The best simulation game software. (Compute's Getting Started With: Entertainment Software) (Buyers Guide)
by Scott A. May
At their best, computer simulations should not only entertain, they should enlighten as well. As an interactive reflection of real-world activities, they allow ordinary people to experience extraordinary things. Let's face it, few of us will have the opportunity to pilot a real jet fighter, race the Indianapolis 500, or fly in a space shuttle. With a little imagination and a powerful PC, simulations allow anyone to do almost anything.
The overwhelming majority of titles in this genre are combat flight simulators - most directly based on real-life military aircraft, both modern and historical. It's not only one of the most prolific categories of entertainment software, but a proving ground for some of the industry's hottest design innovations. Just as early test pilots pushed the envelope of man and machine, flight sims continually test the boundaries of today's powerful PCs.
The field is so crowded with high-quality products, it's nearly impossible to narrow the selection. We'll begin with some of the established classics, particularly those best suited for rookie pilots. Almost four years old, but still flying high, Damon Slye's Red Baron (Dynamix, 800-326-6654, $49.90) remains one of the genre's top picks. Test your skills in the skies of World War I Europe - on both the British and German sides - flying such vintage fighters as the Sopwith Camel, Fokker Eindecker, and Nieuport 17. If you're looking for realistic dogfight action, you can't get much better than this, squaring off against some of history's best, including Max Immelmann, Eddie Rickenbacker, Oswald Boelcke, and the Red Baron himself, Manfred von Rich-thofen. Also featured are dozens of single missions, historical scenarios, and full campaigns, augmented with one of the genre's most versatile flight recorders. The game now comes packaged with the Red Baron Mission Builder, which adds untold enjoyment to this award-winning classic.
For dogfights of the modern era, you can't get much better than Chuck Yeager's Air Combat (Electronic Arts, 800-245-4525, $59.95). Like Red Baron, this one's a comparative old-timer, but one that still holds its own against the more flashy newcomers. A fighter pilot's dream, the game simulates a wide variety of aircraft from three combat eras: World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. Players assemble scenarios as you might order a meal from a Chinese menu - choosing an aircraft, starting altitude, and tactical position, as well as the opponent type, number, and skill. Select from more than 15 available aircraft, ranging from the P-47 Thunderbolt and B-29 Superfortress to the F-4 Phantom and MiG-21 Fishbed. The action explodes in a white-knuckle test of piloting prowess weapons superiority, and split-second tactical skills. The program also features dozens of historic missions, a flight recorder, and wonderfully stable joystick controls.
An excellent choice for both beginning and intermediate dogfighters is Secret Weapons of the Luft-waffe (LucasArts, 415-721-3300, $49.95), the premiere World War II-era air combat sim. Take off as either an Allied or Axis pilot, commanding such classics as the P-47 Thunderbolt, P-51 Mustang, B-17 Flying Fortress, Messerschmitt Komet, Focke-Wulf 190, and experimental Gotha 229 fighter-bomber. A series of official supplement disks, as well as dozens of user-created hexed planes - available through various online services - adds even greater firepower. The game offers a wide scope of training flights, single missions, and full campaigns. One of its distinguishing marks is the use of bitmapped aircraft, instead of the usual polygon renderings, resulting in even greater detail, particularly images of planes trailing smoke and fire during close-range combat. Other highlights include terrific sound effects, from the vibrato engine hum and teeth-chattering explosions to the realistic Doppler drone of passing aircraft.
Yet another bona fide classic of the World War II era is Aces of the Pacific (Dynamix, $59.95), an award-winning combat sim from the creators of Red Baron. The sunny skies and blue water of the South Pacific provide stark contrast for this sensational aerial ballet of black smoke, bullets, and bombs. Hit the air in dozens of vintage U.S. and Japanese aircraft, including the Yokosuka D4YA Judy, Mitsubishi Zero, P-38 Lightning, P-39 Airacobra, and F4U Corsair. Structured similarly to Red Baron, the game features extensive training, single and historic missions, and numerous campaign options. Graphics and sound effects are state-of-the-art, with intensity levels heightened by the splendid flight recorder. Dynamix has followed this successful product with the equally impressive Aces Over Europe ($59.95).
Other air combat simulations, most suitable for intermediate pilots, include F-117A Nighthawk (MicroProse, 800-879-PLAY, $49.95), Knights of the Sky (MicroProse, $19.95), Comanche: Maximum Overkill (Novalogic, 800-245-4525, $69.95), and Strike Commander (Origin, 800-245-4525, $79.95).
Those who feel they've earned their wings can try their luck in the upper echelon with Falcon 3.0 (Spectrum Holobyte, 800-695-GAME, $79.95), widely considered to be the best in the business. Packing the most realistic avionics of any PC combat sim, this is the closest most will come to piloting an F-16 without joining the Air Force. Some of the game's most outstanding features include full squadron-level command of up to eight fighter jets through a variety of single and campaign missions. Action erupts hot and heavy in such theaters of conflict as the Middle East and Central America, with more than 90,000 square miles of ground detail rendered in stunning 3-D contoured polygons. In addition to the computer opponent's remarkable artificial intelligence, you also can go head-to-head against a friend - flying the Mig-29 - via null or remote modem link. Add-on mission disks include Operation Fighting Tiger (39.95) and Mig-29 ($59.95).
Even the most jaded fighter jocks will experience future shock in X-Wing (LucasArts, $69.95), the first full-fledged space combat simulator. Why putter with biplanes or jet fighters when you can warp out in X-, Y-, and A-Wing starfighters, armed to the teeth with laser canons and proton torpedoes? Engage in an increasingly difficult series of missions against the evil Empire, ranging from simple deep space recons to multiphase attacks on battle cruisers and star destroyers. It's a rip-roaring good time, but not for the easily frustrated. Both graphics and sound effects set new standards for the genre. A supplement disk, imperial Pursuit ($29.95), is available.
Other advanced combat flight sims worth considering are Megafortress (Three-Sixty Pacific, 800-245-4525, $59.95), Gunship 2000 (MicroProse, $39.95), Tornado (Spectrum Holobyte, $79.95), and F-15 Strike Eagle ill (MicroProse, $69.95).
Of course, there's more to flight simulation than blasting things to smithereens. The top straight flight simulator is without doubt Flight Simulator 5 (Microsoft, 800-426-9400, $64.95), the latest incarnation of an industry pioneer. Cosmetically, the game features a, complete Super-VGA makeover, including digitized cockpit displays, texture-mapped terrain, dithering horizons, and eye-popping 3-D landmarks. The simulation also features new satellite navigation tools, more realistic weather, improved flight models, sampled sound effects, and a more useful flight recorder.
Stunt Island (Walt Disney Computer Software, 800-688-1520,$59.95) skillfully blends flight simulation and cinematography into one of the genre's most fascinating, utterly original creations. Designed for advanced, ambitious players, you'll don many hats in this one - stunt pilot, director, prop master, set designer, and film editor - as you assemble daredevil stunts on the world's largest fantasy backlot. Scout locations on the island's disparate terrain, from mountains and skyscrapers to farmland and urban sprawl. Choose from an amazing assortment of 45 aircraft, from World War I to modern-day, including such oddities as hang gliders and shuttles, all rendered in fast, beautifully shaded VGA polygons. Despite its diversity, each aspect of the game is integrated to offer a long-lasting; educational experience.
Coming back down to earth, the genre's few nonflight simulations deal with business-oriented resource management, although most are better classified as strategy games. Likewise, most driving games - such as the top pick here, MicroProse's World Circuit - are true simulations, but usually are categorized as sports.
Stunt island. A stunning combination of flight simulation and full-featured cinematography.
Red Baron. Though set in World War I, Damon Slye's masterpiece is the model for most modern air combat sims.
Chuck Yeager's Air Combat. Dogfight through three combat eras .
Falcon 3.0. The current champ among high-end combat flight simulations, with few challengers on the horizon.
Aces Over the Pacific. Easy to learn, but tough to put down, this one offers the widest appeal of any combat sim.
Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe. Another historical powerhouse, filled with fast action and an explosive presentation.
X-Wing. Rooted in the Star Wars saga, this is the only space game good enough to qualify as a toprated flight simulation.
Flight Simulator 5. The pioneer of civilian flight simulation gets a long-awaited facelift in this feature-packed update.
Megafortress. This high-tech, high-stress bomber simulation captures the multitasking intensity of modern warfare.
World Circuit. is it a sports game or a true simulation? it earns a spot on both lists