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Ancient Art of War in the Skies, The -logo

'Monkeys at seven o'clock' cried Ginger. 'Well I never, it appears to be Microprose's latest foray into aerial combat!' replied Mark Patterson, busily scraping flies from his goggles.

Ancient Art of War in the Skies, The The Ancient Art Of War In The Skies, apart from having a ridiculously long title, gives you the chance to match wits with a number of famous generals over the battle fields of first world war Europe.
In your role as commander of several squadrons of fighters and bombers, your orders are simple - drive the enemy back at any cost. All of the strategy takes place on a map screen, where your and your enemy's bases, cities and factories are displayed. From here you order air strikes and keep tabs on what your toe is up to. Clicking on one of your bases brings up a list of the pilots and bombers stationed there. When you've chosen how many to send on a raid, or to intercept the enemy, you can sit back and watch them taking off, before waiting for an action sequence to occur.
When aircraft from opposing sides meet you're asked it you want to take control of an aircraft. Select yes and you're taken to a screen displaying all the participating craft, which then begin to whirl away taking pot-shots at each other. Alternatively, you can skip this and the computer calculates the outcome based on the individual skill of the pilots and a small slice of luck.

SEAT OF THE PANTS
A pilot's skill is shown by the amount of medals he has, the more the better. You have to pay attention to this if you're not planning on controlling the aircraft during a dogfight, as a skilful pilot has far more chance of surviving than a rookie. Bombers are also in short supply, so if you think you could be facing plenty of enemy fighters it's worth keeping some in reserve so you're not left without the ability to strike back after attacks.

It's important to plan attacks care fully as destroying different targets affects the enemy's war effort in different ways. Destroying factories lengthens the time if fakes for new aircraft to be delivered, while bombing a city hurts the supply lines. Airbases can prove worthwhile targets, but you have to contend with the fighters stationed there, and they also rebuilt at the twice the speed of other targets.

Considering Microprose's more than healthy reputation for producing flight sims, I was shocked by the unprofessional look of this one. Where their usual flight sims incorporate excellent vector graphics and mounds of realism, this looks like some kind of reject from the public domain. Controlling your small sprite-based aircraft, you have to steer it around the screen shooting at other tiny aircraft.

Ancient Art of War in the Skies, The BOMBS AWAY!!
The bombing section turned out to be a little more promising. Viewing your target area from 10,000 feet up, you simply have to avoid flak batteries and get to the target areas. When you're in the right position press the fire button and, if you're really getting the spirit of things, shout something like 'that's one in the eye for the Hun' or 'tally-ho and back to base chaps'. As you can see, while enjoyable for the first, say, five minutes, the appeal of this section wanes extremely quickly.

The one thing that could save the game also fails. Strategy is where the bulk of the game lies and slowly drowns in a mire of limited options and poor design. Depending on the tactics the computer is employing, you have to order your bombers out to bomb targets such as factories and other airbases. What this section lacks is depth - there's hardly anything to it. Once your planes are airborne you tell them what altitude to fly at, what formation to fly in and what they should do to their target when they reach it. The lack of options is blatantly obvious. It would have been better if they'd simply given you a little airbase of your own and all the problems that come with it, such as training new pilots, getting hold of fuel, acquiring new planes and ammunition as well as the hassles that come with taking part in such a notoriously badly managed conflict.

The manual also reflects the lack of depth in the game. Very little space is devoted to telling you how to play it, while there's mountains of background information on the air war in Europe. Most pointless of all are the eight pages which just list the names of pilots who scored over 10 kills. This is designed to help you create realistic scenarios by using the names of those who participated, although it strikes me as being a stunning waste of space.
This is well below the standard that we've come to expect from Microprose over the years. We can only look forward to F- 117 and Gunship 2000, both of which are due out later this year.

CU Amiga, June 1993, pp.52-53

TZU TV
Since World War I ended only 75 years ago, you might be wondering why the word 'Ancient' is in the game's title. The inspiration for this game, and its two PC-only predecessors, lies in a 2500 year-old book. The Art Of War was written by Sun Tzu, a great Japanese warrior who meticulously studied his enemies' tactics, terrain and soldiers before engaging in a battle. As you can imagine he was far more successful than his opponents who simply charged in expecting a healthy ruck, and went on to stake a place in Japanese legend. The book has proved a source of inspiration for many more recent military leaders, including Napoleon and several of the brains behind the planning of Desert Storm.
His teachings were essentially simple, and were summed up in phrases such as 'by knowing what your enemy has done in the past you can predict what he will do in the future'. The manual goes into some detail applying his teachings to the subject matter of the game, although I don't think Sun Tzu intended many of his concepts to be applied to a bunch of men with big moustaches, plenty of jolly banter and rickety flying machines.

MICROPROSE 34.99
A500
A1500
A500+
A2000
A600
A3000
A1200
A4000
UNIT 1, HAMPTON ROAD INDUSTRIAL ESTATE, TETBURY, GLOS, GL8, 8LD. TEL: 0666 504326
 
RELEASE DATE:
GENRE:
TEAM:
CONTROLS:
NUMBER OF DISKS:
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HARD DISK INSTALLABLE:
MEMORY:
 
JUNE 1993
STRATEGY
IN HOUSE
J,K,M
4
1
YES
1Mb

 
GRAPHICS
SOUND
LASTABILITY
PLAYABILITY

44%
64%
56%
43%
Severly limited strategy game. Not what we expect from Microprose.
OVERALL: 45%