War in the skys. (MicroProse's 1942: The Pacific Air War flight simulation; includes additional information about Interplay's Star Reach space conquest game) (Gameplay) (Software Review) (Evaluation) (Column)
by Denny Atkin
MicroProse raised expectations for PC flight simulations with the recent release of F-14 Fleet Defender. However, F-14 is no longer the standardbearer, having been blown out of the sky by another simulation--also from MicroProse. A WWII air combat simulation, 1942: The Pacific Air War comes from Ed Fletcher, the designer of Task Force 1942.
I wouldn't have thought it possible, but the graphics in 1942: PAW are actually better than those in F-14. Every plane is texture-mapped in exquisite detail, and there's not a polygon in sight; you can even see individual struts on the complex landing gear of the Grumman Wildcat. A virtual-cockpit feature lets you use a second controller to pan your view freely about the cockpit. There's even smoke from your guns as they fire, as well as tall splashes when rounds hit the water. More than a graphics tour de force, though, 1942: PAW also features realistic flight models and computer pilots with superior artificial intelligence.
A wide variety of planes are simulated in the game. You might start out flying an F4F Wildcat, be reequipped with an F6F Hellcat, and finish out the war in the cockpit of an F4U Corsair. Air-to-ground aficionados will appreciate the chance to fly the Devastator, Avenger, Dauntless, and Helldiver. (If you want to fly for the Japanese, of course, you'll find the Zero, Val, Kate, and other IJN mainstays.) Flight models are realistic, and you'll quickly learn the advantages of each plane--and the disadvantages. One feature that adds to the fun factor is the ability to jump into the cockpit of another plane in your flight. If your TBF launches a dud torpedo, jump into the next plane and make another run. You can also choose to fly in the backseat of attack aircraft, defending your plane's rear with a machine gun while the autopilot handles the flying.
Although 1942: PAW is missing the close wingman coordination found in F-14, it addresses every weakness sim fans found in the latter product. There's a powerful replay facility for going back and viewing your battles, either from your plane's cockpit or from a free-floating camera. You can edit films, save favorite camera angles, and even jump into the cockpit at any point during the replay and change the course of history. The game also has one of the most complete mission builders ever to grace a PC sim, allowing you to re-cre-ate historical battles not included with the game or create allnew challenges.
This is more than just a flight simulation, though, as you might expect from Fletcher. You can also act as commander of the naval task forces, sending ships on patrols, launching recon and attack flights, and dedicating aircraft to Combat Air Patrol. As the battles heat up in this realtime naval simulation within a simulation, you can hop into the cockpit of a plane heading into combat or choose to sit out the fighting in the safety of the aircraft carrier's war room.
Reach out and disintegrate someone. "Oh, boy!" I thought. "Another space game!" Then I glanced at Star Reach's documentation as I was installing the alpha version, and my mood darkened. "Oh, boy. Yet another space conquest and resource management game," I thought. But once I started the game up, I realized this was something different.
Don't get me wrong--Star Reach isn't very original, and it owes a lot to predecessors such as Reach for the Stars, Star Control, and Masters of Orion. It's a space conquest game where your goal is to conquer planets and then use the resources of those worlds to build your fleet, giving you the power to reach out and grab even more territory. Along the way you'll allocate planetary resources to production, use supply lines to spread resources out, and build bigger and better spaceships.
Where Star Reach differs from antecedent games is in how it's played. Previous games worked on a turn-by-turn basis. Ship-to-ship combat was in realtime in some of them, but for the most part you had time to stop and really consider your strategies. In Star Reach, everything's in realtime. While you're sitting there deciding whether or not it's a good idea to strip-mine Pluto, your opponent may be launching her deadly invasion fleet. This brings an incredible level of new excitement to what otherwise may have been a case of the same old stuff. Although you can challenge computer players, this game is likely to be at its best against a human opponent.
Coming soon from Interplay, this is the game to put some excitement back into the lives of interstellar despots bored with day-to-day space conquest.