From Psygnosis, the people who brought us Lemmings, Beast 3, Bill's Tomato Game and more recently Walker and Prime Mover, comes Combat Air Patrol, yet further proof - if any were needed - that few can match them for consistent quality.
You might have thought it was a bit late to bring out a simulation based on the Gulf War, but then again, we are still getting products related to the two World Wars, so I guess it is not too badly timed.
In fact, Psygnosis are cheekily jumping in ahead of Electronic Arts, whose helicopter-based version of the war against Saddam is about to make the leap from console to Amiga. But more about that next month.
EXPULSION OF FORCES
So the Gulf War it is then - the primary objective being the expulsion of Iraqi forces from within the boundaries of Kuwait. The action begins around autumn 1990, shortly after Saddam and his motley throng overran Kuwait but before Desert Storm under way. Of course, if you achieve this objective it does not have to stop there, and you can carry out as many retaliatory measures as you like.
It seems the programmers were unaware of British involvement in the conflict, since you take part of an American stationed on the battleship USS Theodore Roosevelt.
Combat Air Patrol happily follows the trend of several recent flight sims in that it is easy right from the outset to jump into a plane and enjoy a quick flight without consulting several dozen pages worth of manual beforehand. That is all very well - a very good feature indeed, in fact - but it is the long term challenge of any game of this nature which eventually determines its success - and here CAP does not disappoint.
From the menu at the start you are led into the briefing room - a nice picture of several burly men gathered around a projection screen - to select a mission. The one you choose determines whether you will be flying an F14 Tomact, or ITS F18 Hornet. This done, it is off to the VideoData machine (he just made that name up - Ed) to choose which pilot you would like to be, making your decision based on experience, temperament, physical fitness and any aversions to heights or jet engines they may have.
What then - get that bird up in the air? Hell no, we need weapons, and what better place to get some than the handy weapons select screen? It is not perhaps surprising that the Yanks began to take out British troops in the Gulf when you take a look at these - every kind of armament any intrepid pilot could ever need, and far too many to ever run short.
The Tomcats are limited to air-to-air missiles, ranging from close range cannon to long range missiles, while the Hornets can carry the deadly accurate (it says here) AGM-62 Walleye air-to-ground glide bombs.
With weapons attached it is time to take to the skies and kick some proverbial bottom. Getting your plane airborne could not be easier - it is up and away from the flight deck at the touch of use two buttons.
Even if this proves too difficult there is an option to start your mission from a mid air position above the target, though a strange quirk here is that the engines still need to be started, and any delay in doing so results in the inevitable dive and crash! After seeing a demo of CAP a couple of months ago, I was surprised to find that flying the plane in the finished version is not quite as smooth. Admittedly, there is far more detail, but I was a little disappointed nonetheless.
Not too disappointed though - it is still one of the smoothest sims you will come across, and the speed and responsiveness of the ctrols makes the whole affair a pleasure to play (those of you lucky enough to own A1200s will find that the game is very smooth on your machine).
The missiles are easy to use, and after some initial trouble actually finding something to hit, I soon became familiar with using the waypoints, and revelled in choosing the "follow missile" option, where the perspective stays right above the projectile until impact.
Particularly impressive are the number and flexibility of the external views, not only of the aircraft, but also of any pilots/co-pilots who decide to abandon their mission and return to terra forma by parachute. Fly-bys, overheads, 360 degree external scrolling and even a view of your aircraft from space combine with the strategy element to make gameplay truly excellent.
Where the "extras" really show off though are in the ability to zoom right in on the exterior of the aircraft - it is almost possible to feel the searing heat of the afterburners. Digitised speech via the radio intercom, and an array of illuminated cockpit dials add to the overall quality.
Once familiar with the aircraft controls, you can if you wish take on the role of General, and command the ground troops to further harass the enemy.
Flight sims are becoming increasingly more popular in the home computer market, and in order to achieve success they must combine ease of use, quality and overall enjoyment of gameplay. Combat Air Patrol provides the budding pilot with more than a liberal smattering of all of these, and if justice is served should find itself a hit with experts and novices alike.