A single from the film Top Gun was a smash hit. Will the game have the same success? Mike Roberts climbs into the hot seat.
A few months ago I wrote a review of the Doctorsoft flight simulator 'Double Phantom' where two BBC micros were connected together via a bit of ribbon cable and two players could fight against each other in their respective aircraft.
At the time I said that the idea was excellent and the gameplay was alright, bt the game itself was too involved and complex being more of a flight simulator than a game (I used the phrase 'flight simulator' as an insult in this context). At the time I said that if anyone could ome up with a head-to-head flight combat game with the playability of ACE I would be a very happy man.
With Top Gun, Ocean get very close. The game is a one or two player combat game with a vertically split screen to provide the two forward views. The planes in question are dogfighting F-14 American air superiority fighters. Armed with 20mm cannon, sidewinder heat-seeking air-to-air missiles, and flare decoys, along with a cockpit full of electronic flight aids.
The vertical split screen is one that I haven't seen before but one that works extremely well. The bottom section of the screen is the instrument panel, which leaves the actual action area of the screen as a square. Which is a very reasonable shape to use in this context.
The instruments consist of a top-down radar display of your immediate vicinity. Thrust, gun temperature, missile lock-on time, and damage indicators are all on bar-chart/thermometer type displays. The speed (in Mach) and height are at the top of the screen in figures. The other instruments are the attitude (which way up you are), whether the enemy is above or below you, which weapon has been selected, and the enemy missile indicator.
In the centre of the screen is the sight. This has three modes, a crosshair for the cannons, a largish square for the missile targetting, and no sight for the flare mode. It may all sound a bit cluttered, but it is very easy to read, especially at high speed (i.e. most of the time). The important instruments have extra warnings to them, such as the altitude flashing when you get too low and the plane bouncing slightly when you approach stalling speed.
The game is either played head-to-head, where two players get three planes each and the winner is the last one flying. Or as a one-player game against the computer. The one player version is set out as 'missions'. Each mission pits you against three enemy aircraft one at a time. When you have eliminated them you go onto the next level.
Each mission gets harder and harder. In mission one, the planes just use their guns on you. In mission two, they use flares and can avoid your missiles. These first two missions can be polished off with no loss because the cannons that the enemy planes use are no match for your missiles. However, if missions one and two are dead easy, the third mission is almost impossible.
Mission three is where the enemy planes start to use missiles. To understand why this makes winning almost impossible it is necessary to understand how the sdewinder missiles work in this implementation. The sight in front of you changes to a square about an inch across.
To target the missile you have to hold the enemy in your sights for three seconds. When this is happening you get a beeping noise and the missle countdown bar reduces. As this reaches the bottom you get a continuous tone. If at any time the enemy drops out of your sights, you start the three seconds again. Pressing fire sends the missile after the target.
Imagine if you can, two planes approaching each other from afar. Both have their missile systems engaged, both lock on, and both fire almost simultaneously (the computer can always see you a microsecond before you see him). The result, at best, is a draw with both aircraft being hit. The only way I found to play the level properly was to use my guns at long range for the few seconds that I was being targetted.
This considerably damaged him. When the missile was launched I then switched to flare mode (next one up from guns), accelerated at maximum towards the missile and dived just before it hit. At this point you can then run rings around the enemy plane (thus avoiding being in its sights for the required three seconds).
After twenty seconds the missile will burn out, or the flares that you are dropping will decoy it. Then you can start on the enemy craft with your cannons. With any luck, the damage that you have done to it earlier will be enough to even up the difference between you. Shooting down one plane like this and suiciding into the other two is the only way that I have managed to get to level four (Don't even *ask* about level four!)
The graphics are fairly crude but completely in keeping with the style of the game. The vector graphic picture of the enemy F-14 is excellent and it moves just as you would expect. The vector explosion is also great.
The game is very fast and would be totally unplayable otherwise. My only reservation is that the game could be a little more realistic in controlling the plane. I found it very difficult to fly inverted loops, and the self centering of the joystick was a bit of a bind.
For head-to-head air combat, this is definitely the tops. Along with ACE, they are the most enjoyable flight games that I have ever come across. Sure to be a hit.
I haven't seen the film, but who cares? The game is excellent.