When it was first shown at CES in 1991, Origin's Strike Commander promised to set a new standard for detail and audiovisual experience in PC flight simulators. The long-delayed game didn't ship until late April of this year, and in the meantime, many other companies had almost caught up technologically. However, the delay was good, because it gave the PC game-hardware base time to catch up as well—Strike Commander is a game that's most at home on a very fast 486 with a really big hard drive.
You're a flyer in Stern's Wildcats, a mercenary F-16 squadron in a bleak, not-too-distant future where the U.S. has splintered into a number of republics and the IRS has hired its own guns to collect taxes from the breakaway states. Early in the game, Commander Stern doesn't make it home from a mission, and you find yourself in command, charged with keeping the squadron financially solvent while upholding Stern's ideals. Unlike most mere squads, Stern's Wildcats have a reputation for turning down morally questionable missions.
The game unfolds much like Wing Commander, with cinematic interludes alternating with pulse-pounding action missions. During the cinematic sequences, you choose which missions to commit the Wildcats to, and who will be your wing man (or wing woman, as the case may be—some of the hottest pilots in this game are women, a welcome change in the typically testosteronecentric flight sim arena). You'll also have to decide which weapons you can afford to buy while balancing the budget.
At the end of each interlude, you're given an opportunity to arm your plane (a full suite of modern air-to-air
Strike Commander's graphics are remarkable. The ground interludes have the quality of a graphic novel, and the air-to-air detail is striking—you can actually see squadron markings and ejection seat warnings on enemy planes. There's a price to pay for this detail, though: Although Origin says the game can be played on a 386, anyone running on less than a 486SX/25 is sure to be disappointed. I found graphic updates troublesomely slow in gun combat even on a 486DX/33, although the game was quite playable. Owners of DX2 machines will love this game, and it's a great way to show off that new Pentium system. The gaming experience is made even better by a great musical score and digitized sound effects; an optional speech pack is a must-have if you can afford the hard drive space—8MB, in addition to the 33MB the base game takes up. (Although it will run from a Stacker or DoubleSpace drive, the files are already compressed and won't shrink much, if at all.) You'll want a joystick to play this game, and while Strike Commander supports the ThrustMaster WCS throttle, I couldn't get the FCS coolie hat to work, and the game won't work properly with rudder pedals hooked up.
If you're not a detail purist and you have the horsepower and disk space to accomodate this game, you'll find hours of fast-action fun. Although it doesn't have the realism of Falcon, its audiovisual punch and playability keep me coming back to it more than any other sim.
DENNY “CRASH” ATKIN
Speech Accessory Pack-$24.95
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