Flight sims are terrifying to us reviewers. You see, most games have a fairly accessible angle on them: the controls are easy to grasp, the characters are identifiable and the manuals are slim affairs with all the obvious information on how to load the game and what the joystick does, which are as useful as an instruction manual on how to breathe.
And this is great, because we reviewers are not into poring through loads of text when we're itching to get the thing loaded and start killing/jumping/bouncing/racing/scoring/hitting, or whatever other dubiously anti-social activities the game allows us to partake in.
Apart, of course, from flying. Now as we all know, flying is not easy. It takes months of arduous training with complex equipment to recreate the real-world sensation of controlling those huge metal beasts. We reviewers are chucked this thing in a box which boasts 'Just like the real thing', and we're thinking "But we've got to have this reviewed for the next issue". We've tried to persuade our Publisher to give us all flying lessons, but he won't agree, so we're stuck in this terrible panic of having to learn to fly in an unfeasibly short amount of time.
I say all this because I'm not usually given them. You see we've got Jonathan down as a bit of a flying ace. If there was a terrible disaster on a trans-Atlantic flight, and both pilots went down with food poisoning, forcing one of the stewardesses to scream "Is there anybody on board who can fly an aeroplane?", Jonathan would stroll casually to the front, raking his hands through his hair with implausible coolness, and mumble "I think I'm your man."
Because we give him so many flight sims, he's practically convinced that he's flown the real thing. The only problem would occur when he started awkward questions like "How many disks is it on?" and "Have you got a Bug Joystick?".
So, I'm trembling as I open the box, thinking "Well, I guess I won't be seeing my family for a while", and there's the manual, size of The Complete Works of Tolstoy, and it looks my social life is going down the drain rapidly. And what do you know, but 30 minutes later I'm totally engrossed in a fascinating recreation of life as a flying ace in the Second World War (except they didn't call them flying aces then, but you know what I mean).
This game has atmosphere points a-plenty. From the start, when you're asked to choose your name, your nose art and bomber name, you're fully entrenched in World War 2 land.
Muddy Funster is MY machine. It's got a picture of my favourite gal on the side, to remind me what we're fighting for - our loves, our lives, and the democracy that allows us to put up sexist pictures of semi-clad girls wherever we like.
Then, you're sitting in the briefing room, where you're generously offered a mission, which always involves bombing the Hun (forgive me, it's all part of the training).
The mission consists of two objectives, primary and secondary, so if you achieve the primary objective you can always go back and have a crack at the secondary. There's a very impressive scrolling map which gives all the details of flight paths and targets, and even a film of what to look out for when you get close to your targets. Once you've got all the details, you're ready to fly.
Don't expect Top-Gun-style aviation antics
There's a configuration menu before you get going, where you can choose your difficulty settings, the amount of enemy attack you'll come under, how accurate at landing you need to be and so on. This is all good news - as it says in the manual, even if you're an old hand at flight sims (a 'Jonathan', as we call them), you'll still find B17 quite tricky at first.
Next thing you know you're in the driving seat of a throbbing B17, ready to take off on your mission. You can tackle the take-off yourself, or let the computer do it for you (more on this soon). You fly as part of a formation of B17s, so your pals are nearby to help you out in the heat of combat.
Now don't expect super-fast, super-sooth scrolling, flash turns and Top Gun-style aviation antics. This aims for realism, and the heavy B17 just wasn't that type of plane - it was used for strategic bombing campaigns. It must be said that the game is a bit lumpy on an A500, although certainly not as unplayable as AV8B Harrier. On an A1200 it's fine, no problems. However, don't let this put you off if you haven't got the faster machine.
You see, B17 is more than a flight sim. Not only do you fly the plane, you also take control of all the gunners, the navigation, and the ultimate objective, the bombing. Of course you can't do this all at once. Using the 'crew members' screen you allocate tasks to the guys who make up your crew, and can then flip between them.
When you're not controlling something it comes under computer control, so you can easily start a campaign by assuming the role of the pilot to take off from the runway, switch to navigation to check your course, control the top gunner when enemy aircraft approach, then become the bombardier to drop your load.
The choice is yours, though. If you want to, you can simply watch the action unfold before you and leave it all up to the computer to accomplish the mission, but there'll be less chance of success and it would be extremely boring. Or you can pilot the plane for the whole mission, and let your gunners take care of the action. But overall the best approach is to skip around between all the different posts, getting involved in all the action.
Said action takes place in real time(ish), so it can be a little tiresome waiting for your plane to chug across the channel to its first way point. Thankfully, this can be overcome by skipping time, although it won't allow you to bypass enemy attacks. What you get with this is a nice balance between realism and action.
With all the different tasks you can take on, there's no real shortage of things to do, and often you'll be grateful for the breathing space that real-time control gives you. It's one of those games that's going to last you ages, just because it's all so realistic that anything could happen, even when you've ploughed your way through all the missions at all the difficulty levels.
It seems that we're getting a bit soft here at AMIGA POWER, what with Body Blows, Lemmings 2 and Walker all getting good reviews last month, while this issue Desert Strike, Flashback and Arabian Nights are all given our hearty recommendation.
The truth is, it's been a good spell for Amiga games recently, with some serious quality making up for the smallish quantity. So, I've been trying to think of some bad things to say about B17 to try and even all this wimpishness out. Sure, there's the dull in-flight graphics, and a slightly sluggish feel (on the A500), but since when did you expect slick 3D graphics at good speed on a 500? (How about No Second Prize? - Ed). B17 is no worse, and in general better, than most Amiga flight sims.
How about the price, then? Forty quid is a bit excessive, but I'm afraid that's the biggest fault I can come up with. No, I've got to bow to journalistic integrity and tell you that this is a thoroughly engaging flight sim, which while not offering you the thrills and spills of the super-fast-scrolling efforts, has a lot more to offer in the way of strategy, and a highly charged World War 2 atmosphere that'll keep you on the edge of your seat. It's just another recommended game from me, I'm afraid.