ST PRODUCT REVIEWS
ST Flight Challenges
By Wolf Griffey
JETFrom SubLOGIC, makers of Flight Simulator II, Jet is a good start for a potentially great combat aircraft simulator. It has a well thought-out format and seems to provide a powerful internal platform on which improvements could be made. For the new simulator pilot, Jet is a very, very good starter.
Yet, for hardened pilots or old jocks there is still much to be desired. I have put in a few hours in the real-life ancestors of the F-16 Falcon and F/A Hornet. And considering the marvelous performance of these airplanes and their weapons systems, Jet seems to fall short.
As an experienced simulator flier, I found that Jet's graphics gave me a feeling of slow modon in a high speed environment. The control response was below the level I expected, which made for a most agonizing period of combat. The handling was so jerky that I went back to free flight to try putting my finger on the problem. The graphics need more solidity too. These jet aircraft can look like the most graceful of angels in a tight turn and climb.
To test my suspicion that the background updating was not smooth enough, I did a beautifully executed eight-point roll with only one moveent of the stick. (The Blue Angels should be so good.) Instead of the nice smooth roll I expected, I was presented with eight frames of the plane freezing and reappearing in stages of a roll. A much faster update is needed to keep hot sticks from always overshooting their targets and getting lost. You learn to anticipate this problem, but smoother response would be nice and make things much more realistic.
Another problem is the cockpit layout. Jet uses a generic cockpit for two very different aircraft. The F-16 has one engine, the F/A 18 has two. Yet Jet shows only one thuust gauge for both. The instrument displays in this program are good enough for a general air-combat game. But this is a simulation, so it should be true to the planes it simulates. I was hoping for a Heading Situation Indicator a centerpiece in a modern fighter. It also would have been slick to show the triple CRT screens of the top of the line F/A-18. And I like landing with Indicated Air Speed readouts not a percentage of the speed of sound, as Jet requires.
The cockpit instruments need to be updated so you feel like there is a high performance aircraft wrapped around you. Fuel, weapons, gear position and altimeter readouts should be organized so the pilot can find them in a normal scan, without having to look up, down and all over the screen.
Jet already contains so many features that I believe it should be moved to a two-disk set, to make possible a higher level of play. Add some basic aerobatics to the free flight section, put in a scoring system for correct handling and you will have more than a game a truly advanced flight simulation package.
Overall, the manual is well written. The documentation provides background and access instructions on the displays, instruments, controls and weapons available to the Jet. There is a great deal of material, but it is all broken down into easy, readable and logical chapters. A novice fresh from watching the demo can climb into the seat and sample free flight with little or no trouble. Taking a few minutes to do a self-test by flying the written course adds to the pilot's knowledge of two ships' basic handling traits.
Jet is a good program for the first-time computer pilot. Using it as a starter kit to learn control and feel is the way to go. Jet is not what my hard-core gaming friends and I look for in real-time simulation play. But if Jet became smoother, faster and more colorful, it could be the benchmark against which others must be judged.
$49.95, color. SubLOGIC Corp., 713 Edgebrook Drive, Champaign IL, 61820. (217)359-8482.
DIVE BOMBERIt's May 24,1941. The powerful German battleship Bismarck has sunk the British cruiser HMS Hood and is now free to roam the North Atlantic and sever vital Allied supply lines. To stop the Bismarck, the Allies secretly arrange to borrow a prototype of the new top-secret U.S. Navy torpedo bomber the Grumman Avenger.
Dive Bomber is a historical wargame with a fantasy twist because even though the Avenger won fame as a great Navy Aircraft, it first saw action at Midway in 1942, the year after the Bismarck hunt.
As the Avenger's crew-pilot, engineer/navigator and rear gunner you become the main protection of the aircraft carrier leading the hunt. On each display screen, a selection box calls your attention to whichever screen where immediate action is required. With artillery rounds and torpedoes, you must protect the HMS Ark Royal from the Luftwaffe's Dornier aircraft, U-Boats, E-Boats, and floating mines. Above all else, you must sink the Bismarck without the Ark Royal meeting its end.
At the start of Dive Bomber, I strongly advise that you take the option of running practice missions carrier take-offs and landings, flying, and best of all, as many torpedo runs on the Bismarck as you want to make.
The cockpit area of the Avenger is very well laid out and close to the real thing, at least for the controls needed for this type of play. The stick is responsive, and control is easy to maintain. The engineer's screen repeats this level of detail with the control layout for ignition, throttle, fuel gauges and other controls requiring your attention.
As rear gunner you fire at targets passing behind the Avenger. Navigation is a more complex position. While the navigation screen shows the current position of Avenger and enemy forces, U-boats do not show until they surface. Watch out if the Bismarck moves off the map before you can get to it it's then out of play for that game.
The Avenger can be controlled by either joystick or mouse. Movement is quick and sure with either Graphics are also very good. Since the action always takes place at night over water, all the player has to watch is a black background on which the enemy will appear The targets enlarge as they approach, giving a real feel of speed as you close in.
Score is kept on targets hit and damage to the Ark Royal and Avenger. Plus, of course, whether the Bismarck was sunk or escaped from the play area. You begin by choosing straws for a mission. (Getting the short straw is like having the entire German Air Force, surface and subsurface Navy forces totally surrounding the Ark Royal.) Each mission has a different pace and placement of enemy ships, aircraft and mines. No two missions, however many times run, will be the same.
$49.95, color. Epyx (U.S.Gold), 600 Galveston Drive, P0. Box 8020, Redwood City, CA, 94063. (415) 366-0606.