Knights of the Sky. (flight-simulation computer game) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by Peter Olafson
Don't let anyone call the Amiga version of Knights of the Sky a port.
Oh, technically, I suppose it is. The PC version of MicroProse's World War I flight sim came out in 1990, during that first surge of WWI flight simulator releases.
But in the Amiga games world, port has evolved into a slight used to describe conversions with basic color schemes, token sound effects, and general inattention to the capabilities of the Amiga's graphics chip set. By this standard, Knights of the Sky is hardly a port. It's a from-the-ground-up rewrite by the Amiga whizzes in MicroProse's U.K. division, with much the same dash and general jubilance as last year's excellent F-15 Strike Eagle II. It might as well be an Amiga original.
This is simply the best flying game from the Great War to come down the pike. The dogfights in Cinemaware's Wings were a real blast, but, long schooled in adventure-by-joystick, it just couldn't leave out the arcade segments, and the landing was a trifle bumpy. Blue Max by Three-Sixty tried to be both strategy game and flight simulator--an engaging idea--but the two things weren't quite in sync. And then there's Dynamix's Red Baron--a very nice-looking, high-end program that wants a 14-MHz accelerator.
Knights of the Sky, by contrast, gets virtually everything right--from the heartbreakingly lovely bit of ragtime piano in the intro (played over a fetching simulation of an old film) to the throaty engine sound that will make you sit up and salute to the splendid follow-the-bomb mode and the exultant explosions that result. A great variety of missions (with combustible targets both in the air and on the ground) and from-the-cockpit and out-of-airplane views enhance the game even further. The program's gameplay is perfectly lovely; I don't think I've ever had this much plain, intuitive fun in the air.
The features in Knights of the Sky aren't anything you won't find in other flight simulators, but there's a chemistry in their assembly here that makes them feel new and fresh. The game has the gift of presence. It's felt in the way you can really fly at treetop level (and feel just how close the treetops are) and in the way a near-miss can demolish a building--the resulting polygon infernos feel like fire. Your off-target machine gun bullets don't just disappear into the bitstream, as computer-game bullets are wont to do, but kick up fountains of earth before they vanish. Put it this way: This game made me feel happy that I have an Amiga.
The overall feel is closest to Wings--it even has a history-based story line--but a Wings with a real game world, and not just quick-load modules. The speed is excellent even at the highest detail levels, easily comparable to that on a fast AT-class IBM. It can get a bit bumpy, though, when a few planes. are giving chase and a few smoke plumes are rising. The 32 colors are brilliant--with that classic Amiga look of fabric worn smooth--and the controls are responsive. You can change planes as new ones come available, and you can reread text that you may have fire-buttoned your way past in haste. You play via modem or direct link-something I didn't get a chance to test. (You can't play against Knights on the PC, though.) There's an opportunity to challenge enemy aces and a too-brief instant replay mode for reliving triumphs and disasters. (I do wish you could save your adventures on disk for later viewing, as you can in Flight of the Intruder and Red Baron.)
The program not only plays from the hard drive, but the installation routine is MicroProse's first for the Amiga to actually work as described. It even writes Assign statements into the start-up-sequence. (Next time, permit us to write them to Df0: for floppy-booted hard drives and to User-Startup under Release 2.)
Moreover, Knights of the Sky has that brassy solidness, that edge, peculiar to good Amiga games--rather than the somewhat fey, about-to-break feel of the IBM version. It's as though this were the game as originally conceived and the IBM version were the port.
I've seen two complaints about Knights of the Sky: One (from Amiga Resource's editor) is that it's an arcade game more than a flight simulator per se; the other, that it's too easy. The latter is just fine with me; it's still a game, after all, even if it is a simulator. And I'd rather not get shot out of the sky every few minutes while learning the ropes.
And as to the former--well, these machines weren't the complicated creatures that, for example, a Corsair or a Zero were, and Knights of the Sky seems pretty authentic to me. Sure, you can fly by the seat of your pants, but you'll need to work at keeping your nose and speed up, keeping your turn radius tight, and keeping Jerry off your tail.
Indeed, you now have reason to keep your own nose up in IBM company. Knights is an Amiga original. You've done yourself proud, MicroProse.