Fly the Grand Canyon. (computer game) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by David Sears
How many of us have flown over the Grand Canyon on a commercial flight to Los Angeles or New York? The view, even from the wing, can take your breath away. What would you give for a leisurely tour of that same spectacle? Now an excursion into natural wonder requires little more than a PC and 3-D glasses as poor man's virtual reality comes home. Fly the Grand Canyon puts you in the cockpit and sets the limits of exploration at the horizon.
Utilizing not one but two variations on the old 3-D imaging system, Fly the Grand Canyon comes complete with a sturdy pair of red lens/blue lens glasses for you and a cardboard pair for your passengers. According to the manual, the filtering effects of the lenses tricks the human brain into seeing a stereo image onscreen. In truth, the CRT displays a mass of red and blue lines. This stereo effect might well work for some, but for many others 3-D glasses bring only headaches and eyestrain. For these unfortunates, Fly the Grand Canyon offers two monochromatic modes, yellow and white. The resulting maps possess almost as much depth as their stereo counterparts.
Flight along the treacherous Snake River can result in more than a few crashes, but, as a simulation, Fly the Grand Canyon proves quite forgiving: It starts you over in the same vicinity immediately after a crash. The controls of your plane allow for simple banking, but you can't roll this craft. Climb too high and you'll likely crash--the program, that is. Otherwise, the canyon scrolls below and, should you hover at zero knots per hour, you can choose to have the program display the rugged cliffs in greater detail for your viewing pleasure. Normally the terrain moves past in perhaps half of the maximum resolution--an attempt to engender greater speed in slower machines.
For the most part, Fly the Grand Canyon simply isn't the next best thing to being there. The simplified maps, though based on accurate geological survey data, lack sufficient shading, texture, and density to support any such illusions. Push the throttle forward for more speed and the landscape begins to jump past; smooth scrolling would make all the difference in this flight simulator. Gaps between lines seem paltry enough when you can skim precipices with the speed of wind. Here you sometimes pass through an obstacle before the controls can respond.
A shadow generator allows you to add some believability to your travels. Choose from early morning to afternoon lighting effects, and shadows fill the valleys. You can't fly through a shadow, however, as they're visible only in pause mode. Still, the most convincing 3-D effects occur at this point; you might find yourself reaching for the screen just to touch them.
The flight recorder will save memorable jaunts to disk, and you'll want to save them to show your friends. The Grand Canyon offers some amazing sights. and even from the limited perspective of Fly the Grand Canyon they're worth paying to see.