by John S Davison


Issue 28

Jul/Aug 87

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Ace Atari pilot John S Davison AFC, KB, JSO* takes to the air in a variety of aircraft.

Are you good enough to fly with the best?

*Armchair Flight Commander, Keyboard Broken, Joystick Shot Off

A Spitfire simulator ought to be an irresistible program for the flight simulation fan. Add a good game element and the package should be a sure-fire winner with everyone. With Spitfire 40 Mirrorsoft started out with this successful formula well over a year ago, and the program was very popular on other home micros. At last, they've released an 8-bit Atari version, so with great expectation, I prepared to become one of 'The Few'.

The game scenario has you as a newly trained pilot in your first Spitfire squadron. You must first learn to handle a Spitfire, and then go on to combat duty. Once into real combat, your experience and success in shooting down enemy aircraft and returning safely to your home base wins you medals and promotions. Who knows – you could have what it takes to become a Group Captain with DSO, DFC and VC to your name! Your progress is recorded in a log book which can be saved to disk or cassette, so you can continue your career next time you play.

All controls may be operated from the keyboard, with the option of using a joystick for aileron/rudder and elevator control. Everything is adequately explained in the 24 page instruction booklet, and summarised on a separate quick-reference sheet.


On boot up, a single sound channel plays what could have been a stirring march with better treatment, presumably betraying the program's Spectral ancestry. Didn't the programmer know the Atari has FOUR sound channels?

Choice of 'simulator' or 'game' option at this point lets you either fly a complete sortie, or pitches you straight into the dogfight stage, saving you the trouble of the scramble and search for the enemy. Next, you load in the pilot's log, showing name, rank achieved, medals won, hours experience, victories scored, and other details. Following this, you choose either practice or combat mode which, predictably, lets you learn how to handle the Spitfire without worrying about the enemy or puts you in combat status awaiting action. A combat sortie starts with the order to 'scramble', giving height, bearing, distance and number of enemy aircraft. It's up to you to find them and see them off.

The next screen shows the runway through the framework of the cockpit canopy. The runway graphics are somewhat rudimentary, just a few straight lines against a green background. Inside the canopy, a rear-view mirror enables you to see when enemy aircraft get on your tail. The other prominent feature is the reflector gunsight, the grandaddy of the sophisticated 'head-up' displays found in modern combat aircraft.

Surprisingly, there's no instrument panel displayed at this point. To see it involves switching to a different screen, thus losing your view through the canopy. The panel graphics are probably the best feature of the program, showing the basic instruments you'd find in a real Spitfire. The instructions say you should be able to see the Spitfire's control column, which moves as you operate the controls, but there's no sign of it on the Atari version.


Scramble!!! Quick, start the engine!! This produces a noise very much like my next door neighbour's ancient motor mower instead of the unforgettable sound of the mighty Rolls Royce Merlin engine. OK, OK, I know it can't be reproduced exactly, but surely a competent programmer can do better than this?.

Right, release the brakes and accelerate at full throttle down the runway. At 90 knots, switching to runway view provides another disappointment. The crude runway outline is continually redrawn on the screen in an attempt to create the illusion of movement. The result is a jerky, flickering mess, quite unworthy of the Atari's capabilities.

After take-off, it's a case of climbing like crazy to intercept the enemy, using the map/radar to help you find him. Once again, the graphics are fairly minimal and chunky, showing your position relative to the enemy hordes. A map zoom feature gives several levels of detail, allowing you to see your position relative to the (very sparse) geographic features of the landscape below.

Going into map mode pauses the game, so you can't see the effect of any corrective manoeuvres without switching back to the canopy view and then back into map mode. Changing course by a specific amount involves a further switch to the instrument panel so you can see the compass. I found it necessary to continually switch from screen to screen to locate the enemy, which became very tedious after a while.


Suddenly, an aircraft appears in your rear view mirror. Throwing the Spitfire into a screaming turn, you manage to shake him off your tail. Then he's in front of you, running for his life, and jinking about to avoid being hit. Tally Ho!! Open the throttle and chase him. The motor mower chugs louder and you get closer, centre him in your gunsight, and fire. You see a stream of bullets converge jerkily on him. He disintegrates and disappears, to be immediately replaced on a different part of the screen by one of his mates.

The Spitfire responds well to the controls, and I was pleased to see the horizon tilt smoothly as the aircraft is banked (unlike some so-called flight simulators). As expected, the artificial horizon on the instrument panel follows suit, but very jerkily and with joke standard blockiness. Other instruments seem to behave fairly realistically, though.

After dispatching the last enemy plane you have to find your way home, going through the annoying business of screen switching again to locate your home airfield. I found getting back to the airfield extremely difficult, as you can't see it unless you're below 3,000 feet (because of haze, the instructions say), and even then, it doesn't come into view until you're almost on top of it. In many hours of play I managed to land successfully only once. As you can't progress through the game without successful landings, the whole thing could, and did, rapidly lose its attraction.


Full marks, Mirrorsoft, for supporting the 8-bit Atari. But please, next time, how about ensuring your programmers take advantage of the Atari's sound and graphics capabilities, instead of copying features from lesser machines.

I liked the idea behind Spitfire 40, but sadly, it's a classic case of a great idea spoiled by poor implementation. With more care it could have been a great simulator instead of a mediocre game. I hope the upcoming ST version remedies this.


Strike Force Harrier is another of those programs which aren't what they seem at first sight. Like many so-called flight simulators, it's more of a combat simulator than an accurate simulation of jet fighter flight. I can say this for several reasons: firstly it has a high find/shoot/bomb/avoid the enemy content, secondly the instrumentation in the aircraft is futuristic rather than realistic and, finally, the aircraft's flight behaviour doesn't look or feel quite right. Apart from this, though, it's a pretty good program!

The package contains two disks; a summary sheet showing all keyboard, mouse and joystick controls plus an overview of the instruments and data displays; and a map grid showing your starting point and the position of your eventual objective. The package is completed by a small instruction booklet containing hints and tips on flying the Harrier as well as the usual program details.


After boot-up you choose the mission type from Demo, Practice, Combat, or Combat Practice, and the difficulty level from Pilot, Commander or Ace. The two higher levels introduce features such as black-out and red-out of the pilot's vision during high-G manoeuvres.

The Practice option gives you the chance to learn to fly the Harrier without getting shot at by the enemy. Helpful hints on how to take off vertically, make the transition to horizontal flight, back to the hover, and finally to land vertically again are given in the instruction booklet. It's difficult at first, but like most things becomes easier with practice.

The screen layout is pretty standard for programs of this type, with the lower part displaying the cockpit instrumentation and the upper part showing a through the windscreen view with the obligatory HUD (Head Up Display) superimposed on it. Cockpit instruments are dominated by FOFTRAC (Friend Or Foe Tracking Radar), AAR (Air Attack Radar), Multifunction Display (showing fuel remaining, throttle setting, and positions of flaps, undercarriage, weapon inventory, etc), plus various warning and damage status indicators. The HUD shows essential flight information such as height, airspeed, vertical speed, pitch, and direction. It also acts as a gun/missile/bomb sight and special homing indicator to help you get back to base.

In fact, getting back to one of the four prepared landing sites is something you must learn fairly quickly, as you can't refuel or rearm anywhere else. Your instruments can guide you to the correct locality, but final identification has to be done visually. Landing areas are marked by flashing beacons, which can only be seen from fairly close range.


Once you've got the hang of flying the beast, the next stage is to learn how to fight with it. The Harrier's offensive armament consists of three 1000lb bombs, two Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, and 250 rounds of cannon shells.

Weapon delivery is aided by several clever electronics systems. FOFTRAC is a combined map and radar display covering an area of one rectangle on the map grid supplied in the package. Map details shown include mountains and your landing sites. It also shows enemy SAM (surface to air missile) installations, and is continuously updated to show the current positions of active enemy tank formations, aircraft and missiles, plus your own flight track.

An annoying feature of FOFTRAC is that it loses the map display detail if you fly across the boundary from one grid rectangle into another. To get it back you have to fly across the centre of the rectangle at 16000 feet, as FOFTRAC has to photograph the area before it can be displayed. This is reasonable if you enter a rectangle for the first time, but surely not EVERY time? If you accidentally clip the edge of the rectangle, you find, on re-entering the original area a few seconds later, that the detail has been lost and FOFTRAC no longer displays the position of the tanks. It's very hard to find them without FOFTRAC, so it's back to 16000 feet over the centre of the area again to regenerate the display. At that altitude you can guarantee you'll get a severe mauling by the enemy fighters. I repeatedly found myself in just this situation, and it quickly became a major source of irritation.

The Air Attack Radar helps you pinpoint enemy aircraft and avoid his missiles. It shows aircraft and missile positions within a 5 mile radius and height band of plus/minus 5000 feet of your current position.


When you think you can cope try flying a real mission. The objective is to fly to the enemy headquarters situated some 30 grid rectangles away from your initial base, and destroy it. You don't have enough fuel to get there and back, so you have to move your bases forward from their initial positions so they can support you. Unfortunately, the enemy is attacking your bases with tanks, so you have to destroy the tanks with bombs or cannon before a base can be moved. Once a base has been moved the enemy sends in a fresh tank squadron and the process begins over again.

While taking out the tanks you're likely to come under attack from small arms fire, anti-aircraft flak, and above 2000 feet, surface to air missiles. Small arms fire is generally harmless, flak can damage your health, and a missile hit is usually pretty terminal! The graphic effects of flak bursting around you are really rather good. And unique too – I've not seen this effect before in aerial combat games.

To find the tanks you have to get to 16000 feet so FOFTRAC can generate its display. This is where your dogfighting abilities are needed, as you're sure to get bounced by enemy MIG26 (no kidding!) jet fighters. These occasionally come screaming in at you for a head-on attack and the graphics for this are superb. No crude wire frame graphics here – you get the real McCoy! The MIGs fly VERY close to you at incredible speed – you get a big, detailed view of the aircraft for a split second as it flashes by. The effect is quite startling, and guaranteed to get the adrenalin pumping.

For much of the time, though, the MIGs are behind you trying to pick you off. Your job is to defend yourself using chaff, flares, and good old dogfighting skills, then to get behind them and stuff a few cannon shells or the odd missile up their rear orifices. All other views you get of the MIGs seem to be from behind, as they jink around trying to shake you off.

Once FOFTRAC has done its stuff, you can leave the MIGs to play with themselves and get back down to low level tank bashing again. Incidentally, you get points for clobbering tanks, SAM sites, and MIGs, giving you an incentive to try that bit harder with each successive go, even if you don't make it to the enemy headquarters.


As a flight simulator I found Strike Force Harrier disappointing, but as an air combat game it's one of the best around. Its mix of action and strategy should please the game players, while its complexity should keep the simulator techies interested too. Some of its graphical effects are startlingly good, but in the sound department it can only be described as adequate. Overall, then, a reasonable buy, but don't expect the ultimate flight simulator.


Microprose are renowned for their excellent simulation programs and F-15 Strike Eagle is well up to their usual standard. The high quality extends to the packaging and instructions too, as the program comes in an attractive bookform pack complete with superbly presented 'Flight Operations Manual'. This not only contains operating instructions, but also a wealth of information about the F15 and air combat techniques.

The program should really be classed as an air combat simulator rather than a flight simulator as it's essentially all about modern air warfare, using cannon and heatseeking and radar guided missiles, missile attack avoidance using electronics countermeasures, decoy flares and radar chaff and target bombing – rather than the niceties of flying an F15. For instance, you don't have to take off and land the brute, as each mission starts and ends with you in the air.


Seven mission scenarios (of increasing difficulty) are provided, covering Europe, the Middle East, and South East Asia. Basically, you have to locate and bomb specified targets and return safely to base. Unfortunately, the enemy has aircraft with similar weapons to yours, plus SAMs (surface to air missiles), and is quite keen on spoiling your little game!

You can identify and fight off these threats by using the F15's advanced avionics and weapon systems, plus, of course, the superb performance of the aircraft. Get it wrong and you could end up with an AA-8 Aphid heatseeking missile up your tailpipe! At best, you'll end up nursing a crippled, highly unstable aircraft back to friendly territory. As a last resort you can even bale out, with a 50/50 chance of escape.

For each mission scenario the manual explains the flight plan, likely threats, and the opening situation. It also has a map of the area in which you're operating, showing positions of primary targets, enemy airfields, known SAM sites, and any friendly bases where you can put down for refuelling or repairs. These maps have also been fed into the F15's navigation computers, and are displayed during flight.

Control is via keyboard and one or two joysticks. As usual, joystick 1 handles the primary flight controls plus weapons firing, while joystick 2 can take over some of the keyboard functions. I found the roll control rather too sensitive, but otherwise everything worked OK.


On booting, you choose a skill level ranging from 'arcade'. to 'ace'. Arcade is really an easy introductory level, but the other three levels are full simulations of progressively greater difficulty, with more numerous and cunning enemy aircraft and SAMs. You can have up to 4 people in your squadron, each taking a turn to fly the missions. Points are awarded for hitting primary and other optional targets, and for enemy aircraft destroyed, giving the simulation a nice competitive element. It's also possible (and easier!) to have two player co-operative missions, where one person acts as the pilot dealing purely with the flight problems. The other acts as the weapons officer, responsible for selecting the right weapons at the right time, which isn't as easy as it sounds.

When a mission starts you're presented with the main screen of the simulation, showing the view from the F15 pilot's seat. The top half of the screen is the view through the windscreen, with the horizon cutting across the middle. As you'd expect, the horizon rises, falls and tilts convincingly to any angle, in response to the F15's controls. The ground (land or sea) is overlaid with a perspective grid pattern, which scrolls down to give the impression of movement – it's not realistic, but infinitely better than nothing at all. The only other ground features take the form of blue triangles representing primary and optional targets.

The F15 is fitted with a 'Head Up Display' (HUD), which projects important flight information such as airspeed, altitude, and navigation cues onto the windscreen. It also shows the gun, missile and bomb aiming sights, and enemy aircraft and missile tracking boxes. These boxes move across the windscreen, showing you where to look to visually locate incoming threats.

The bottom half of the screen contains several major systems. The map display shows the mission map mentioned earlier. You can set a cursor at any position on this, and the F15's navigation system will project course cues onto the HUD so you can fly directly to the pinpointed position.

The radar screen can be set at three ranges, and displays all targets (and missiles) in the air and on the ground. Above it, warning indicators give you early warning of incoming threats.

Finally, the weapons status display shows you at a glance how many bombs, short and medium range missiles, and decoy flares you've got left, and status of fuel drop tanks. There's a lot more on the screen too, but none of it includes 'conventional' aircraft instrumentation, which may upset some purists.


Once a mission gets under way, you have a really heavy workload, even with all the electronic systems to help you. Your basic task sounds simple: find the target, bomb it, and get home. Unfortunately, there are so many other things requiring your attention that it's not that easy. The worst distraction comes in the form of enemy aircraft. At the higher difficulty levels they can give you a really hard time. You have to use your skill and the F15's aerobatic ability to the full to outclass them, especially if you want to clobber them the macho way using the F15's cannon! You can easily burn up the whole mission's fuel trying to outfight one clever adversary. In fact, missions tend to have nailbiting endings, as you struggle to glide your damaged aircraft back to a friendly base because you were overly optimistic about fuel usage.

The sound effects add enormously to the realism – the whine of the jet engines, the roar of the afterburners, the whoosh of your missiles, the pinging of the warning systems. Yes, it's all here. There's even a few bars of music thrown in at the end of a mission to release the tension.

The only real criticism I have concerns the graphics showing what's happening outside. The ground grid movement is rather jerky, and horizon movement could be smoother. Also, the enemy aircraft are very simple outlines and again move jerkily. Even so, they seem to manoeuvre realistically. When hit by your missiles or shells, the resultant explosion doesn't look very convincing either – just a few straight lines radiating from the impact point.

All this can be forgiven, though, because as a simulation the program is totally absorbing, and as a game it's got that magic quality which forces you to have 'just one more go'! If you like simulations full of challenge, with large helpings of tension and excitement, F15 Strike Eagle is the program for you.


At last. They're here. Sublogic's long awaited Flight Simulator II Scenery Disks for the 8-bit machines, that is! So far, 7 of a planned set of 12 covering the whole of the USA have been released, with the remainder due out later this year. There are also a few 'specials' planned. Two of these are already out, covering the San Francisco Bay area and, surprisingly, the Tokyo to Osaka area of Japan. Cost? Around £20 each in the UK (Ouch! That's expensive!).

I'd almost given up hope of finding the disks in the UK until a call to Strategic Plus Software, of Hampton, Middlesex, established that the San Francisco disk had arrived, but then the bombshell struck! They said they couldn't honestly sell me one as none of their stock copies worked properly. Instead, they kindly agreed to lend me one to try for myself. They were dead right – the main area on the disk (showing San Francisco city and Golden Gate Bridge) just wouldn't load, although the rest of the area was OK.

A letter to Sublogic in the USA produced almost instant action. They phoned me at home expressing concern that there were faulty versions of the disk around, as the problem was spotted and corrected in September last year! Just a few days later I received TWO disks from them by air freight, both of which are reviewed here.


Let's begin with the San Francisco area. Sublogic call this a 'STAR' disk, meaning it covers a relatively small area, but with a higher than usual level of detail. The package contains a single sided disk in a plastic wallet, a map showing all airfields and radio navigation aids in the area, a set of airfield plans showing airfield layout and sundry other data, and finally the operating instructions. Most of the paperwork consists of looseleaf pages and these, together with the disk wallet, are all pre-punched to fit into a smart ring binder available separately from Sublogic. Other disks in the series are similarly presented, so you can store everything neatly together.

The area covered measures about 75 miles by 50 miles, from Scaggs Island in the north to beyond San Jose in the south, taking in the whole of the San Francisco Bay area. Eastern limit is at Tracy, about 50 miles inland from the Californian coast. Within this area there are 16 airfields, many interesting topographical features, plus radio navigation aids to help you find your way about.

A few years ago I worked in the San Jose area for a while, so I know the area covered by this disk quite well. Many of the features I remember do actually appear here. The main attraction, of course, is San Francisco itself. I was disappointed to see so few buildings represented, but then 3D manipulation of a whole cityful of buildings would probably require the power of an IBM 3090/600 mainframe! The spectacular Transamerica Pyramid is included, plus about half a dozen lesser buildings. There's no detail shown of the port area, but the island of Alcatraz is there, complete with its infamous prison building.

The star of the disk (no pun intended) is undoubtedly the Golden Gate Bridge, although I wish Sublogic could have painted it the right colour! Both this and the nearby, 8 mile long, Bay Bridge are in full 3D representation, so you can fly over, round, through, or under them if you feel so inclined. In contrast, other bridges at the southern end of the bay are little more than single lines marking the bridge position.

Going further afield, there are other 3D features waiting to be discovered — like the three giant hangars at Moffet Field, a naval air station near Palo Alto, and the control tower at Livermore airfield, the first I've seen in this simulator. Many major roads and mountains are present and can actually be identified by name if you have a proper map of the area.

During my exploration I discovered an unexpected bonus. The area actually covered is much, much bigger than Sublogic's map shows. In fact, it includes the same area as that on the newly released ST version of Flight Simulator II, covering about 250 miles north to south by 200 miles east to west. All the airfields and radio aids seem to be the same too —that's a total of 47 airfields and countless radio beacons! The instructions say the extra area is included to give a smooth transition from this STAR disk into adjacent areas on other scenery disks. Apparently, you're not actually intended to use it!


The Japan disk is packaged similarly to the other, but has one fascinating extra. This is a sheet of 'approach plates' showing the standard instrument approach procedures for seven of the major airfields. For instrument flying freaks this is really something! There are, however, no instructions on how to use these complex charts, so if you don't understand them already, they're not much use.

The disk covers a large area of some 350 miles by 210 miles of the Tokyo/Nagoya/Osaka region, giving you scope for really long flights. There are only 14 airfields here, but many of them have control towers and refuelling facilities. The area's vast array of radio beacons includes many NDB's for use with your aircraft's Automatic Direction Finding equipment, plus VOR/DME facilities if you need them. Also, eight of the major airport runways are equipped with Instrument Landing System for poor weather landings.

The Tokyo area has several interesting features, including Tokyo Tower, the palace grounds, canals, and the Shinkansen 'bullet train' network. As expected, significant roads, mountains, lakes and other waterways are included too, however detail at Osaka is limited to one building — the castle.

The snow capped Mt. Fuji is easily the most impressive feature on this disk. It takes quite a while to fly to it, round it, and back to Tokyo. Sublogic's simulation doesn't extend to the vicious air turbulence said to surround the mountain, so you can approach it without fear. If you like mountain flying there are plenty of others to choose from, and all in a realistic 3D representation, too.


Overall, both disks gave me a lot of pleasure. Personally, I prefer the San Francisco disk, as I know the area and enjoy 'revisiting' it by air. The Japan disk I like for its radio aids and detailed approach charts, which let you fly real live approach procedures. I wish Sublogic provided these with other scenery areas.

Apart from the cost, I have only two real criticisms. The first concerns the slow screen update with certain scenery, which makes control of the aircraft more difficult than usual. The other relates to a strange problem with mountains, where you can sometimes see things 'through' them. These niggles aside, I think Sublogic should be congratulated in releasing these disks. They're not cheap, but considering the extra scope and enjoyment they add to Flight Simulator II, I view them as a good buy and I look forward to getting my hands on more of the series.

Finally, special thanks to Strategic Plus and to Sublogic themselves for their help in producing this review. I get the feeling they really CARE about their customers, as well as the products they sell us.




Spitfire 40


Disk £12.95

Cassette £8.95


F-15 Strike Eagle


Disk/Cassette £14.95

Strike Force Harrier
ST only

Flight Simulator II Scenery Disks
Disk only £19.95 each