It's a lot less bovver with a hover

AV8B Harrier Assault logo

DOMARK * £34.99 * 1 meg * Mouse/joystick/keyboard * Out now

This year looks as if it's going to be a good one for all you flight sims out there. But it's about time we had something a bit different instead of just changing the plane you fly. Oh look! Domark have obliged with the release of Harrier Assault.
Not your average easy-to-fly planes, these Harrier things - it's like trying the balacne yourself on top of two very big fans, only harder. But more of that later. I'd better tell you why you're to fly this overgrown extractor fan.

Take most flight games and you'll find that the only job you have to do is complete pre-set missions while flying a high powered jet, but it's different in Harrier Assault. Here the concept is extended because you get to play two roles.
The first role is as Commander of the Rapid Deployment Force (RDF) in which you run the campaign of Operation Ocean Saber. Operation Ocean Saber is a UN-authorised invasion of East Timor in Southeast Asia. In the job you are tasked with landing US Marines in hostile terrain and making strategic and tactical decisions for the force as a whole.

The second role is as a squadron pilot, in which you fly the AV-88 Harrier jump jet (surprise, surprise) from the flight deck of the USS Tarawa and take it into combat against the armed forces of Indonesia, the nation which has seized East Timor.

As you can see, it's just slightly different from other flight sims, but hey if you're a traditionalist you can simply fly the Harrier and let the computer make those all-important tactical and strategic decisions for you. As mentioned above, the game is set in and around East Timor in Southeast Asia and I can't ever remember a flight sim set in that country, so you can't fault Domark for not being different from the rest.

As far back as I can remember I actually think this is the first proper flight sim featuring the Harrier Jump Jet. I think most software companies tended to ignore it, maybe because it's very hard hard to, err, simulate. But why is it so hard to simulate? I hear you all cry. Well, it's because the Harrier is a VTOL fighter aircraft. As you probably already know, VTOL stands for Vertical Take Off and Landing and it means that the jet can take off and land, err, vertically. Hey, you just learn something old from people who shouldn't witter on so much every day.

The AV-88 Harrier is not the sort of plane you want to meet on a dark night. It can be tooled up to the teeth with five types of ordnance ranging from guided missiles to your bog standard unguided rockets to high-tech laser-guided bombs, plus it's got a couple of awesome 25mm cannons bolted on the front We are talking total destruction here, kids.

I'll let you in on a little secret, but only if you don't tell anyone. Most flight sims claim that they are accurate down to the tiniest detail, but they are not that accurate in the control department.
Planes as a general rule are a right pain in the botty to fly - ask anyone who's been on the Krypton Factor. To combat this fact, most programmers make flight that bit easier, but this is not the case with Harrier Assault. The flight model is very realistic indeed so if you want a challenge, you've got one.

Harrier is very good fun once you get into it but I think that it is fair to warn 500 owners that it's deadly slow unless you have an accelerator.

AV8B Harrier Assault logo

Domark * £39.99

Great things were expected from this flight sim, fresh from the makers of the excellent MiG-29 SuperFulcrum, but sadly, the result is a let-down. On a A500, you'll go nuts trying to hold the feisty Harrier on the straight and level, and that's before yo even touch the rotating jet nozzles which make it so famous.

It's not a bad simulation; it's just not a very good one. The A500 is unable to provide a quick enough frame update, resulting in uncontrollability all round. An A1200 provides much better results, but sadly, AV88 Harrier Assault still suffers from a few control problems which make life difficult.

The manual is written for the PC and refers to things you can't get to work on the Amiga. It's badly arranged, with tutorials in the middle, explanations in random places and the key-info tucked in the midst of heaps of text.

It's a realistic sim with a huge strategy element, and loads of annoyances which destroy the fun.

AV8B Harrier Assault logo

Nach dem Sovjet-Falken "MiG-29 Fulcrum" rollt Domark nun einen weiteren Exoten aus dem Hangar. Doch während ihr Senkrechtstarter am PC recht flotte Kreise zog, zeigt sich der Sea-Harrier an Bord der "Freundin" etwas flügellahm...

In Ermangelung eines passenden Kriegsschauplatzes haben die Engländer kurzerhand eine fiktive Story gestrickt: Während sich die indonesische Regierung ein paar schöne Tage im fernen Japan macht, ist daheim die Kacke am Dampfen - ein kleiner Putsch genügt, schon sitzt das Militär am Ruder.

Also bittet man die UN um Hilfe, die ihrerseits einen Flugzeugträger der U.S. Marine einschaltet. Warum auch nicht, schließlich dümpelt der Kahn voller Harriers derzeit ohnehin gerade vor der indonesischen Küste.

Als Staffelkommandant kann man sich nun im bordeigenen Simulator warmfliegen oder gleich mit der Rückeroberung beginnen, wobei es jedem selbst überlassen bleibt, ob er dem vorgegebenen Handlungsstrang folgen oder sich auf der zoombaren Landkarte eigene Missionen zusammenbasteln will.

So oder so müssen letzten Endes immer strategisch wichtige Ziele wie SAM-Stellungen mit hochmodernen Waffensystemen eingeebnet, ganze Horden von F-16 abgeschossen oder auch mal (per Helicopter) versprengte Piloten aufgesammelt werden.

Darüber hinaus steht die Koordination der Landungstruppen auf dem Stundenplan: hier darf man allerdings nicht selbst Hand anlegen, sondern lediglich die Befehle erteilen.

Die Präsentation der einzelnen Menüs ist recht gut gelungen, selbst die Ladezeiten halten sich im Rahmen. Die Bewaffnung (mit teilweise neuen Feuerwerkskörpern wie etwa "Ripple-Missiles") geht flott von der Hand, zehn Spielstände lassen sich abspeichern, es gibt eine Zeitraffer-Funktion sowie einen Autopiloten, und auch an verschiedenen Perspektiven wurde nicht gespart - Missile, Enemy- oder Tower-View, alles vorhanden.

Nur mit dem Fliegen selbst hapert es leider: Zwar darf man gleich ein ganzes Geschwader von bis zu fünf Harriern ins Feindesland steuern, doch ohne (schnelle!) Turbo-karte kommen die Vektorflieger nur sehr träge vom Fleck; selbst am 1200er ist das Ergebnis nicht berauschend.

Keineswegs berauschender ist bei dieser Umsetzung die verzwickte Steuerung ausgefallen, denn einerseits reagieren Stick und Keyboard nur mit Verzögerung, andererseits hat man eine ganze Batterie von Tastenkombinationen zu bewältigen. Ja, die Maus läßt man am besten gleich in der Falle. Bei soviel Ungemach retten selbst die relative simplen Senk-rechtstarts und - Landungen das Kind bzw. die indonesische Regierung nicht mehr!

Zu allem Überfluß schallt auch der Sound nur tröpfchenweise aus dem Lautsprecher, vom monotonen Triebwerksbrummen und wenigen Effekten mal abgesehen, wird den Ohren kaum etwas geboten.

Tja, schade um die grundsätzlich recht hübsche Grafik mit Infrarot-Sicht bei den Nachtmissionen, Nebelschwaden etc. - schade um dieses originelle Flugzeug, dessen Start sich am PC so vielversprechend angelassen hatte. (rl)

AV8B Harrier Assault logo

There'll come a time when almost everyone will have releaed a Harrier sim.

The Amiga A1200 is a brilliant idea. We can still have lots of fun playing Amiga A500 games, just like in the good old days - the A500's a great machine, after all, capable of great things. But now, for the lucky few, those games can take advantage of the A1200's extra speed and graphical trickery to kick in new features, better visuals and slicker gameplay. And on top of that, A500 owners would be unlikely to begrudge A1200-owners the odd A1200-only game, ding things the old A500 could only dream of. Yup, everyone's happy. Isn't progress a wonderful thing? (Er, I think you'd better have a go on AV-8B Harrier Assault. Ed)

The Amiga A1200 is a brilliant idea. In the old days, if you'd just spent ages writing a game only to find that, whether through over-ambition, carelessness or sheer incompetence, it ran at too slow a speed to be playable, you'd have to either improve it till it worked properly or go back to the drawing board. Now you can just stick a label saying 'Amiga 1200 recommended' on the box and go and see what's on telly.

The first time I loaded up AV-8B Harrier Assault on my trusty A500, I wondered whether there was something wrong with the old machine. Polgyons were juddering across the screen at an appallingly slow rate. Lines were lurching past my eyes as if the world was about to end. The keyboard was deliberating for whole seconds at a time before answering my requests. And all this despite the absence of anything on the screen except the sky, my AV-8B Harrier, a pyramid shaped mountain and a squiggly line that I think was meant to be a road.

I panicked. What could be wrong? Perhaps my power supply was failing - it wouldn't be the first time. Perhaps my RAM expansion had come adrift. Perhaps my Agnus (or whatever it's called) was about to breathe its last. But, before placing the whole sorry mess into the hands of a qualified technician, I decided to run a quick test. A copy of F-19 Stealth Fighter fell conveniently to hand. I loaded it up and... phew. Normality was restored. An aircraft carrier steamed majestically past beneath the moon-lit sky. Whole cities glided effortlessly across the screen. Everything was going to be all right.

Polygons were juddering across the screen

It seems that AV-8B Harrier Assault can effectively be considered an A1200-only game, and, except for a token blue The Bottom Line box at the end, the rest of this review is aimed solely at A1200 owners. The A500-owning majority will just have to go away. Sorry.

The first thing that'll strike you about AV-8B Harrier Assault is how dull the graphics are. From the moment you take off from your rather nondescript, shoe box-shaped aircraft carrier, to your lengthy journey over the dark blue rectangle that is the sea, to your first combat engagement with a collection of indistinct lines and squares, the over-riding feeling is one of Spectrum circa 1983. In fact, the only really nice-looking graphic in the hole game (that I've encountered at least) is your Harrier, which looks really Harrier-like.

Sure, everything moves smoothly enough, but so it should running on a 32-bit machine. The A1200 should be capable of throwing ridiculous numbers of polygons around the screen, and maybe texturing and light-source shading them too. AV-8B Harrier Assault doesn't even try.

Continuing on this negative note, there are loads of niggly irritations too which, in the light of all this blandness, are all the more difficult to ignore. The first is the front-end through which you've got to wade before you can take to the skies. It's one of those really annoying ones consisting of screens that are meant to represent parts of the aircraft carrier.

There are loads of niggly irritations too

To plan a mission you click on a picture of a monitor with a funny-shaped blob on it (of course!), to arm your plane you click on the telephone (it's obvious!), that sort of thing. Only you haven't got a clue what all these wretched pictures mean until you've checked in the manual, a process made all the more arduous by the fact that there are no illustrations in there (except a couple of photos of Harriers).

There are other annoying bits, too, like the way the game keeps asking you to insert disks it already got, and the controls for the direction of your jet nozzles (you've got to take your hands off the joystick, hold Shift and press one of keys 1-0 - no simple matter in the heat of a battle). There's no 'turn off the crash detection' option - a must when you're learning to fly a plane as fiddly as the Harrier. The effect of trying to use the rudder controls is hilarious. You're supposed to get a debriefing when you land, telling you how you got on, but it wouldn't give me one. And the music at the beginning is terrible - Holst courtesy of the Marvellous Mechanical Mouse Organ.

AV-8B Harrier Assault gets a reasonably high score, though, because it is actually a pretty good simulation of the AV-8B Harrier. (At least, I'm prepared to believe it is). Once you've managed to suppress that horrible feeling that you've just handled over £400 for a new machine so you can play worse games than you did on your old Amiga, it's actually rather good fun. It's not a game you can enjoy playing just for the sake of it - you won't find yourself just flying,seeing where the sky takes you - but if you're prepared to stick to the rule book and follow through the missions it's pretty rewarding. There's a stronger than usual strategy side, too. (Though many people might prefer that sentence to be moved to the end of the previous paragraph).

It's a simulation for simulation buffs, then, much like the MiG-29 games which Simis were also behind. It takes a lot of getting into, and is really quite absorbing once you do. But it could have been so, so much better.


AV-8B Harrier Assault takes a slightly different slant to your usual flight sim. Rather than presenting you with a set list of missions from which you can choose at will, it plonks you straight in the middle of a war, with the clock set to 8.00 am. As the day goes on the need will arise for missions to be flown. (You can 'fast-forward' through the quiet bits if you want.) You're then given the chance to fly the mission - intercepting an enemy plane, say, or stopping some troops from landing - or you can wait for something more to your taste to come along.

This approach has its advantages. It really does feel as if you're in the middle of a conflict (well, sort of, anyway) and strategy buffs will feel right at home - don't be surprised if you return from a mission to find your aircraft carrier is under attack from marauding planes. The huge amount of stuff going on behind the scenes also goes some way towards excusing the graphics from being so crap.

It also has its disadvantages. You can't just load up the game and think: ooh, I fancy a quick dogfight, or hmm, p'raps I'll have another go at blowing up that factory. Nope, you've got to sit there and wait for orders from above. It's also incredibly tedious if you're not into that sort of thing.

AV8B Harrier Assault logo

For their first airborne outing since MiG 29 Superfulcrum, Domark have chosen another highly unique aircraft in the form of the AV8B Harrier. Mark Patterson jerks his joystick in time to the music.

As you probably know, the Harrier's strength comes from its vertical take-off and landing abilities, a feature which led it being adopted by the United States Marine Corps as their mainstay support craft.

Its primary function is as a strike aircraft being able to carry a variety of bombs and missiles capable of clearing the way for a marine assault. Its vertical take-off feature also makes it practical for use on smaller vessels, so a marine landing force can travel with air support, vehicles and troops all aboard one ship.

Initially, Harrier seems like just another flight sim, but it soon distances itself from the crowd with stylish presentation and some excellent flight features.

As a U.S. Marine Harrier pilot you are stationed aboard a marine base ship which is floating near East Timor. The standing orders are to help the Timorese resistance overcome the Indonesian army who occupy their country. While the Indonesians hardly sound like a strike force from hell, years of war and a good supply of military hardware from Britain have given them one of the best equipped, battle-hardened armies in the pacific.

All the pre-flight 'action' takes place in various rooms on board the ship. There is the control centre where the missions are planned, troops and weapons placed and intelligence on enemy forces displayed. Going to the store room lets you see how you are doing for weapons, while taking a trip to the flight deck allows you to arm your Harrier with whatever weapons are available. One excellent feature is the simulator room, where you can practice take-offs, landings and the general art of firing missiles at things without fear of getting blown up.

Because of the Harrier's various roles you are never quite sure what kind of mission you are going to get. At the start most of your time is spent on Combat Air Patrol, where you take off, fly around and shoot any unfriendlies that come into range. Later on you are called to weave a path around, or sometimes through, the enemy defenses to strike at specific targets, which will cause plenty of problems for the Indonesian forces.

One aspect that separates this game from others in its field is that you do not just pilot the plane, you are also in charge of positioning ground forces and helicopter support. With friendly forces also involved in the attack you need to be careful no to get over zealous and open up at the first thing you see, it might be on your side. Flying the plane is such a challenge on its own that the programmers, Simis, have thoughtfully included a straight combat-only mode which dispenses with the strategy.

Using the Harrier's vectored-thrust engines takes some getting used to. They can be angled at anything from 0-100 degrees - although they can be left alone for normal take-offs, for a vertical lift-off they need to be set to 80. The trick with this is angling them back to zero once the plane is airborne. Do it too fast and it will stall and you will crash right back into the deck, too slow and you will gain too much height and show up like a supernova on enemy radar.

Once the plane is airborne the next thing to master is flying the thing. Analogue joysticks and mouse control are catered for, and these methods provide a great deal more control than with a conventional switch joystick. A handy autopilot mode takes care of trivial things like landing, but you are on your own when it comes to combat. Flying the Harrier is a very tricky business. My first few attempts ended up with some impressive stunts, plenty of crashes and some very unproductive missions.

The harrier's versatility is further increased by its excellent array of weapons. It is capable of carrying unguided as well as laser guided bombs. Maverick air-to-ground missiles, Hydra unguided missiles, Sidewinder air-to-air missiles and on top of all that it has got a ruddy great gun. Naturally, the amount of ordinance you bolt onto your plane affects its take-off, so a fully tooled-up harrier has a hard time going up from a standing start.

Because the conflict is a good distance from any friendly bases, all your supplies are onboard the ship. This includes spare aircraft (16), troops, vehicles and ammunition. So it is OK to jet in to battle unleashing salvos of rockets, providing you are prepared to enter combat later armed only with bad language.

Defense is almost as important as attack. Enemy missiles are a constant threat, so the Harrier is equipped with decoy flares, which draw heat-seeking missiles away from the plane. There is also a radar-jamming ECM pod which fixes onto one of the weapon pylons, but being the trigger-happy type, I was more than reluctant to go without an extra pod of missiles just in case I spotted any stray tanks.

Now that companies are starting to beat the A1200 in mind I would like to see them move away from the traditional vector-based flight sims. After seeing Novalogic's awesome fractal helicopter sim Commanche running on the PC, it would be nice to see games like that appearing on the Amiga. Realistically, the existing style of flight sims have gone about as far as they can, now it is only really the aircraft which will change.

In the mean time, this is one of the toughest flight simulators I have ever played. Leveling the Harrier after a turn is a challenge in itself, let alone successfully completing a mission, and not only do you have to master the aircraft, there is also the strategy side to keep you engaged.

If you are into flight sims and you have got an A1200, or even an A600 for that matter, you won't go wrong with this.

A600 vs. A1200

After playing Harrier on the A1200 I don't think I could go back to playing it on a mere 16-bit machine. Because the polygon graphics require many mathematical calculations the game runs significantly faster on the A1200. On slow machines the lack of graphic detail is very noticeable, mainly because you get to look at things a lot longer. From this point of view A600 owners are a lot better of sticking with F-15 2 from MicroProse or SuperFulcrum which is also from Domark.