Amstrad Action


Gunship

Author: PbM
Publisher: Microprose
Machine: Amstrad CPC464

 
Published in Amstrad Action #37

Gunship

Now, at long last, you too can sweep into the skies in an Apache AH-64 helicopter - blasting liberals, pinkoes and out-and-out commies as you go. Yes, you've guessed, it's an American chopper: the latest, in fact. Packed with electronics, armed to the teeth, armoured beyond belief - and costing millions. Costly business, war.

This flight simulation has been grounded on the Amstrad until now, and pretty displeased we CPC users have been about it too. Indeed, your campaigning Amstrad Action was making its feelings known about it in Amscene as long ago as AA25! But, to their credit, the Microprose coders kept on bashing away, and their patience has at last been rewarded.

But Gunship is not just a simulator. You chart the career of a pilot in the US Army. Start off on training flights in the USA. Progress by taking some tours in South-East Asia. Take on the Nicaraguan forces fighting in Central America. The Arabs in the Middle East are causing trouble - blow them away. Ultimately, the Warsaw Pact has invaded Western Europe. Naturally enough, you've got to kill them all Gunship: diplomacy with a vengeance.

Gunship

If this sort of American behaviour (known throughout the free world) doesn't appeal to you, then you probably won't like the game. Complete the missions as stated and you get promotions and medals. Your reviewer could never get demoted, for some odd reason (which probably says more about the game than it does about me).

To help you fulfill your missions, there is the usual Microprose doorstop of a manual. Flying helicopters is a notoriously tricky job, but start 'by the book' and you should be at least able to get into the air without much trouble. As much practice on the American range as you can stand is highly recommended because all the flak is simulated. Even in the relative calm of home territory, however, you can still go west/go for a burton by taking on a hill.

All potential targets are listed in the manual, together with many I could never find. Hard targets you have no trouble at all finding are T74 tanks, BMP and BTR infantry carriers, SAM (Surface to Air missiles) and ZSU (Zenitnaia Samokhodnaia Ustanovka - that's Russian anti-aircraft gun to you, pal) armoured vehicles and military bunkers. Soft targets are helibases, depots and headquarters, and of course the infantry.

Gunship

Coming into a special category of its own is the Hind, the Russian attack helicopter that can outrun you and is as well armoured as the Apache. It has a nasty habit of popping out from behind a hill to shoot you up - an experience you may well not live to regret.

To destroy all these, there are four weapon systems available:

1. The all-purpose chain gun fires High Explosive Dual Purpose rounds, effective against hard as well as soft targets. It tracks with the TADS (see below).

Gunship

2. FFARs (Folding Fin Aerial Rockets) are simple unguided weapons that produce a big bang when they hit something. They are very inaccurate, but deal with soft, dispersed targets well enough.

3. AGM-114As, more commonly termed Hellfires, are joystick laser guided anti-armour weapons that pierce hard targets very effectively, but they can't harm soft targets. They're extremely accurate - unfortunately you can only carry a maximum of sixteen.

4. AIM-9LS are widely known as Sidewinders. These AAMs (Air to Air Missiles) are included in most simulations. They home in on heat sources and are so sensitive they can find the wings and fuselage of aeroplanes, rather than depending on flying up the exhaust pipe of an engine. Use them on the Hind.

Gunship

In present-day warfare, the real usefulness of aircraft lies not so much in their flying ability as their use at finding and destroying the enemy. The main aids for this are electronics or to use the correct term, avionics.

The Apache has an extremely impressive array of gadgets. TADS (Target Aquisition/Designation System) is the heart of the Apache: and consists of a laser, TV camera and infra-red sensor. The system is located under the chin of the helicopter and does all the hard work for you, pin-pointing and identifying targets. Two other useful gadgets are the radar and infra-red jammers which serve to confuse enemy search and guidance systems for cannon and missiles. The drawback is that switching them on makes you more obvious - and enemy gunners have eye balls to track you with as a backup system.

Cruder methods are also available to confuse the enemy electronics. Chaff is the nickname for the anti-radar system which launches thousands of strips of aluminium, causing lots of blips on radar screens. Flares are simply lumps of magnesium that, burn at a high temperature, producing multiple targets for infra-red weapons to lock-on to.

Gunship

Missions are easily changed. The first variable is the pilot, who can be replaced by a lowly sergeant. Pilots can also be loaded and saved. The second variable is the campaign. Next comes mission difficulty - regular, volunteer and volunteer hazardous duty.

And there are even more options: easy or realistic settings on flying, landing and weather; choice of opposition - third line yokels, second line reserve and front line shock troops; and equipment quality such as missiles and guns - depending on troop quality.

Once you have chosen your mission, you are given a briefing listing your primary and secondary objectives. These are targets that must be destroyed no matter how many others you hit. Intelligence information on troop and equipment quality is available, as well as a sick call option to chicken out.

After that you choose your weapons. The weight limit of the Apache is limited according to the weather. Make sure you leave enough for fuel!

Not so long ago, the graphics on Gunship would be described as brilliant, and even after the Freescape system used in Driller and Darkside they still rate very good. Not only is there a true filled-in view through the cockpit window, but you can move this view around to see what's to the side and behind you. Occasionally, however, transparent hills mar this effect.

The sound is average, with a rotor racket that gets right under your skin. But enemy missile and radar lock-on is announced by sound - a nice touch. Above all, you know when you're hit, 'cos the explosions are great.

The most important skill in flying is balance. If you can balance the cyclic collective controls, making sure the Apache's nose is pointing just so, then you've mastered flying. Getting to that stage is a challenge in itself. When you're there, you can start to fathom combat flying and gunnery.

Gunship is the simulator: nothing else comes close. I do feel, though, that the CPC implementation is not fully complete. Do the Warsaw Pact really paint their vehicles bright blue? And how come some can't be attacked for no good reason? Then there's the hills, which appear so solid and then fade away for a few seconds. Worst of all, in the box, along with the excellent manual, there's a little card telling you what's missing on the CPC version. For £15-£20 you expect features to be added: what you don't expect, is a cut down conversion.

Vietnam is not referred to anywhere in the manual's text. Could this be anything to do with recent history, I wonder? Just a thought...

Second Opinion

Microprose are well known for simulations and this is certainly their best to date. Not only is it very realistic and surprisingly fast, but it's also fairly easy to play without wading through the huge manual. More advanced players will still find the game challenging and you can build up quite a collection of medals over your piloting career.

The manual contains much information that's irrelevant, but nevertheless interesting. There's also a quick start option and a handy keyboard overlay to make things a little easier during play.

There are two companies that show everyone else how to do it when it comes to simulations: Microprose and Digital Integration. Microprose have moved into pole position. Now it's up to Digital Integration to try and reclaim the title.

One last thing that might help you make up your mind: tape owners should beware that this is a continual multi-load game.

First Day Target Score

Survive in 'South East Asia'.

Green Screen View

Tricky but playable.

Verdict

Graphics 86%
P. True perspective in three dimensions.
N. Occasional glitches and wipeouts irritate.

Sonics 61%
N. Rotors sound like sewing machines
P. Great explosions and warning noises.

Grab Factor 64%
N. Tricky to fly around.
P. Strong urge to explore

Staying Power 94%
P. Lots of challenges.
P. You can only ever improve.

Overall 82%
Too expensive to be a Mastergame.

What You Don't Get For Your £20

The Microprose manual for Gunship is quite brilliant. It's 80-odd pages of lavish, well-written and beautifully illustrated material that assists greatly in the simulation illusion.

Only thing is, it ain't for the Amstrad! After the superb manual, you discover a single plain piece of card which outlines some of what you don't get for your £20 (it's not even complete). Such as:

  1. No roster of pilots - only one at a time
  2. Amstrad version does not give primary and secondary target locations in mission briefing
  3. Accelerated time is not included
  4. Abort mission is not included
  5. The enemy appears as only one colour on the radar screen
  6. Vehicle identification is not included

PbM

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