The 'thinking man's shoot-'em-up' is a peculiar beast, attempting as it does to blend elements of two distinctly different styles of game, arcade action and strategy. In some cases, such as Elite, the mix works extremely well. Does ATF manage it?
Just in case you still think this is an outright arcade game, it opens with an options section designed to make you think about what you're going to do.
Before getting off the ground you must balance your on-board armament from a choice of cannon, sidewinders, and mavericks, and weigh up your destructive potential against fuel carried. You are also given a tactical view of the battlefield over which you are about to die, er fly.
Once you've sorted out where you want to go and what gifts you'd like to drop on the locals, it's time to get strapped in and take off. From this point on, the action takes place over a pseudo-3D landscape from Afterburner type of viewpoint.
By utilising a 'database' of reported enemy vehicles and installations, you then fly around trying to tilt the balance of power in your favour by blowing up as many of them as possible.
The head-up display aids you in this by helpfully pointing the way on the compass bar at the top. The three multi-function displays can be used to pull up anything from a screen on the status of your remaining ammo to atiny map of the local area.
In this respect, there is plenty in ATF to keep you busy and alert. The strategy element is just effective enough to drag you out of your homicidal stupor for long enough to find your next most important target, while the action element can sometimes deliver a decent boost to your adrenalin.
Enemy jets are the most dangerous obstacles to your mission, and come screaming in from both front and rear. The only way to spot them before they're pumping shells into your fuselage is to keep a weather eye on the local map.
Anti-aircraft missiles are another pain in the thrusters, but can be effectively neutralised by hitting the Jam Missile button as soon as you get the missile warning.
Putting the payload where it counts is what the game is all about and can be far from easy. Factories and airfields can zip past your wings before you've got time to change the active weapon from sidewinders to mavericks, forcing you into a lengthy turn for another run. With jets and AA missiles whizzing around everywhere, this can often be a fatal exercise.
Come to think of it, this whole game seems a bit of a fatal exercise. When you consider that DI has brought us classics as Fighter Pilot on the 8-bit machines, and Combat Pilot on the 16-bit, the game just doesn't cut the mustard.
ATF aims for the arcade element of games like Afterburner and the strategy element of Digital Integration's best game, F-16 Combat Pilot, but falls short of both.
The attempt is simply not cohesive enough to hold the interest after a game or two, and the resultant mish