Cocaine! - the Devil's dandruff. By 1998 supplies of this drug were reaching epic proportions in the United States. The US Government had to act. The President decided that military intervention was the only course of action. (Where have we heard that before?).
You are a Top Gun pilot based on the USS Epyx. Your war-machine is the F-14 LCB Cosmos. It looks very much like the F-14 Tomcat, but is more advanced. It'll need to be. There are squadrons of the latest MiG fighters loitering just outside radar range. These carry both radar and heat-seeking missiles.
You log into the program using your name. You will be able to save and load your mission statistics using this and your self-designated call-sign (a la Tom Cruise). There are ten missions to choose from - you can attack an enemy carrier, taking off from your own flat-top, you can destroy drugs factories or ware-houses. drug-carrying cargo ships or even cocaine refineries. Five of the missions are land-based and five start from the carrier.
There are skill levels ranging from Beginner to Expert. These regulate the amount of enemy activity you'll encounter on your missions. Even on the easiest level, though, you'll have to spurn the unwanted attentions of a fair quantity of top-of-the-range Soviet hardware.
If you survive the air-to-air combat, you'll have to navigate your way to the target. Stay low and find it on your combat radar, then scorch in over it, firing air-to-surface missiles. These lock on automatically and hit the target wherever you may subsequently point your air-craft. Very useful if you are under attack from the SAMs that defend these sites.
Jinking around the sky chasing enemy air-craft, whilst their missiles chase you, can get rather hectic. Luckily you have a back-seater. This is the guy who sits in the seat behind you [Yeah, thanks - Ed], warns you of incoming hostiles and gives you damage reports. He'll tell you which counter-measures to employ
against enemy missiles; chaff against radar missies and flares (yes, they're fashionable in the US Navy!) against infra-red guided missiles.
In theory, the calibre of this dude is vital. That's why you get to choose him from a menu of six aircrew to join you in your vital mission. You can call up a picture of each man, and a summary of his character and skill. None is perfect, and one or two have serious character defects, which makes you wonder why you should trust them with your life during combat.
But in reality all the men seem to provide you with the necessary warnings and data. Some are just ruder than others. One fellow is downright offensive. The comments made by the guys behind appear in a small text box on the instrument panel. This is also where they'll tell you off for firing too many missiles, or using the wrong Electronic Counter-Measures.Flying a land-based mission gives you the option to touch down at two friendly bases. This is useful is you've taken damage and don't think you'll get all the way home.
You have a radar scope which indicates the positions of all bases and enemy sites. This screen automatically switches to combat mode when there are enemy aircraft present. Somewhat annoyingly, it presents the position of bases and enemies relative to north, rather than relative to your heading. This means that if something is directly above you on the scope, you aren't necessarily flying towards it rather that it's to the north of you. Once you have mastered this system, it works OK, and also incorporates a useful 'zoom in' option to enable you to line up accurately on bombing runs.
Another useful feature is the ability to view the progress of your mission from the control room back at the base (or carrier). You can call up a combat report, global view or weather update. You'll also view the back of some bloke's head. This might possibly appeal to F14-flying hairdressers. The action is temporarily halted while you examine aspects of the mission, and resumes when you have finished.
US Gold is billing Snowstrike as a flying game rather than a flight simulator. The controls are similar to those of an aircraft, but there really is no airmanship required and, as long you don't fly into the ground or get shot up, you should have no trouble. Taking off is just a case of applying power and retracting the gear. Landing is slightly harder, as you must approach the airbase at the right height and speed. The carrier, to, must be treated with care. There isn't much room for error.
Unfortunately the ten missions are all very similar. Basically, you must take off, fly to a tar-get on the ground (or sea), and destroy it with ASMs. You will encounter enemy aircraft, which always appear head-on. These are easy to destroy with your AAMs. Once you have used up all twelve pairs of missiles, you must utilise the M61 Vulcan cannon. This has enough ammo for 60 bursts. Each burst is capable of taking out an aircraft, and is also the best way of dealing with incoming missiles. Forget chaff and flares, just swing round and hit them with a burst of 20mm fire.
Having dealt with the narcotic-related tar-gets, you head for your base (or carrier). You'll still be under attack from aggrieved, drug-using MiG pilots, though. Down a few more, and plonk your battered Tomcat, er, LCB Cosmos on the deck. Time for a swift run-through of the mission, a tot-up of the points scored, and off for the next strike. If you run into severe trouble, you can always eject. This sees you drifting down with a comprehensive Instrument Packet strapped to your chest. You must pull the rip cord, steer yourself towards the nearest friendly thing, and wait. Eventually you'll thump down to earth, knackered, but alive.
The speed of the graphics is impressive. Clouds scud across your view with astonishing rapidity, and the ground features hardly dawdle either, despite the fact that some, such as the carriers, are very detailed. The MiGs are only ever seen from the front, though, thus spoiling the 3D-sim atmosphere somewhat. Combat is limited to moving left or right, then firing. Ground targets are usually big and simple, but have definite 3D properties, so look better. They absorb a lot of damage before exploding, so line up early and keep launching ASMs at them.
There is no in-flight engine sound. Missiles make a noise when launched, and warning tones sound when the enemy are in the vicinity. Otherwise, silence prevails. Many of the other sections, such as the 'funeral screen' and intro screen have appropriate music, though.
There are a lot of differing sections in Snowstrike, but the game itself is limited - each mission is so similar to the previous one. And the combat isn't tense cat-and-mouse stuff but simple bank-round-and-destroy.
Overall, Snowstrike lacks atmosphere. The static screens are great and the sprites fine, if sometimes a bit small. The sound isn't special, though, and really the game's speed is its single most impressive feature.
A good mix of simulation and arcade. Good fun to play without getting too heavy. Ultimately, though, you do get the feeling that all the missions are rather similar...
Complete one mission on Beginner level.
P. You'll feel the need, the need for... etc.
N. Not a great deal going on during the flight.
Grab Factor 75%
P. Easy to get to grips with.
Staying Power 68%
N. Missions are repetitive.
P. Have limited fun blowing up warehouses packed with icing sugar.