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Coala logo

Nothing to do with those furry little antipodean creatures you understand.

Runs on: A500 (with accelerator), A1200
Publisher: Empire
Authors: Bit Fusion
Price: £25
Release: Out now

P Coala icture the scene – it is the evening and you pay your four quid to go to the World’s Best Cinema, and sit down with plenty of leg room, a massive carton of juice and a popcorn bucket big enough to hide in. The banner of überfascist James Ferman and his BBFC crones announces the movie, and the expectant spines is only broken by the polite cough of the usher’s 22 calibre ‘Hush Puppy’ pistol as he executes anyone opening many pockets of sweeps or crops. The film starts, and the initial surge of music is so atmospheric that the hairs on your arms bristle up and shred your shirt. It starts off on an extreme close-up of something heartbreakingly tiny yet beautiful – a tearstained Edelweiss maybe or perhaps Bob the Hamster. And then, with a dizzyingly fast crane shot accompanied by perhaps the finest orchestral swell of all time, the camera rises up and presents us, the viewers, with the most exciting intense and undeniably most expensive vista ever timed. Perhaps it is an ancient battle that makes the incredible battle sequences from Braveheart look like a dinner time rush in the playground. Or maybe it is a sea of satin-clad mourners at the funeral of a great man: a sea of humanity that makes the crowd scenes from Ghandi look like a bus queue for the number 125 Nempnet Thrubwell. Whatever it is, you are in no doubt that it is the best start of any film ever, and that you will think about it on your deathbed in preference to the masses of blubbing grandchildren who are packed into the room to watch you wheeze your last one.

Then the camera starts to slowly pan, taking in more and more of the terrain until you are in no doubt that the action spreads in all directions and as far as the eye can see. It is awesome, and you stare dumbstruck, your popcorn forgotten, your juice spilling into your lap, your mouth agape as the camera completes first one, then two, then three revolutions. But by four, it is not as impressive and you are waiting for something to happen, for a snatch of dialogue or a hint of plot or characterisation. But nothing. Two hours later, you are still watching the same slowly panning shot, and then the film ends.

Coala Can you imagine that? Can you imagine how you would feel? Can you imagine the disappointment of seeing the best opening ever tainted by the complete lack of any follow up? Then steel yourself, hombre - Coala stirs up exactly the same set of emotions. It looks like it is going to be great, it is initially great and it SHOULD BE GREAT, dammit. But it is not.

Coala As a game engine, Coala is faultless. Coala knows it is a game and does not bother painstakingly recreating all those follies of real helicopters that muck up your fun. If you whack up the collective and take your chopper up to 60 metres, then that is where it is going to stay unless you pull a really frantic manoeuvre. In Gunship 2000 (AP28, 85%), it is almost impossible to stay at one height which combined with the rolling terrain means you spend as long avoiding the ground as you do trying to kill things.

Coala excels at blowing things up. Although you can attack head one, your view of the ground is hidden by the airframe, so it is best to go into a turn around the target and look out of the side window. You can attack like this because of the Virtual Cockpit™, and because your guided weapons will lock on and your nose cannon is not fixed forwards. While virtual cockpits are a good idea in flight sims, they are usually poorly implemented and rely on you manually turning your virtual head using the keyboard while trying to try using a joystick or mouse. The Rowan games Overlord and Dawn Patrol use an excellent automatic look which keeps the target centre screen, but Coala manages to strike a happy medium in that yes, it is manual, but because it uses the mouse and the second button, you can easily switch between flying and moving your view.

A standard A1200 runs the game perfectly well with all the shadows and extra detail on. Apparently it is super-smooth on an accelerated A1200 or any of the big box Amigas, but according to our reader surveys, hardly any of you lot own them, so we will waste no further words on the subject.

Coala This is all mechanics though, the camera work and cinematography detailed in my rather overlong and tenuous film analogy intro. A good game needs a good engine to power it and heck yes, Coala is faultless, but it also needs a plot, and it is here that you can experience a sickening jolly moment.

Coala bils itself as a 3D battlefield helicopter action simulator, which is obscure enough to set alarm bells ringing. To be lenient, Coala has a fairly ‘open-ended mission structure, although to be blunt, it has not got any structure at all.

Most flight sims give you missions and flight plans, and have the enemy following predictable routes to and from predictable objectives, so if you die, you can restart with the confidence that it will be much the same next time. In Coala though, all the vehicles have a level of AI which means that they do not just plough through set patterns, they react to nearby vehicles, so by just flying around, you affect the outcome of the battle. Flight sims normally make the world revolve around your aircraft, but in this you are just another participant, and while I admire the attempt at making you that humble, I cannot say much for the implementation of the idea.

Suppose you can see a mass of tanks from both sides milling around a town. You whiz off towards the area in the hope of getting a few kills, but often by the time you reach the battle, one side’s wiped the other one out. And then once the battle has been raging for ten minutes or so and you are on the winning side, all you get is a rather plain text screen detailing your kills and total casualties. There is no feeling that you have performed well, or pulled off a tricky assignment, and even though the missions sound different on the briefing screens, they quickly blur together.

Coala Okay, so there are offensive and defensive missions, but what is the point of defending your base against tank attacks when you can still land and refuel even when the base is crawling with the enemy? And although you can choose a customise option and dictate that vehicles you want on the battlefield, you cannot place them in set areas or formations, so they are left to make up their own mind where they want to go. You do not even have a map to see where the roads, town, rivers, and most importantly, targets are, which means that when the battle has been raging for ages, there are so few things to shoot at that you either get bored or escape out of the game.

Coala And that is the problem. While Coala seems to have everything going for it as a game, it gets nowhere fast: being told to go out, pick a side and shoot things is fine for a few goes, but after that you are gagging for a point to it all, for a bridge to blow up or a convoy to intercept. But instead of an attack on a heavily defended enemy base or a rush past fighter cover to blast a squadron of lumbering transport helicopters, you get more of the same – unplanned attacks and random flying around.

Which is, of course, a great shame. Like Virtual Karting last month, it seems that Coala has been put out a few months early and that it is not quite finished. The mechanics are all in place, but the game lacks depth and the presentation is minimal to say the least. Whack in a map and 30 decent preset missions to complement this freeplay structure and Empire would have had a 90 percent plus game on their hands. As it is, they have got a massively impressive glimpse of what could have been, or could very easily still be in Coala 2. Should they ever bother to do it.

The curtain closes on Coala far sooner than it should do, simply because you have seen everything it can offer far too quickly. And that is frustrating, because a game that is this sound technically deserves to be more fun. It also deserves a harder name. Why could it not have been called ‘McDonnell Douglas Death Hawk EBN-20’ thus obeying the laws of all previous flight sims?

Amiga Power, Issue 56, December 1995, p.p.26-28

"You are gagging for a point to it all"

"It has not got any structure at all"

"Excels at blowing things up"

Upper UPPERS Great graphics and a good running speed. It is easy to control both the helicopter and the virtual cockpit views, and the keyboard commands are simple too. Hard drive installable.
Downer DOWNERS After a couple of hours, you have seen all there is to see. The missions are too samey and it is no fun lining up on a target only to see someone else blow it up.
It is overstating the case a little, but Coala’s an impressive demo rather than a game. And there is already an impressive demo of it on this month’s coverdisk. Empire should take this back and slap a map and some proper missions into it.

A500 compatibility There is an AGA and a non-AGA version in the box, but this won’t run on a standard A500 or A600. You need one with 68020 processor like the one the A1200’s got.