ONLY the Amiga makes it possible It's Commodore's slogan, and so often a true one. But games software houses with an eye to the quick buck so often let the machine down. Electronic Arts has hung in there supporting our machine since the days of prototypes, so it is fitting that the company should have produced the greatest ever Amiga program.
F/A 18 Interceptor is a flight simulator - that's a bit like saying that Buckingham Palace is a house. True, but an understatement. You are given a choice of the land-based F16 or carrier borne F/A-18 jets to play with.
As soon as you unwrap the program you know that you've bought something special. The documentation advises that you disconnect a second drive on an 512k machine, grabbing the precious ram that it needs. The carrier icon appears. Anticipate blast off. Double click to load and a pilot launches into the blue.
The Amiga drive does its stuff far too slowly, the seconds stretched by your impatience. The title screen captures the atmosphere of the battle. Two jets locked in a dogfight over a crystal clear Californian sky which contains the kinds of blues you only see in real life and the Amiga palette.
You've plenty of time to appreciate it as the game loads, but that period would be better spent reading the manual. Electronic Arts - EA to its friends - is hardly known for skimping on documentation. The confrontation on your retina is complemented by similar aural stimulation thanks to Dave Wahol's sound.
F/A 18 Interceptor is a game of missions, but before you can take those on you need to fly the crate. The game is its own trainer. The demo mode shows what can be done. Simple options to take off and fly around familiarise you with the controls.
A special mode tests your ability at some set manoeuvres. An instructor goes through a prescribed set of loops, turns and rolls. You have to follow in a chase plane. If you can do this then the next stage should seem easy. Take off from the carrier, climb to at least 10,000 feet and then land back on the carrier.
You have an incredible amount of power in your engines. Thrust can be controlled in 10 per cent increments by using F1 to F10. Pressing F1 when the engines are 10 per cent will switch them off - something best done when you have landed - pressing F10 when you are at 100 per cent turns on the afterburner, giving you an unbelievable boost. More gentle, 3 per cent, increments of thrust can be selected by using the equals and minus keys.
The best tactic for take-off seems to be locking the brakes and switching to at least 90 per cent thrust. Allow the power to build, and then release the brakes. This ensures that you have enough oomph to stay in the air when you run out of carrier. Lift the undercarriage as soon as you take off - it reduces drag significantly. Resist the temptation to bank.
Climb a little, say to 1,000, feet and then level off. The crosshair in the head up display (HUD) should be one pixel below the horizon. Check the altimeter so make sure you are keeping a constant height. Then use the rudder, the < and > keys, to turn. If you are not climbing or diving the horizon will remain level.
Keep any eye on the compass. From an initial starting position of going north it should rotate to pointing south. If you flip to the map the carrier looks to be lying east-west. That is because it is too difficult to draw it north-south and still look like an aircraft carrier.
While you are travelling south pull back on the joystick and climb to at least 10,000 feet. Then push gently forward, drop the nose a little way below the horizon. Reduce thrust so that things will happen less rapidly and descend to less than 4,000 feet. Switch the radar from its 40 mile limit to 10 or 2 miles, just enough to keep the carrier in view. The further you are the easier the things will be later. Level off and use the rudder to complete the circuit. Again it should be possible to turn without banking.
Once you are pointing north dip the nose. The carrier lies ahead. Use the zoom function to make sure that the blob is the carrier and prepare a steady glide path. Drop the thrust to between 30 and 40 per cent.
As you approach the carrier an enemy fighter may attack. It is possible to pull up and spot it without banking. Hit return to select a heat-
Bring the nose back down to point at the carrier and lose any extra height rapidly. The deck is 145 feet off the sea. You want to be 100 feet above this as you come in to land. While you are still some way off, lower the arrestor hook. This catches wires on the deck surface and hauls you in to land.
Closer in, drop the undercarriage. Then put on the brakes. This not only locks the wheels but engages the air brakes. As you fly over the carrier bring the nose down and cut the engines. You should plop on to the deck. Bring the nose up in a controlled stall to land on the rear wheels.
Real carrier pilots come in at full flying speed in case the arrestor hook does not catch. You shouldn't worry about this. Overshooting is a much greater danger. Your reward for the task is a pair of sweaty palms and the right to go on to a mission.
Now you have proved that you can have the right stuff you can take on the world. The first mission is to fly out, identify an enemy plane and fly back. Easy and boring, it is the kind of mission that Nato pilots do all the time. The temptation to blast the foe is dreadful. Don't do it.
The first mission where you are actually supposed to shoot something down offers an enemy plane which is after the President's jet, Air Force One. Succeed and you are presented with a great graphic sequence of AF-1 landing.
Other missions have you trying to persuade two defecting F-16s that they really love mom, apple pie and the American way. You have to fly in front of them - failing that you can blast them. All the while a couple of Migs are out to get you.
I was while I was just about to talk an F-16 around that a Russian missile homed in on me. I pressed F for flare, C for chaff and E for electronic counter measures. What I really wanted was J for electronic jammer. Instead I got E for eject. At least the missile didn't get me.
The enemy gets harder to attack - a cruise missile can only be shot down, as I found out after I'd wasted a load of missiles on it.
Interceptor is brilliantly designed. It stretches your playing ability progressively. It is also full of great touches.
You can view the plane from inside the cockpit, looking all the way around to check for enemy johnnies on your tail. You can watch the action from a third person position at one of the eight compass points outside the plane, or you can watch from the control tower. These views work just as well when you are parachuting down after a missile hit. A zoom gives a better feeling of depth.
There are some bugs. I have managed to fly over the carrier and have the wing disappear under the ship. It is common practice to land on the sea, but none of these matters when you take into account the days of fun you'll have to take to the air with Interceptor.