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Activision Inc
ZX Spectrum 48K
Multiple schemes

Rich Pelley
Chris Bourne

Flight sims - how could we ever live without 'em, eh? Where else can you quite happily blat about in 30 tons of plane, see what happens if you try to land on a river, blow up your air base if you're feeling a bit scampish, and still be home in time for tea? And all with absolutely no worry whatsoever about complaints from the neighbours or a £30 million (ish) bill winging its way through your letter box! They're brill!

And Fighter Bomber is no exception! in fact, its especially brill. Up until now, you see, most of the (really, really) good flight sims have been confined to the 16-bit machines, with the ones on the Speccy being much less ambitious. There have been exceptions - like MicroProse's Project Stealth Fighter, say - but Fighter Bomber seems to be an advance over even the best of them in two significant ways. First off, it's not a wire-frame vector graphics jobbie (which can all too often look like a load of squiggly lines crawling all over the screen, no matter how clever they are). Instead it features solid-filled 3D graphics, which look great. And secondly, the emphasis is taken off shooting down other planes (which normally means hanging around for absolutely ages until they turn up) and onto attacking ground-based targets. Now this might not sound quite as exciting, but in actual fact it means there's far more ground detail (so you get more to look at) and there's always something to hit if your real target doesn't turn up (ie you can't find it). "What, no tank formation? Might as well drop my load on this innocent-looking bridge then!" - that kind of thing.

So how does it all work? Well, Vektor Graphix (who programmed the thing for Activision) may have missed out some of the plane choices and stuff for the Speccy version, but the gameplay from the 16-bits is all more or less here. This adds sup to about six squillion key commands, for everything from raising your undercarriage through firing your Sidewinders to operating the on-board coffee-maker - it all takes some learning. The game gives you the choice of eight different missions, which get increasingly difficult as you progress - at the start you begin from flying at 8,000 feet or whatever (ie avoiding the tricky process of taking off), but some of the later ones expect you to carry out such horrific tasks as landing your plane (gasp) to pick up more weapons - all a bit too complicated for me at the moment, considering my piloting 'skills'.

Talking of weapons, you've got a whole host to choose from, depending a bit on which plane you use. There are bombs (of course - wouldn't be much of a bomber game without them, would it?), flares (ones you fire, not ones you wear), chaff (which distracts radar-homing missiles), Maverick and Sidewinder missiles (air-to-ground and air-to-air respectively), your trusty cannon - and probably a few more I've not worked out how to use yet. A fairly good selection, I think you'll agree, but before you get to use any of them there's a bit more choosing to be done - like which plane you're going to use.

In the Speccy version Vektor Graphix gives you a choice of four - there's the rather ancient but still pretty nifty Phantom, the (also rather ancient and very Swedish) Saab Viggen, the rather more up-to-date and ultra-snazzy Tornado and (I'm a bit confused as to why it's in here but perhaps I'm missing something) the MIG 27 'Flogger'. You see, the whole game is inspired by a sort of international bombing contest the Americans run in some desert somewhere, so what the Russians are doing there I'm not sure. Still, it might in fact be a MIG from some other more friendly country that uses them or something - I mean, what do I know?

To aid in the picking process the program first gives you a very nice colour piccy of each plane, quickly followed by a brief description of its history and capabilities, and then a brilliant solid 3D image of it, as it appears in the game, spinning frantically towards you. Lummocks! They're all very recognisable - the giant tail fin of the Tornado, the canard wing arrangement on the Saab, the Phantom's unusual tail planes and droopy nose and the red star on the fin of the MIG (which rather ruins my 'friendly air forces' theory). Just watching them twiddle is really quite stunning - never thought I'd see graphics like this on the good old Speccy! (You could almost just leave them up and running all day - it'd be like watching tropical fish in a tank.)

So which one shall I have? I think it'll have to be the pretty green one. (But they're nearly all green! Ed) Okay, the blotchy brown one then (the MIG). Right, I've chosen my plane so now I'd better see what my mission is. Blimey! A large (and green) map pops up showing a hefty chunk of the good old US of A. Click on a target, click on 'Mission Text' for some extra into (eg what exactly I have to do), then on 'Target Recon' for a 3D close-up of what I'm meant to be bombing, and we're away. Actually, 'Target Recon' is a really good bit, with tres brillo animation sequences. Where I'm going looks quite pretty this time - shame it's soon going to be in about a trillion tiny pieces (heehee).

Actually flying the thing is a bit more complex. First off, start the engine (always a good point to remember when trying to fly a plane), now off with the brakes, push forward on the accelerator, pull back on the joystick (well, keys actually - you don't seem to be able to use a joystick) and we're airborne! Hoorah! Things are peaceful, the sun is shining, birds are flying past and... hmm. That's a rather big bird, isn't it? Yikes!! It's a huge SAM zooming towards me (no, not a Coupe, it's a Surface-to-Air Missile actually, folks)! Blimey! Let's release a flare to confuse the git! By a million to one chance I get the right button, the flare zooms out and... the missile ignores it! Booom! I blow up. Ho hum, back to the air field.

Right, what I did wrong there, folks, was release a flare - these only distract heat-seekers, so if its a radar-homing missile (like that one was) it'll still keep coming. No, what I wanted was chaff - lots of little bits of metal that float prettily through the air and 'look' like a nice big fat juicy target to the SAm. Hmm. Better luck next time.

Y'see, I've been having great fun with Fighter Bomber for hours, and I've not hit a single target yet! Half the fun is watching your plane go through manouvres, fire missiles, drop bombs, sweep the wings back (if it's a Tornado or MIG), raise the undercarriage - the game comes with an absolutely ace choice of external views, which I could watch for ages. Alright, they're not new - Chuck Yeager's Advanced Flight Trainer had them as well, but there are more of them here, and they're a lot prettier too.

Fighter Bomber is one of those games it would really take three or four weeks to assess properly, finding out exactly where its strengths and limitations lie, but unfortunately we don't have that much time (because we've got to get this ish out!). What I can say though is that this has to be the best Speccy flight sim I've ever seen - I must've had 15 quids' worth of enjoyment just mucking around with it! The missions (what I've achieved of them, which is nothing to write home about) have been fun and well thought-out, and, graphically, it's almost unbelievably good, managing to cope with updating everything at quite a rate. So what's wrong with it? Well, not much really. The sound's a bit crap, but then that's hardly a major part of the whole caboodle, is it? This has to be the most realistic flight sim we've seen on the Speccy, really stretching the limits, and, despite our slight fears, the lack of very much to shoot down hardly hampers things at all - if this sort of thing's your bag, it's a must-buy.

A real corker! One of the best flight sims around, incredibly pretty, full of things to do - the lack of dogfighting doesn't hamper things a bit.


Screenshot Text

Where've all the tanks got to? Think I'll go for that big fat farmhouse instead! Ye-ha!!

Here's the Tornado - switch to outside view, put your foot down and watch the wings sweep back as you accelerate - brilliant!

The Viggen doesn't come with the nifty moving wings, but it's such a spooky shape anyway it doesn't really need them.