Cold on the heels of the video of the film of the book, the Flight has finally touched down on the Amiga. The first major flight sim from Spectrum Holbrook since Falcon has been a long time coming (first advertised in AF17!). Was the problem over ambition or lack of ability? Flight of the Intruder lets you fly two different aircraft over the hostile skies of Vietnam. The A-6 Intruder is still kicking around today, a tough and rugged bomber that gives as good as it gets. The F-4 Phantom is now a dinosaur, a supersonic jet with no cannon but more missiles than a MiG could eat. You get the chance to fly both, sometimes simultaneously, on raids down MiG alley, where SAM lives.
The first thing that hits you is the sheer volume of options offered and the complexity of the simulation. It is possible to leap straight into the fight using the 'scramble' option but if you don't alter the set-up you'll notice two problems: neither joystick or mouse have any control and the sea is solid - in an "I can't crash into it" sort of way. The game defaults to keyboard control and Rookie level. This isn't a criticism but an illustration of Flight's initial set up. You have to read the manual (all 200 pages worth!) and tailor the set up if you want to feel anything like Flight's full potential.
All the options are available with a quick press of 'F10', then the menus are ready to pull down and customise the game. They offer everything from infinite fuel to realistic red-outs, depending on what kind of flying nightmare you want. Rookie (virtually indestructible) is a good way to learn how these two beasts handle. Put everything on full realism and you'll wonder how anybody survived their first tour!
The A-6 is a slow, stick-in-the-mud sort of a plane, it feels like you're flying in treacle. The bird refuses to do anything fast, it turns reasonably tightly but lacks speed. With its considerable payload weight it lolls rather than rolls which makes it great to learn in. The F-4 is slick, fast, and born to fly. With its afterburning power it is an ideal fighter, but lacks things like guns! Dogfights rely totally on missiles and that means good position.
Flight offers pilots a whole range of missions, but that doesn't set it aside from normal plane games. What does, though, is the sheer depth of preparation. From mission briefings you slip into the map room for some waypoint planning and discussions of the rules of engagement, then it's off to the armoury to choose some major munitions, then it's back to briefing hall just to make sure you know where to go and who to kill. Many games offer these features, but few offer them all and none have Flight's gloss.
Once on deck before you've time to work out which command launches the catapult (CTRL L) it happens automatically and you're thrown out to sea. Peering over the edge of the cockpit you see a flat blue ocean which neatly features perspective dots to help pilots gauge their relative height. If your memory fails you as to what the myriad of key commands do then just hit 'A' for autopilot and simply experiment.
Take a peek at the outside views and you'll find the craft are solid and realistic representations of themselves. Although playing with the afterburner reveals some odd graphics. When they're off trails appear and when they're on the engine ports turn yellow! The missions you fly are tough, not just because an awful lot of Vietnamese pilots would like to give you swimming lessons, but Flight's historical accuracy has a go at you too.
At the time of the Linebacker raids there were some jolly combat guidelines called the Rules Of Engagement. These effectively said which targets were legitimate and which where not. For example, most SAM sites were off limits to bombing simply because there were likely to be Russian technicians there! If you want to work your way up the rank ladder then these must be scrupulously obeyed. Take on a few of the missions and you soon start to realise what 'fighting a war with one arm tied behind your back' - George Bush circa 1991 - really felt like.
Flight plays this historical accuracy card all through the game, creating the scenario and dictating your conduct. The munitions are as realistic as the planes. Most of the time this benefits the game, with neat effects like ground clutter screwing up the F-4's radar every time the nose points towards the floor.
As an overall package, this historical bundle, while thorough, does restrict the game. The two planes, while they are neat period pieces, are far from the most exciting aircraft that were ever built. The scenarios too are limited by the Rules of Engagement and the kind of munitions that can be carried. The stress on the novel also ensures that the carrier remains in the one theatre of operations. The work that brings the novel to life is thorough indeed, but a novel isn't the ideal situation for a really gripping Vietnam air-war sim.
Flight looks the biz, with masses of peripheral graphic screens. It's et up flexibility is laudable, with most aspects of the game on offer for tweaking. Some good ideas have been incorporated such as a comms link and flight information being displayed during outside views. The accuracy factor restricts the range though, which can be frustrating. Flight is finally here and where the extra man hours went is obvious, but the strictures of the novel - its historical setting and vehicular limitations - hold the game back, a bit.