Amiga Power1st December 1991
Published in Amiga Power #8
It's missed the book by five years, the film by months (and the actual war by a good fifteen years!), but - hey! - at least it got here eventually...
Flight Of The Intruder
Flight simulations come in all shapes and sizes. There are big ones, small ones, fat ones and thin ones, but there's one thing they've all got in common: they tend to concentrate on fast, sleek, exciting fighter planes. Things like the F-15 and F-16, or futuristic stealth planes. Or at least, they used to. Flight Of The Intruder simulates porky, none-too-speedy A-6 Intruder, which is good for little more than dropping bombs on things. You won't catch it dogfighting MiGs against overwhelming odds. Nor, for that matter, is it likely to be seen streaking towards wave after wave of incoming enemy bombers with all guns blazing. No, it likes to do its own thing, A-6, in its own good time.
It Ain't Heavy, It's My Bomber
Doesn't sound too promising so far, does it? That's probably because you haven't tried taking in an A-6 a hundred feet off the deck with flak rising on all sides, two MiGs on your tail and your SAM threat indicator flashing like billy-o. I have, and it's no laughing matter. But if you're still not impressed, you may be persuaded to raise an eyebrow slightly if I tell you that Spectrum Holobyte (the same people who brought us Falcon) give you the option of trading in your Intruder for an F-4 Phantom, which goes about twice as fast and is a born and bred MiG-killer. (In fact, detail fans, this game hasn't actually been programmed by Spectrum Holobyte in the States, but by sub-contractors Rowan Software here in blighty, the folks behind the Amiga and ST versions of Falcon, the Falcon mission disks and the upcoming Reach For The Sky for Mirrorsoft. Just thought you'd like to know.)
Whichever plane you choose, you're working for the US Navy, and all your missions will be flown from an aircraft carrier anchored off the coast of Vietnam (It's a Vietnam game). This is where Flight Of The Intruder starts getting a bit good. For a start, it's not often you get to perform carrier take-offs and landings in a flight sim. (Interceptor is the only other one I can think of, but that's looking a bit crap these days.) Even better than that, though, is the way the missions are organised. Up until now most flight sim missions have been solitary affairs - you might have been given a token wingman for company, but he tended to just fly around being a bit useless. In Flight Of The Intruder, you're part of a team.
You set off in a massive formation of planes (well, up to eight of them!), with Intruders underneath and Phantoms flying above. As you reach the target area, everyone goes off and does their 'thang'. The Intruders bomb things on the ground, and the Phantoms go hairing off after MiGs. Brilliant. Brilliantest of all, though, is that you can swap between the planes on the mission at will. Get bored with bombing things in your Intruder and you can just flick on the autopilot and jump into one of the Phantoms, perhaps in the middle of a dogfight.
Unfortunately, every flight begins with a lengthy trek from your carrier to the target area - there's no facility for kicking off any closer. An accelerated time option more or less makes up for this, but it's bound to be picked on by the realism vs enjoyment brigade. Well, they're going to have to lump it, I'm afraid. This is a game that goes for ultra-realism above all else, although I didn't really notice the gameplay suffering because of it.
True, just about every key on the keyboard does something - some of them two or three things with the help of Shift and Alternate. And okay, the instruments in your cockpit don't exactly shout out the info you're after. The manual's hopelessly techie and disorganised too. But (but!) you needn't panic. Everything that's in the least bit worrying can be switched off - from the collision detection to your fuel consumption - and you can always let the autopilot take care of the tricky bits until you're feeling up to the job.
And then there are the graphics. Needless to say they're pretty damn good. They're a bit lacking in the mountains department (there aren't any, not even crummy pyramid ones), but are fast and beautifully detailed. Where else would you find contrails streaming from your wingtips as you turn, and smoke pouring from your exhausts? And I was impressed to note that the power station I was enlisted to destroy on one occasion actually had doors and windows. It brought a tear to my eye, I'll tell you.
There is, of course, a full battery of 'views': as well as the standard out-of-the-cockpit views (in all directions) there's also a chase-plane view, a fixed external view, a satellite view, a missile view, a target view and a carrier view, all of which can be moved around freely. There are also facilities for recording parts of missions on video and taking photographs, although I haven't quite managed to work them out yet.
You're probably expecting a hefty 'but' around now, aren't you? Here we go. For a start, the game's not quite as bug-free as one would hope. Strange things happen when you're low-flying (whole buildings lifting themselves into the air, say, and what about the mysterious force which keeps pulling the nose of my Phantom upwards? Perhaps that's just what Phantoms do, but it seems a little odd). These 'quirks' are easily forgiven, but they really shouldn't be there at all. The other problem you may find is with the limitations imposed upon the game by historical accuracy. The fact that the Intruder's such a dull lump of a plane, the Phantom's lack of a gun making missile-only dogfighting a tricky business, the Rules Of Engagement that mean you can't bomb most SAM sights (!!) because you might kill Russian technicians stationed there - all help with the Vietnam-esque realism of the missions, but limit it rather as a game. Still, that said, Flight Of The Intruder had me gripped from the moment the steam catapult let rip.
It's one of the most involving flight sims I've come across, giving the real feeling that you're flying a warplane. You can play it as a shoot-'em-up, but the potential's there if you're after something more serious.
The Highest Flying Sim Around?
So it's a smashing game, then. But how smashing? This is the bit I've been dreading - the bit where I have to decide where Flight Of The Intruder stands in the flight sim league table. While it's certainly an advance over Falcon, and beats everything else hands down on realism, it's not as instantly playable as F-15 II or Thunderhawk and needs hours of manual-studying. Very much an enthusiast's game, then.
The Bottom Line
Uppers: Superbly realistic - you'll be talking in a strange accent and pouring yourself a root beer and sasperilla if you don't watch it - and highly flexible, so you can ignore the complicated bits if you want. Great graphics. Reasonable sound effects.
Downers: Hundreds and hundreds of controls make it tricky to get to grips with, and a sprinkling of bugs and glitches don't inspire confidence. Not as immediately gripping as some recent flight sims. No sound or plane-swapping on half a meg. Unhelpful manual.
Marvellously absorbing stuff. Not the most accomplished flight sim, but atmospheric as anything. And you can link two computers so one of you can fly an Intruder, the other his wingman in a Phantom. Great stuff.