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Stats

Atari ST
Published
Gold Star

1990

Review

From the manual:

It is 1946 and the Crown Colony of Stosic has been invaded by its neighbouring country - Zodvia. As head of 520 Squadron (STrike command) you have been assigned to stop the Zodvian invadtion and restore peace.

Given that, your countries flag looks a lot like the British flag, the land looks like france, and the enemy look a lot like nazis.

You fly various missions, that build up (I'm guessing) to eventually removing the enemy from the land.

This game evolved from a demo for STOS Basic - a game creation BASIC language for the Atari ST.

Realism

The flight model used in this game is fairly advanced for a 2D flight sim. You can stall, recover from stalls (or not), fly with a high angle of attack, drift down to the ground to land etc. As you put the plane through a loop, it automatically rolls to avoid appearing upside down, as happens in say Sopwith.

Your spitfire has a few systems modelled, including landing gear, throttle, engine, etc. The damage model is very good - each system can get destroyed, i.e. no landing gear forces you to do a belly landing, a damaged engine produces thick black smoke & reduces performance. If your fuel tank gets hit - you'd better find an airfield or flat ground fast, because the tank drains very quickly!

Your armament includes machine gun, rockets and bombs. None are infinite, you must go back to base to re-arm when you run out.

While you are the only offensive weapon on your side, you do have a backup team of engineers / dozers, who will iron out any craters in your airfields, and convert destroyed enemy airfields to your side. The engineers will be dropped by a cargo plane when the dozer cannot make it - you must protect this plane at all costs! You can also call a truck to take you back to your home base, which can save a lot of boring flying.

Enemy plane AI is basic. The way they twist and turn in the sky isnt all that realistic, and they seem to be able to turn on a dime. This however may even up the playing field slightly. Enemy ground units have no AI, they follow pre-scripted movements defined for each mission. Important enemy buildings and trains are protected by deadly flak cannons.

The landscape you fly over is massive, 401 screens in total, which flip by - smooth scrolling on the Atari is notoriously tricky. The ground is for the most part flat, and the hills when you get to them look very odd. Houses & trees are frequent and destroyable with bombs, which also leave craters. Destroyed buildings to not magically disappear, they stay as bombed-out wrecks. Day turns to night every so often which looks nice, but this has little bearing on the gameplay.

Playability

Missions are sequential, and have a different target each time e.g. attacking planes, tanks, factories, even birds. If you die, the game ends, and you must start the missions again, which is fairly annoying. There is no save game or password feature.

Each mission is played within the same game world, which is massive. The player can fly anywhere they want, as long as they have enough fuel. This gives the player a much appreciated degree of freedom, as it means you can mess around, go explore, practice a trick, etc. Tricks can involve writing your name in the sky with the smoke from your damaged engine, flying through railway tunnels, etc. They play no part in the game, but they are fun!

Unfortunately, I could not get past mission 26, although the manual says there are 56 levels. Given the open nature of the game, I managed to as far as I could in either direction, and was able to deduce that future levels include landing on an aircraft carrier, and sinking an enemy battleship.

There is a certain amount of humour in this game which works well - one mission involves you shooting down a bird for dinner, and a UFO sometimes makes an appearance, to grant the player an extra life.

The game does not really suffer much from being programmed in Basic, apart from a slight flicker. The only big slowdown occurs when a flak gun is on screen for some reason, probably something to do with the calculations for where the next flak burst will happen.

Conclusion

A great little game this, with an almost perfect ratio of realism and playability. The missions are reasonably varied given the setting, but difficult enough to not be a push over. The free-flight aspect of the game world lends itself to a lot of messing around, which for me increases the fun factor considerably.

The enemy may not have much depth, and the flight model may be out of date compared to modern games, but this game manages to still be fun to play today. Its too bad there arent many other games like it.

What makes this game more impressive to me, is that is was written in STOS Basic.

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