Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 146 / NOVEMBER 1992 / PAGE 96

Aces of the Pacific. (game software) (Software Review) (Column) (Evaluation)
by Scott A. May

Grab the stick in this air combat simulation, and you're asking for raw power and nonstop thrills.

For two hours on December 7, 1941, the skies cracked and rained terror upon the Hawaiian island of Oahu. The Japanese Navy's surprise attack on Pearl Harbor left more than 2400 military and civilian casualties. Dive bombers and torpedo planes destroyed or badly damaged more than 300 aircraft and 18 ships of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. A stunned nation officially entered World War II.

It's easy to say what you would've done had you been there to fight; now, with Aces of the Pacific, you can put your money where your mouth is. An incredible air combat simulation, Aces may be too realistic for the faint of heart. The vintage bombers are meticulously rendered, complete with sometimes unpredictable power and inherent design flaws. Computer-controlled pilots seem to have real-life intelligence and intuition. And the graphics and sound effects will make you think you've actually stepped back in time and entered the scene you see onscreen.

Aces salutes the historic events, budding technology, and heroism of this unique theater of conflict. Designed by Dynamix cofounder Damon Slye, Aces soars above and beyond his best-selling World War I combat simulation, Red Baron. Indeed, this tribute to the Pacific campaigns captures the passion and spirit of a generation better than any previous effort in the genre.

The true stars of the show are the more than 30 types of vintage fighters and bombers, each with distinctive flight characteristics painstakingly reproduced here. Some will amaze you with their innovative craftsmanship and intuitive control; others will ultimately scare the wits out of you with their untamed power and intrinsic design flaws.

First-time flyers should complete the game's comprehensive training missions. Here, you can learn the intricacies of each aircraft and fine-tune techniques like dive bombing-and carrier landings. Many such tests of skill and courage have never before been realistically implemented in a computer simulation.

Veteran pilots eager to see action can choose from ten types of single missions. Match wits with a famous ace or learn team effort as you direct a squadron against your enemy counterparts. As in Red Baron, the designers simulated real-life combat intelligence for all computer-controlled pilots. The results are some of the most entertaining, heart-pounding aerial ballets ever to grace the computer screen.

Players can also choose from a variety of individual historic missions or embark on a career campaign. Among the game's many preflight variables is the ability to choose which side and branch of service to fly for: the U.S. (Navy, Marines, or Army Air Force) or Japan (Navy or Air Force). This decision immediately limits or expands your courses of action and available aircraft. For example, become a U.S. Navy flier and choose from 33 missions divided among five historic campaigns. Likewise, the game includes seven campaigns (24 missions) for Japanese Navy pilots.

Historic missions cover the entire spectrum of the war. The choices are as historically rich and varied as they are challenging. Do well, and receive service medals and special commendations.

Other single missions test your ability to complete specific combat objectives: combat air patrol, fighter sweeps, emergency scramble, bomber escort, bomber interception, strikes against shipping and ground attacks. Multiply each by more than two dozen user-defined mission conditions, and play value soars to staggering heights. The number of pilots on either side, their skill level, and their aircraft may be changed. Three levels of overall realism include such fine points as gun jams, changing weather, and midair collisions. There are also three levels of combat difficulty and flight-model realism.

Graphics consist of textured solid-fill polygons and bitmapped overlays, beautifully rendered from a 256-color VGA palette. Although the visuals break no new ground in the genre, they are clean, bright, and fast--by far the best of any Dynamix simulation. You'll need at least a 386-based computer running at 25 MHz to enjoy the sophisticated flight mechanics and full graphic splendor. Users can tweak the frame rate, as well as world and aircraft detail, if the simulation runs too slowly.

Steep hardware requirements pay off with generous special effects, like the bubbling path of a torpedo or the splash of bullets strafing the water. Views of cockpits boast a digitized quality, while external views feature dramatic light-and-shadow effects. Sound effects are also vivid, from the whines peculiar to different models of radial engines to the remarkable Doppler shifts of passing aircraft. Explosions, however, could use a little more oomph to match the brilliant pyrotechnics.

The game can be played with keyboard or mouse, although a joystick offers the best response and most realistic feel. The simulation also supports a second joystick for rudder control and for flight-specific devices such as voke, rudder pedals, and the Thrustmaster Flight Control System. Dynamix's joystick routines have significantly improved since Red Baron and A-10 Tank Killer, but they still tend to slip out of calibration easily. The designers should put this problem near the top of their list of things to fix in their next project.

Blemishes are few but noticeable. The handsomely illustrated 233-page manual, faultless in its details of war history, aircraft specifications, and combat tactics, falls short when describing actual gameplay. As if written too far in advance of the final release, the manual virtually omits discussion of the mission scenarios. Too bad, since onscreen preflight instructions are limited to short, vague descriptions. Ironically, one source of valuable information--reconnaissance data gathered from the navigation flight map--is mentioned in the manual but is not present in the actual game.

Initial releases of Aces had some annoying bugs, as well as some poorly though-out features. Dynamix has been very receptive to user feedback and bug reports and has released a series of patch files that fix reported bugs and add some new features, such as changeable waypoints. These patches are available on online networks and the Sierra BBS.

No air combat simulation is complete without a mission recorder, and Dynamix provides one of the best. The playback screen uses VCR-style controls to rewind, pause, single-frame advance and fastforward. The recorder's only shortcoming is its lack of incremental rewind; miss an important moment, and the tape must be replayed from the beginning. Editing controls let you move and rotate the camera in three dimensions, and you can switch between friend, foe, or independent views. Use this feature to confirm kills, study mistakes, and watch attacks from any angle. Because each change in camera movement and perspective can be saved to tape, would-be directors can use this feature to create intricate combat films. A special demo function will even play such films full-frame, without the VCR overlay.

Breathtaking in scope and great fun to play, Aces of the Pacific might be the most widely appealing combat simulator on the market. You won't want to miss this one.