Of all the aircraft in the history of aerial combat, the Supermarine Spitfire has the greatest aura of romance and adventure, bar none. Of revolutionary design, with a top speed of 350 mph and amazing manoeuverability, it became an integral part of Britain's airborne defence against Hitler. How many thrilled to the sight of this huge mechanical bird locked in deadly combat over the fields of Kent during the Battle of Britain?
Flight simulators are always among the first software releases for a home computer, but they've recently gained a new lease of life by giving you something to do once you get up into the air other than just flying from airfield to airfield. That something is... killing people! Now's your chance to test your canine canniness in a dog fight to the death against the beastly Boche, in what appears to be an accurate version of the Spitfire, with only minor compromises for the computer.
We've come to expect polished presentation from Mirrorsoft and this is no exception. The twenty four page booklet contains not only excellent clear instructions and step by step guides to getting off the ground and what to do when you find Adolph up your exhaust, but also a brief note on the theory of flight and a history of the plane (from which I cribbed the above potted facts...). There's also a four page insert containing the important controls and details, such as how to regain control if you foul up.
This attention to detail continues in the program, with separate options for Spectrum and Spectrum+ keyboard controls! And the atmosphere is there too. Although you start with no flying hours, once you've made a successful landing you can save your log which provides continuity of character. Be warned though, as you rack up the hours you'll find the program becomes less forgiving of your errors, increasing your chances of pranging the crate - a nice way of handling difficulty levels.
There are two practice modes, for flying and combat, but the real test comes when you leap into the cramped cockpit, throw out a cramped cock or two, and rev up the engine - which sadly sounds more like a gnat in your helmet thanks to the legendary Speccy sound! Space toggles between the instrument panel and the cockpit view. So, taking note of where you can expect to encounter the Hun (in feet and compass bearing), it's up, up and away - probably instrument flying until you're in the danger zone. Actually the cockpit view is fairly bare, though Mirrorsoft claims you may eventually be able to use landmarks for navigation.
It's probably easier to use the map screen, again accessed by a single key stroke. Then it's war in the air and machine guns blazing as you try to out-manoeuvre the enemy. Here it's the screen view almost all the way and I found it as exciting as any arcade game, suddenly looping over to put a plane that was tailing me directly into my sights. You have to learn to prejudge targets though and their tactics are cleverly programmed too.
Mission accomplished (and it's not that easy), it's back to base to swop stories of the Heinkel that nearly got away, with a few more flying hours to your credit. Spitfire 40 is a friendly program, not nearly so difficult to get into as some earlier simulators, and it's very engaging with its role playing element.
I snapped on the 'For Hire' light and prepared to taxi up the runway. 'Chocks away, Ginge!' I yelled. 'Aww - and I've only got the coffee cream and that's my favourite,' he said. Quite seriously, I have my doubts about him.
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