THEIR FINEST HOUR
Lucasfilm Games Launches The Battle of Britain
BY ANDREW REESE START EDITOR
Nearly fifty years ago, a handful of British pilots in Spitfires and Hurricanes took to the air as England's sole defense against Nazi Germany's air onslaught. All during the summer of 1940, the waves of German bombers and fighters attacked and were driven back. Now, Lucasfilm Games has brought these battles to the computer screen in Their Finest Hour: The Battle of Britain, a great sequel to their award-winning Battlehawks 1942.
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Are you an aviation nut? A history buff? If you're either--or just enjoy a top-notch computer flight simulator--you'll love Lucasfilm Games' new World War II game. Like Battlehawks 1942, released on the ST last year, Their Finest Hour: The Battle of Britain is a historically accurate simulation of some of the key air battles of the war.
Historians agree that if England had lost the Battle of Britain, Germany could have invaded the British Isles with ease. Those few pilots who flew against the German bombers and fighters truly changed the course of the war--and the shape of the world. A successful German invasion of England could well have kept the United States out of the European conflict with staggering implications for the shape of the continent today.
German or English--Take Your Pick
Lucasfilm Games' remarkable programmer/producer Lawrence Holland took this critical era and translated it into a wonderful computer flying experience. In it, you can fly a Spitfire or Hurricane for the Brits against Messerschmits, Stukas, Heinkels and Dorniers. Or you can fly one of the German planes in an attack against the English.
This unusual symmetry was also one of the most remarkable aspects of Battlehawks 1942. Although it went against my grain to fly a Zero against American pilots, it did give me a real feeling for the superiority of the Japanese planes at that stage of the war. I came to appreciate even more the heroism of the American pilots who flew outmoded planes against some of the best aircraft of the war.
In Battle of Britain, you have a selection of missions from the German side. You can fly fighter escort in one of the graceful Bf-109E's or try the first German terror weapon of the war, the Stuka dive bomber. Other options include piloting a Dornier or Heinkel medium bomber or one of the twin-engined Me-110's.
From the British side, your choices are more limited: all the Brits had to put up against the Germans were the Hawker Hurricane and the Supermarine Spitfire. But if you had to choose just two of the contemporary fighters for this interceptor role, these would be two great choices--the Spit was more maneuverable with a higher rate-of-climb, while the Hurricane combined lesser maneuverability with greater ruggedness.
Gentlemen, Choose Your Mission
The game itself is set up quite a bit like Battlehawks 1942. At the start of a mission, you choose a plane (and therefore the side you want to fly on), the role and the specific mission you wish to fly. You can also select the quality of your opponent pilots and the supplies and vulnerability of your own craft. Once you've made these selections, you're ready to fly. An overall map of south-eastern England is available to show the distribution of forces to help you plan your attack or defense.
Flying "Finest Hour" is pure pleasure. Although when I tried the game, it was only available on the PC, it runs and looks the same on the ST. Again, it's mouse-driven, one of the few defects I found in Battlehawks 1942, but the mouse/flight control interface continues to be amazingly good. And the flight characteristics of these planes are superb.
One of the best features of Battlehawks 1942 was the Camera feature that let you record and replay critical portions of your mission and then replay them from a variable vantage point. In "Finest Hour," the replay feature has even been improved from Battlehawks. Now, you can choose a variety of viewpoints for your replay--including from the nose of one of your falling bombs! Plus, you can save your mission recordings to disk and show your friends how you became an ace. (Watch for a special contest from Lucasfilm Games based on this feature.)
An Evening in the Museum
To introduce "Finest Hour" to the press and local dealers, Lucasfilm Games reserved the Museum of Flying in Santa Monica, California for an evening. If you're an airplane nut, be sure to take in this museum if you're ever in Southern California. It's at the Santa Monica Airport, the original site of Douglas Aircraft, and features a variety of Douglas aircraft and memorabilia.
For the folks from Lucasfilm, however, the Museum's primary attraction was a reconditioned Spitfire IX in flying condition. Although a later model than those flown in the Battle of Britain, the Spit provided a perfect focal point for the game. Arrayed around this graceful fighter were a number of computers set up with "Finest Hour" and it was almost impossible to fight through the crowds around the computers for a game. Everyone we talked to who tried the game loved it, including one RAF bomber pilot who served during that era.
Lucasfilm Games has priced "Finest Hour" at $59.95, a substantial sum for a computer diversion. But that includes a 192-page manual and a flight simulator that is both entertainment and a history lesson in one. For the aviation buff, it's a "must have." For computer gamers in general, be sure to take a look at it at your local software store; it may be just what you want to fill a niche in your game collection.
Their Finest Hour: The Battle of Britain, $59 95. Lucasfilm Ltd, P.O. Box 2009, San Rafael, CA 94912, (415) 662-1966.