For The Fun Of It
OF BOMBERS, BLOCKS
In which Anderson plunges, Plotkin plots and
Cushman plumbs the pipes
|AT A GLANCE|
REVIEWED BY GREGG ANDERSON
Since the release of Falcon almost two years ago, nothing has even come close to challenging its lofty position. Until now. In Fighter Bomber by Activision (United Kingdom), you compete for the Curtis LeMay trophy in the Strategic Air Command's annual Bombing Competition.
Fighter Bomber is an outstanding example of advanced vector graphics. Each aircraft is equipped with a full control panel, including a target acquisition system that guides you to your ground (or air) target. There is a wide range of offensive and defensive weapon systems available to let you customize your plane for each mission.
|Though It's a little light on weaponry, Activis-
ion's Fighter Bomber offers something new in the
way of fight simulators for the ST.
Unfortunately, nothing is perfect and that includes Fighter Bomber. My first gripe is with the documentation, which consists of a command card, some propaganda leaflets and the owner's pamphlet. There are absolutely no instructions for flying the aircraft, air-to-air combat, bomb runs, landings, or even just taking off.
limited. The internal cannon, gravity bomb, Sidewinder air-to-air and Maverick air-to-ground missiles are the only weapons available with targeting systems. The remaining laser-guided Paveway bombs, HARMs, Durandals and rocket pods have no viable targeting system and as a result, are about as useful as poorly thrown rocks.
As in any realistic air combat simulation there have to be other aircraft for you to fight and, hopefully, shoot down. The opposing aircraft in F-15, Jet, Falcon and even GunShip all fly in a logical fashion as they attempt to shoot you down and avoid being shot in the process. Not so with Fighter Bomber. Since you're not given the option to pass, you have a 95-percent chance of having one or more interceptors attacking you on each mission. They appear out of nowhere, zoom in at 970 knots, fire off a missile or two and then stick on your tail like glue. This is the least of your problems, however; if they miss you with a missile, they try to ram you out of the sky. The artificial intelligence routine that controls the interceptors is extremely poor. The interceptors don't dogfight, they don't maneuver around you, they don't do anything but zoom in and ram! These kamikaze interceptors are, above all, what turns Fighter Bomber from a shining jewel to a flawed gem.
I'm not saying Fighter Bomber can't be won--you just have to be careful and lucky. I suggest starting with a fast, powerful and maneuverable aircraft like an F-15. Always load up with Air-to-Air missiles and Mavericks whenever possible. Fly with your Sidewinders active and the radar at its maximum 25-mile range at all times (unless you're starting a bomb run). Respond immediately to an attacking interceptor by lining up a head-on shot and firing a Sidewinder at it (unrealistic or not you've a good chance of hitting it that way). Keep your air speed up when landing and don't let it drop to stall or you're history. And beware interceptors love to jump on landing aircraft so keep your eyes and ears open.
The Final Score
The final score for Fighter Bomber is a mixed bag. It's a fantastic program if you can solve or avoid the interceptors, but a study in frustration if you can't. If you're into graphically accurate flight simulators, Fighter Bomber is worth having (I'm keeping my copy). But if you're new to combat simulations or just lack patience, I suggest you leave it in a holding pattern.
|AT A GLANCE|
REVIEWED BY CAROLYN CUSHMAN
Pipe Dream pits you against one of the most horrifying opponents imaginable--sewer sludge, or in this case, the dreaded flooz. As plumber in charge, you must pipe this gunk away as it flows from its source. You've got a well-filled pipe rack, with a variety of shapes (elbows, straights, and cross pieces) to place on the gridded playing field. Unfortunately, you can only take the bottom piece in your dispenser, whether it fits your pipeline or not. A timer gives you a head start, but once the flooz starts moving you'll find yourself frantically fitting together whatever pieces come up. Using the joystick, mouse or keyboard, position the cursor where you want the next piece to go, and then press the appropriate button to set the pipe in place. The joystick worked best for me, with keyboard next. Mouse control seemed to drag a bit.
|How are your spatial relations? Test yourself in
Blockout, California Dreams' answer to Tetris.
To get to the next level you have to pipe the flooz through a specified number of pipe lengths. As the levels get higher, so does the number of pieces you have to connect. The flooz flows faster and obstacles start to appear on the field. For every four levels you finish, you get a bonus screen and a password. The brightly colored backgrounds also change, some almost starkly utilitarian and others humorously fishy, with the vivid flooz going from fluorescent green to yellow to Pepto-Bismol pink. Fortunately, a training mode with super-slow flowing sludge lets you get started easily. For competitive play, Pipe Dream provides Basic One-Plumber and Expert One-Plumber modes. In Two-Player mode you must work with your opponent to keep the flooz moving, and at the same time try to get the flooz to go through more of your pieces than your opponent's.
The manual gives a lot of useful tips, but skimps on some subjects, not even mentioning the Bonus Level, for instance. Pipe Dream uses an exceptionally annoying codewheel copy protection that lets you start playing even if you entered the wrong code. Just when you've gotten into your game, you'll be informed that you entered the wrong code, and must reboot and try again. There's no way to correct the code if you make a mistake while entering it, either. All you can do is reboot.
I also had occasional trouble with the joystick locking up after switching between control modes. No problems crop up while actually playing the game, but these few small bugs make the programming seem a little shaky.
Overall, I found the game addictive enough to keep me returning time and again to try for a higher score or a higher level. But for its excessive cuteness and minor glitches, I'd rate this as a classic strategy game, right up there with Qix and Tetris. Fortunately your attention's going to be focused on those pipes, not the pretty colors and relentlessly cheerful music. With all its color and non-violent emphasis on planning and special perception, Pipe Dream makes an excellent game for children--and a challenging and addictive one for adults.
|AT A GLANCE|
REVIEWED BY DAVID PLOTKIN
Just when you thought you had finally mastered Tetris, along comes Blockout from California Dreams. Like Tetris, the idea of Blockout is to fill an empty rectangular column with falling blocks. The difference is dimension; the Blockout screen is in 3D.
You have an aerial view of the column (or pit), which is like an empty skyscraper that you're trying to fill with floors. You build the floors with falling blocks. If you complete a floor without holes, the floor will disappear and everything above it will drop down one level. If you leave holes, the floor does not disappear and the holes begin to stack up, leaving you with less time to position the falling blocks. When the stack reaches the top, the game is over.
Choose your difficulty level from three sets of blocks. The Flat set consists of no more than four shapes of 2D squares; the Basic set contains four shapes of 3D cubes; and the Extended set can have up to five 3D shapes and requires genius to master.
To further challenge you, the dimensions of the pit can change. You can select Custom Pit Dimensions and Rotation Speed for the blocks themselves. The ability to set up configurations makes Blockout endlessly challenging.
The graphics are sharp and the game has a bouncy sound track. Blockout is not copy protected and will install on your hard drive. When you first boot up, however, you're asked for the color of a particular cube in a specific block, which can be something of a pain but, I guess, a necessary evil.
Overall, Blockout is well-crafted and very playable. You'll find yourself coming back again and again to better your last score. But be warned: If you thought Tetris was tough and addicting, wait until you try Blockout.
|AT A GLANCE|
The Advanced Gravis MouseStick
REVIEWED BY DAVID PLOTKIN
The Advanced Gravis MouseStick is an ST controller that can replace your mouse, joystick or both. It's easy to connect and use, and can be configured for a host of options.
The Mouse and the Stick
The MouseStick actually consists of two units: the stick itself and the Gravis Mouse Processing Unit (GMPU). The stick is mounted on a wide, stable base with rubber feet, and is connected to the GMPU, which plugs into your joystick or mouse port. There are two fire buttons on the base and one on top of the stick.
You can set the base fire buttons to emulate your right and left mouse buttons, or to emulate your left mouse button and activate the MouseStick editor.
The Mouse Editor
The editor lets you configure the MouseStick and includes a variety of options. Since the GMPU has only a single-line LCD display, however, programming it is slow and somewhat tedious. You can save up to four configurations (three plus the default configuration).
Enter the editor for a true test of your trigger finger; you have to push the designated editor button three times fast and hold it down on the last press. The editor gives you a list of options the most complex of which is RECALL A SETUP Besides letting you recall any one of the four configurations, it lets you set the MouseStick for AUTO CENTERING, VECTORING, COMBINATION or JOYSTICK modes.
AUTO CENTERING gives you direct control over the mouse pointer and returns the pointer to the center of the screen when you release the stick. In VECTORING mode, the pointer position glides across the screen in the direction of your stick handle's movement. COMBINATION mode provides a combination of AUTO CENTERING (when the stick handle is upright) and VECTORING (when it's moved left and right). JOYSTICK mode sets the MouseStick to emulate a standard eight-position joystick.
PROGRAM A BUTTON option allows any of the three buttons on the MouseStick to be set in TURBO FIRE mode. This is handy for some games, although rapid fire attachment for joysticks are sold at most toy store for about five dollars.
Where's the Cheese?
The Gravis MouseStick is a powerful alternative controller that includes a whole lot of options--if you need them. But quite frankly, I find it much easier to simply manipulate my cursor with a regular old mouse and play games with an eight-position joystick. But you may feel differently. If you've been looking for these features, then you'll definitely want to check it out.
Gregg Anderson is in the Air Force, currently stationed at Ellsworth AFB. Carolyn Cushman is the Associate Editor of Antic magazine. Contributing Editor David Plotkin works for Chevron U.S.A.