Tomcat unleashed. (computer game) (Gameplay) (Buyers Guide)
by Denny Atkin
"Contacts 75, 20" warns the E-2C Hawkeye early-warning aircraft. I jerk the stick to the left and turn my Tomcat on the vector. "Bogey locked!" the GIB confirms. I center the targeting reticle on the heads-up display, select an AIM-7 Sparrow missile, and squeeze the trigger. "Fox 2," I calmly call out as I watch the missile's trail stream away from my F-14. Suddenly a report comes in from the Hawkeye: "Su-27 hit by AIM-7." Feeling a bit proud of myself, I get ready to check with the GIB to see if there are any other targets in the area. "Launch! Launch!" he screams before I can open my mouth, and I drop chaff and head for the deck. Looks like our target had four buddies--I tell my wing man to clear my tail and then I radio to the Forrestal asking for Ready 1 assistance. Looks like it's going to be a long afternoon.
F-14 Fleet Defender is so action packed that it makes Top Gun seem more like Remains of the Day. Earlier MicroProse flight simulators were heavy on arcade elements and light on realism. They generally featured "you against the world" scenarios, where you were just about the only allied plane in the sky and entire air forces would go into the air to get you. Flight models weren't very realistic, and there were terrible technical inaccuracies, such as land-based F-15E and F-117A fighters operating off of aircraft carriers. They were fun, but as games, not as simulatons of real-life air combat.
MicroProse has made a quantum leap in realism with F-14 Fleet Defender. You now fly as part of a combat package and always have a wing man on your side. There are dozens of other aircraft in the skies, enemy and allied, each with its own mission that may not involve you at all. The flight models and weapons performance seem dead-on accurate to this aviation buff.
The game is set in the mid 1980s, with both historical (the attack on Libya) and World War III scenarios. You pilot the two-seat, twin-engine Grumman F-14 Tomcat, the fighter that Maverick and Goose flew in Top Gun. The F-14 is an exciting plane to fly. Designed in the late 1960s, it predates the superpowerful engines and fly-by-wire controls of the more commonly simulated F-16 and F/A-18. Because you're not in a superplane, you get a better feeling of flying than in the "electric jets." You can jump to the back seat to operate the radar or just let the computer handle the GIB (Guy In Back) functions.
Fleet Defender's graphics, in and out of the cockpit, are spectacular. The F-14s are rendered with incredible detail--watching the big elevons twist as you turn the plane, you feel as if you're watching a slightly fuzzy video of a real fighter jet. The planes even have authentic squadron markings on their tails. The sky is beautiful--when you're flying below storm clouds, everything's murky and low-contrast, but zoom above them and your view is suddenly sharp and bright.
There's a wide variety of missions to fly, all of them air-to-air. The Tomcat is an interceptor, so you'll fly cover for the air-to-mud jockeys. Enemy Al is very good at the highest levels; the computer-controlled planes are deadly when they start using the vertical. The game is extremely authentic and challenging, but the realism is adjustable so that beginners won't be overwhelmed.
The only things lacking are modem play, a mission planner, and a replay mode. Since the game has graphics that surpass Strike Commander's and realism that approaches Falcon 3.0's, many sim fans will be willing to overlook those omissions. This is just the first sim from a new MicroProse, one that simulation fans will want to keep a close eye on.
Castles Too. My other favorite addiction this month has been the new CD-ROM version of Castles II: Siege & Conquest, from Interplay. You're a medieval baron out to build an empire and eventually accede to the throne. You build diplomatic alliances and conquer weaker enemies in an effort to expand your power. To fortify your territories, you can build castles in them, and this is half the fun--you design your own castle and then allocate resources to its construction.
The CD-ROM edition adds over 30 minutes of BBC documentary footage on castle history and construction techniques; the full-motion video used here looks pretty good. Some classic film footage is interspersed through the game; and more than five hours of digital speech, including a spoken tutorial, have been added. Finally, there are ten new historical castles which you can use or study for tips in designing your own.