Chuck Yeager's Air Combat. (flight simulator game) (evaluation)
by Denny Atkin
"Bandit on your six! Break!" the navigator yelled from the rear seat. As tracers shot past the cockpit window, I did a vector roll and pulled away from the attacker. I leveled out my F-4E Phantom, wondering if every raid against the Vietcong would see this much action. I'd just taken damage from the MiG-21 I shot down over Hanoi, ad now I had to deal with more bogeys?
I scanned the horizon looking for the enemy aircraft. I spotted him, locked on a Sidewinder heat seeker, and moved in for the kill. Wait, there was something strange about this plane. It appeared to be . . . a piston-engined WWII fighter! "That's a Focke-Wulf 190," my navigator exclaimed incredulously. I glanced around . . . three, no four FW-190 fighters and a formation of Me-262s, the first German jet fighters!
Humming the "Twilight Zone" theme, I closed in on the bogey and let go of the Sidewinder; it shot right past him. I guess a heat seeker isn't the best weapon to use against an old prop job. I did a low yo-yo to reposition when suddenly a group of tracers ripped into my wing. Looking over, I saw an Me-163 rocket plane! I jinked to the left and lit into him with my 20-mm Gatling gun. He blew up with a spectacular explosion. Surveying my plane, I realized I'd taken some pretty heavy damage. One nice thing about WWII planes--they were pretty slow compared to my Phantom. I lit the afterburners and headed for home with growing appreciation of antique warplanes. Chuck Yeager's Air Combat gives me a new respect for the programming talent of Brent Iverson. (And he wasn't doing too badly in my book anyway, having created the PC version of DeluxePaint.) When I saw the spec sheet for this program, I thought it might be a fun arcade game, but I didn't believe there was any way a program could realistically simulate aircraft from three different wars without making any compromises. I was wrong. The original Yeager simulation, Chuck Yeager's Advanced Flight Trainer, is one of the best-selling entertainment programs for the PC. This program lives up to its predecessor's flight-model realism and surpasses it in speed, sound, and graphics quality. And it provides much more challenging gameplay.
Yeager offers three gameplay options. You can choose to fly a historic mission over World War II Europe, Korea, or Vietnam; create your own mission; or test-fly a plane. Fans of historical air combat will enjoy the first option, which allows you to fly 16 accurate aircombat missions over Korea and 17 each over Europe and Vietnam. The Create Mission option allows you to design your own combat scenario, either a realistic encounter between planes of the same era or a fantasy combat between aircraft of different eras. Test Flight lets you simply take to the skies in your choice of aircraft and practice your flying skills without having to worry about enemy aircraft.
The program simulates a total of 17 different aircraft types. You can fly 6 of these models, and enemy aircraft can be any of the 17. The planes available from World War II are the North American P-51D Mustang and the Focke-Wulf 190A-8; from Korea, the North American F-86E and the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 Fagot; and from Vietnam, the McDonnel Douglas F-4E Phantom II and the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21MF Fishbed. Other planes features in the simulation, which you may have to defend as allies or fact as enemies, are the P-47D Thunderbolt, the Messerschmitt Me-109E, the M3-119 twin prop fighter, the Me-163 rocket plane, the Me-282 jet, the B-17 17 Flying Fortress, and B-29 Superfortress, the Yakelov Yak-9,. the MiG-17F Fresco, the F-105D Thunderchief, and the B-52 Stratofortress (known as the BUFF to its pilots.)
As you'd expect from a simulation bearing the Yeager name, each of these planes is simulated very accurately. When you choose which plane you're going to fly, you aren't forced to use a generic cockpit; the program displays an instrument panel accurate to that type of plane. The more modern the plane you're flying, the more sophisticated the instrument panel. Each plane is realistic from a performance standpoint as well. For instance, the Me- 163 Komet rocket plane will run out of fuel after a few minutes of combat and have to glide back to base, making it a sitting duck, just like the actual aircraft. You'll find that different fighters have different climb rates, turning radii, and maximum altitudes. No more of the "every plane flies about the same" syndrome you're used to less realistic simulators, you might find yourself in trouble after trying to do maneuvers that aren't actually possible in some planes at certain altitudes.
The game presents you with an incredible variety of historical missions. Many are of the fighter-escort and ground-attack genres, as you'd expect, but many others are unique and unexpected. In Korea, for instance, one mission puts you in the role of Lt. Kim Sok Ho, the North Korean pilot who defected with his MiG-15 in order to collect a $100,000 reward. You've got to avoid both Korean and American pilots in that scenario. Other scenarios bring their own surprises--you may spend most of your time in what's supposed to be a ground-attack mission engaging in air-to-air combat. Make sure you pay attention to the mission's goals, though. I shot down three German planes in one mission, only to be chiden by General Yeager for not destroying enough ground targets.
General Yeager offers helpful hints and warnings during combat. If you seek further assistance, a tutorial videotape narrated by Yeager is available from EA.
Each mission stands alone; the program doesn't let you fly a campaign or save your pilot to disk so you can keep a running total of your kills.
The historical missions are thoroughly enjoyable, but I had the most fun using the Create Mission option. If you've had a bad day, take a Vietnamera MiG-21 up against four or five WWII B-17 Bombers--it's a piece of cake. If you're up for a challenge, try to shoot down a Mach-2 F-4E Phantom in a 500-mph P-51 Mustang. It can be done, but it's not easy.
The game has a nice replay option. You can pause the combat and watch what just happened, or you can save the entire mission to disk and watch it later. There are variable play-back speeds, and you can have the camera a follow any of the aircraft.
Yeager's VGA graphics are beautiful. Each cockpit is a nicely rendered VGA bitmap, while the world and other aircraft are done using first filled-polygon graphics. Down to the ejection seat and canopy that fall away from your plane after you punch out, Yeager misses no detail. A digitized Chuck Yeager voice congratulating you or chiding you after each mission crowns a complement of well-done sound effects. One truly neat feature is that the game will actually run under Windows on a 386SX or higher machine; other than a scrambled digitized voice, all features work fine under Windows 3.0. With realistic flying characteristics, fast-action combat, an infinite variety of possible missions, and top-notch graphics and sound, it's hard to find anything to complain about. The terrain could be a little more detailed and less flat, and it would be nice if you could keep a running total of your pilot's kills. Even without these features, though, Chuck Yeager's Air Combat is the most enjoyable combat flight simulator I've ever played.