Sim has that inimitable budget feel to it, but it's still an actual flight sim - and a looking-out-of-the-window one at that. It brings a lump to my throat, it really does. There are plenty of dials to keep an eye on, and all the usual flight sim features. As games go it's awful. But I don't care. It's a flight sim - and that's what counts.
Here's another looking-at-it-from-behind
one. However, this time what you're looking at is actually a World War
I biplane, a bomber in fact, but you're not actually in control of it.
Eh? This is actually because you're meant to be protecting it by
flying along behind it in a fighter. Dastardly German planes zoom
about trying to shoot down the bomber, so what you've got to do is
shoot them down while resisting the temptation to shoot down the plane
you're meant to be escorting (and it's a very strong temptation, I
can tell you). The eventual aim is probably to bomb a target of some
sort, but along the way are various enemy buildings and tanks (in
WWI?) which you can also get the bomber to, er, bomb. Although the
view is that of a True Flight Sim, you can't actually do much in the
way of flying around, so it's really much more like ATF
or something. The landscape is certainly very ATF-like
- lots of grid-lines and hills - although I believe Deep
Strike came first. There is a map, however, so it is a bit
flight-simmy. But not enough, unfortunately, from letting it slip into
being a slightly crap Operation Wolf-style shoot-'em-up.
In fact, I can't really see what it's doing in this guide at all.
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
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
payloads, 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.
Er, are you sure? Stick your tongue out. Hmm.
Say "Ahh". Crikey. Okay, let's take a look at
some essential ingredients...
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