Requirements: Commodore 64 or Atari with at least 48K RAM, a disk drive, and a joystick.
Solo Flight is the latest creation of Sid Meier of Microprose. Previous Microprose flight games like Hellcat Ace and Spitfire Ace were good efforts, but do not approach the complexity and sophistication of Solo Flight.
Solo Flight is a first-person, realtime flight simulator which allows you to experience the thrill of flying a light airplane. In this simulation you must master takeoffs, landings, navigation, instrument flying, and emergency procedures. A 3-D view and full set of instruments help you fly your aircraft.
There are two parts to the simulation: flying and the Mail Pilot game. Flying is fun in it self, but there is no specific goal other than practicing your flying and landing skills. To be successful, you must learn the rudiments of instrument flight, although seat-of-the-pants flying is fun and will get you in the vicinity of various airports.
A Real Joystick
Once you're airborne, and imagining yourself in that left seat, you can use the cursor keys to look out of the cabin to your right, left, or rear. The views appear directly above your instrument panel. At your fingertips are all of the typical aircraft controls, including the joystick-from which videogame joysticks derived their name. You pull back on the stick to climb, push forward to descend, and move the stick left or right to bank into turns.
The instrument panel on the bottom of the screen contains all of the information necessary to fly the plane in either clear or bad weather. There are indicator lights for brakes, landing gear, and engine temperature status. Gauges keep track of your airspeed, throttle, fuel, pitch, and compass headings. The two VOR (very high frequency omnidirectional range) readouts indicate the directional bearing from the VOR stations, and the ILS (instrument landing system) shows whether your landing approach is high, low, or at the proper altitude relative to your distance from the runway. An altimeter and artificial horizon/attitude indicator round out the set of instruments.
You can choose to fly in Kansas, Washington, or Colorado, and each state's terrain affects the difficulty level. Kansas is the best place to hone your flying techniques since it's mostly flat. Colorado, with its mountain ranges and airports located at various elevations, is the most difficult. Washington's terrain is somewhere in between.
Once you've logged a few practice hours in the cockpit, you're ready for the fun. The Mail Pilot game is not only challenging but very realistic. Your assignment is to deliver five bags of mail to their destination airports in the shortest amount of time. You get a map of the whole area, and you must decide how much mail and fuel to take aboard. When you're ready to begin, you taxi out to the runway, power up, and take off.
After successfully landing at a destination airport, you receive points for navigation accuracy, elapsed time, your landing, and the amount of mail delivered. The screen then shows the original state map and the route you flew to reach the destination. As the game progresses, the weather gradually deteriorates. High winds, clouds, and occasional turbulence test your flying mettle. At the higher difficulty levels your plane is also prone to mechanical and instrument failures. The engine may overheat and various instruments may stop operating.
Solo Flight has many other features as well, such as the capability to design your own instrument approach to any of the 21 airports in the Mail Pilot game. The 15-page manual is well-written and provides information on instrument flying, instrument approaches, VOR navigation, and flying tips. It also includes sample landing approaches: a low-altitude approach to Wichita, a highaltitude approach to Denver, and a box ILS-pattern approach to Portland.
As a simulation, Solo Flight is excellent. The graphics are not quite as good as those found in the Microsoft Flight Simulator for the IBM PC/PCjr, but that's hardly a problem. As a game, it is not only entertaining but also educational. After just a few flying lessons in a Cessna, I realized I couldn't afford to complete my pilot's license, so I found Solo Flight to be most appealing.
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