Megafortress. (computer game) (Evaluation)
by Scott A. May
Armchair pilots who feel that getting there is the best part of the journey will thoroughly enjoy Megafortress, a remarkable strategic bombing simulation from Three-Sixty Pacific.
The game offers a sense of artistic redemption for designers Rick Banks and Paul Butler, cofounders of Artech Digital Entertainments. The company's two previous titles, Blue Max and Das Boot, were ambitious failures--thoughtfully planned but poorly executed. Neither simulation proved special enough to stand out in a competitive market.
There's nothing quite like Megafortress, however, an air combat simulator inspired by Dale Brown's gripping novel, Flight of the Old Dog. According to the story, the Old Dog is a heavily modified, 25-year-old B-52 Stratofortress. Engineers at Dreamland--the USAF's top-secret testing facility--used the stripped-down, redesigned craft as a test bed for stealth technology destined for the B-1 and B-2 long-range bombers. Although armed to the teeth, the Old Dog was never intended to see combat.
Instead, tragic circumstances force the aircraft into action. Players take full control of the EB-52 Megafortress, so dubbed for its amazing array of advanced ordinance and high-tech defensive systems. It's a daunting challenge but full of reward for those who can handle the pressure.
Sixteen introductory missions offer hands-on training in such essentials as navigation, radar evasion, in-flight refueling, MiG defense, and precision bombing. Seasoned fliers can then test their mettle in 12 tough Persian Gulf scenarios. It all comes together in one final, tremendous mission: a spine-tingling re-creation of Brown's novel. Whoever walks away intact from this assignment deserves more than a victory screen.
Players are required to wear many uniforms in the game: pilot, copilot (flight engineer), navigator, and electronics warfare and offensive weapons officers. The bomber's five stations are rendered with exacting detail in 256-color VGA. Dozens of dials, displays, gauges, knobs, buttons, and switches--all completely operational--fill each screen. What could easily result in sensory overload flows exceptionally well, thanks in large part to Bruce Maurier's comprehensive 96-page instruction manual.
The EB-52 boasts a payload capacity of more than 50,000 pounds of mixed ordnance. State-of-the-art electronics assure that the goods are delivered and the crew returns intact. Among the equipment you must master: terrain avoidance computers, satellite communications, "active" attack radar, an electro-optical guidance system, and numerous electronic countermeasures.
Success in the game demands not only a thorough understanding of all on-board systems but also a feel for the in-flight routine. The nature of the simulation dictates that much time be spent in mission planning, aircraft management, and electronic analysis. Although this sounds rather passive, the program evokes incredible atmosphere. Nervous anticipation explodes in a real-time flurry fo activity. From last-second jamming of incoming missiles to the rerouting of burned-out hydraulic pumps, every action contributes to the success of the mission. The sheer number of interrelated actions is staggering.
The only thing more sensational than the game's eclectic avionics is its flawless execution. With Megafortress, Three-Sixty Pacific finally has an air-combat simulator to be proud of.
SCOTT A. MAY