Flight Of The Intruder logo

Flight of the Intruder has been 'imminent' for over 10 months. Was it worth the wait for this novel-based flight simulation of the Vietnam War?

Cold on the heels of the video of the film of the book, the Flight has finally touched down on the Amiga. The first major flight sim from Spectrum Holbrook since Falcon has been a long time coming (first advertised in AF17!). Was the problem over ambition or lack of ability? Flight of the Intruder lets you fly two different aircraft over the hostile skies of Vietnam. The A-6 Intruder is still kicking around today, a tough and rugged bomber that gives as good as it gets. The F-4 Phantom is now a dinosaur, a supersonic jet with no cannon but more missiles than a MiG could eat. You get the chance to fly both, sometimes simultaneously, on raids down MiG alley, where SAM lives.

Scramble!
The first thing that hits you is the sheer volume of options offered and the complexity of the simulation. It is possible to leap straight into the fight using the 'scramble' option but if you don't alter the set-up you'll notice two problems: neither joystick or mouse have any control and the sea is solid - in an "I can't crash into it" sort of way. The game defaults to keyboard control and Rookie level. This isn't a criticism but an illustration of Flight's initial set up. You have to read the manual (all 200 pages worth!) and tailor the set up if you want to feel anything like Flight's full potential.

All the options are available with a quick press of 'F10', then the menus are ready to pull down and customise the game. They offer everything from infinite fuel to realistic red-outs, depending on what kind of flying nightmare you want. Rookie (virtually indestructible) is a good way to learn how these two beasts handle. Put everything on full realism and you'll wonder how anybody survived their first tour!

Bird brains
The A-6 is a slow, stick-in-the-mud sort of a plane, it feels like you're flying in treacle. The bird refuses to do anything fast, it turns reasonably tightly but lacks speed. With its considerable payload weight it lolls rather than rolls which makes it great to learn in. The F-4 is slick, fast, and born to fly. With its afterburning power it is an ideal fighter, but lacks things like guns! Dogfights rely totally on missiles and that means good position.

Flight offers pilots a whole range of missions, but that doesn't set it aside from normal plane games. What does, though, is the sheer depth of preparation. From mission briefings you slip into the map room for some waypoint planning and discussions of the rules of engagement, then it's off to the armoury to choose some major munitions, then it's back to briefing hall just to make sure you know where to go and who to kill. Many games offer these features, but few offer them all and none have Flight's gloss.

Once on deck before you've time to work out which command launches the catapult (CTRL L) it happens automatically and you're thrown out to sea. Peering over the edge of the cockpit you see a flat blue ocean which neatly features perspective dots to help pilots gauge their relative height. If your memory fails you as to what the myriad of key commands do then just hit 'A' for autopilot and simply experiment.

Take a peek at the outside views and you'll find the craft are solid and realistic representations of themselves. Although playing with the afterburner reveals some odd graphics. When they're off trails appear and when they're on the engine ports turn yellow! The missions you fly are tough, not just because an awful lot of Vietnamese pilots would like to give you swimming lessons, but Flight's historical accuracy has a go at you too.

At the time of the Linebacker raids there were some jolly combat guidelines called the Rules Of Engagement. These effectively said which targets were legitimate and which where not. For example, most SAM sites were off limits to bombing simply because there were likely to be Russian technicians there! If you want to work your way up the rank ladder then these must be scrupulously obeyed. Take on a few of the missions and you soon start to realise what 'fighting a war with one arm tied behind your back' - George Bush circa 1991 - really felt like.

Flight plays this historical accuracy card all through the game, creating the scenario and dictating your conduct. The munitions are as realistic as the planes. Most of the time this benefits the game, with neat effects like ground clutter screwing up the F-4's radar every time the nose points towards the floor.

As an overall package, this historical bundle, while thorough, does restrict the game. The two planes, while they are neat period pieces, are far from the most exciting aircraft that were ever built. The scenarios too are limited by the Rules of Engagement and the kind of munitions that can be carried. The stress on the novel also ensures that the carrier remains in the one theatre of operations. The work that brings the novel to life is thorough indeed, but a novel isn't the ideal situation for a really gripping Vietnam air-war sim.

Flight looks the biz, with masses of peripheral graphic screens. It's et up flexibility is laudable, with most aspects of the game on offer for tweaking. Some good ideas have been incorporated such as a comms link and flight information being displayed during outside views. The accuracy factor restricts the range though, which can be frustrating. Flight is finally here and where the extra man hours went is obvious, but the strictures of the novel - its historical setting and vehicular limitations - hold the game back, a bit.


Flight Of The Intruder logo Amiga Joker Hit

Lang genug hat es ja gedauert, bis der Nachfolger des Falken den Weg zum Amiga gefunden hat - ist die Umsetzung nun wenigstens entsprechend? Keine Frage: Das Teil ist jede Sekunde wert, die wir darauf warten mussten!

Genau genommen bekommt man hier gleich zwei Flugsimulationen, denn die Versoftung von Stephen Coonts Bestseller hat neben der A-6 Intruder auch eine F-4 Phantom zu bieten. In Anlehnung an die Romanvorlage wird praktisch der gesamte Luftkampf über (Nord-) Vietnam simuliert - und zwar in allen Einzelheiten!

Realismus bedeutet diesmal nicht nur detailgenaue Cockpitgestaltung und wirklichkeitsgetreues Flugverhalten, sondern auch daß der eigene Flieger den gegnerischen MiGs nicht in allen Lebenslagen überlegen ist, daß man die "Rules of Engagement" zu beachten hat (erst identifizieren, dann schießen!), und vor allem, daß hier keine Solisten gefragt sind um die Missionen erfolgreich zu absolvieren, will oft die Zusammenarbeit von bis zu acht Maschinen koordiniert sein!

Die beiden Hauptsächlich zu Bombardierungseinsätzen startet, während die Phantom ihr dabei meist Begleitschutz geben muß. In der Praxis sieht das dann so aus, daß z.B. je zwei Gruppen von Phantoms und Intruders unterwegs sind, um gemeinsam einen vietnamesischen Flughafen anzugreifen. Mit ein paar der F-4 Piloten kümmert man sich um feindliche Abfangjäger, die übrigen begleiten einstweilen die erste Intrudergruppe bombardiert schließlich das eigentliche Ziel. Klar, es gibt auch simplere Aufgaben, wie etwa Aufkläringsflüge mit einer einzelnen F-4, aber der Großteil der Einsätze erfordert viel strategisches Denken und Handeln.

Für seine Mühen wird der Spieler denn auch reich belohnt: Es gibt Waffen und Ziele im Überfluß, ein sehr komplexes Szenario, Realismus in jeder Hinsicht und Optionen ohne Ende - Video und Fotoaufnahmen, Zwei-Spieler-Modus per Data-Link (sowohl gegen als auch miteinander), Innen- und Außenansichten in allen Varianten, Autopilot und Zeitraffer, ja sogar Missionen darf man sich selbst zusammenbasteln! Entsprechend gigantomatisch ist auch die Tastaturbelegung ausgefallen: In der Anleitung sind jene Tasten auf dem Keyboard besonders hervorgehoben, die nicht mit irgendeiner Funktion belegt sind...

Steuern kann man die Kisten aber auch mit Joystick oder Maus, ganz vorzüglich sogar. Die Grafik ist selbst auf der höchsten Detailstufe noch erstaunlich schnell und steht der VGA-Version nicht nach, ein paar der Screens wurden sogar neu gezeichnet. Selbst der Sound ist am Amiga hervorragend, die exzellenten FX erinnern ein bißchen an "F-16 Falcon".

Der langen Rede kurzer Sinn: Wer die Einarbeitung in ein hochkomplexes Programm nicht scheut, findet mit Flight of the Intruder die Simulation seiner Träume! (mm)


Flight Of The Intruder logo

It's missed the book by five years, the film by months (and the actual war by a good fifteen years!), but - hey! - at least it got here eventually...

Flight simulations come in all shapes and sizes. There are big ones, small ones, fat ones and thin ones, but there's one thing they've all got in common: they tend to concentrate on fast, sleek, exciting fighter planes. Things like the F-15 and F-16, or futuristic stealth planes. Or at least, they used to.

Flight of the Intruder simulates the porky, none-too-speedy A-6 intruder, which is good for little more than dropping bombs on things. You won't catch it dogfighting MiGs against overwhelming odds. Nor, for that matter, is it likely to be seen streaking towards wave after wave of incoming enemy bombers with all guns blazing. No, it likes to do its own thing, the A-6, in its own good time.

IT AIN'T HEAVY, IT'S MY BOMBER
Doesn't sound too promising so far, does it? That's probably because you haven't tried talking in an A-6 a hundred feet off the deck with flak rising on all sides, two MiGs on your tail and your SAM threat indicator flashing like billy-o. I have, and it's no laughing matter.

But if you're still not impressed, you may be persuaded to raise an eyebrow slightly if I tell you that Spectrum Holobyte (the same people who brought us Falcon) give you the option of trading in your Intruder for an F-4 Phantom, which goes about, twice as fast and is a born and bred MiG-killer. (In fact, detail fans, this game hasn't actually been programmed by Spectrum Holobyte in the States, but by sub-contractors Rowan Software here in blightley, the folks behind the Amiga and ST versions of Falcon the Falcon mission disks and the upcoming Reach for the Skies for Mirrorsoft. Just though you'd like to know).

Whichever plane you choose, you're working for the US Navy, and all your missions will be flown from an aircraft carrier anchored off the coast of Vietnam (It's a Vietnam game). This is where FOTI starts getting a bit good. For a start, it's not often you get to perform carrier take-offs and landings in a flight sim. (Interceptor is the only other once I can think of, but that's looking a bit crap these days).


FOTI had me gripped from the moment the steam catapult let rip

Up until now most flight sim missions have been solitary affairs - you might have been given a token wingman for company, but he tended to just fly around being a bit useless. In FOTI you're part of a team.

You set off in a massive formation of planes (well, up to eight of them), with intruders underneath and Phantoms flying above. As you reach the target area everyone goes off and does their 'thang'. The Intrduers bomb things on the ground; and the Phantoms go hairing off after MiGs. Brilliantest of all, though, is that you can swap between the planes on the mission at will. Get bored with bombing things in your Intruder and you can just flick on the autopilot and jump into one of the Phantoms, perhaps in the middle of a dogfight.

Unfortunately every flight begins with a lengthy trek from your carrier to the target area - there is no facility for kicking off any closer. An accelerated time option more or less makes up for this, but it's bound to be picked on by the realism vs enjoyment brigade. Well, they're going to have to lump it, I'm afraid. This is a game that goes for ultra-realism above all else, although I didn't really notice the gameplay suffering because of it. True, just about every key on the keyboard does something - some of them two or three things with the help of Shift and Alternate And Okay, the instruments in your cockpit don't exactly shout out the info you're after.

The manual is hopelessly techie and disorganized too. But (but!) you needn't panic. Everything that's in the least bit worrying can be switched off - from the collision detection to your fuel consumption - and you can always let the autopilot take care of the tricky bits until you're feeling up to the job.

And then there are the graphics. Needless to say they're pretty damn good. They're a bit lacking in the mountains department (there aren't any, not even crummy pyramid ones), but are fast and beautifully detailed. Where else would you find contrails streaming from your wingtips as you turn, and smoke pouring from your exhausts? And I was impressed to note that the power station I was enlisted to destroy on one occasion actually had doors and windows. It brought a tear to my eye. I'll tell you.

There is, of course, a fully battery of 'views', as well as the standard out-of-the-cockpit views (in all directions) there's also a chase-plane view, a fixed external view, a satellite view, a missile view, a target view and a carrier view, all of which can be moved around freely.

There are also facilities for recording parts of missions on video and taking photographs, although I haven't quite managed to work out yet.


It beats everything else hands down on realism

You're probably expecting a hefty 'but' around about now, aren't you? Here we go. For a start, the game's not quite as bug-free as one would hope. Strange things happen when you're low-flying (whole buildings lifting themselves into the air, say, and what about the mysterious force which keeps pulling the nose of my Phantom upwards? Perhaps that's just what Phantoms do, but it seems a little odd). These 'quirks' are easily forgiven, but they really shouldn't be there at all.

The other problem you may find is with the limitations imposed upon the game by historical accuracy. The fact that the Intruder's such a dull lump of a plane, the Phantom's lack of a gun making missile-only dog-fighting a tricky business, the Rules Of Engagement that mean you can't bomb most SAM sights (!!) because you might kill Russian technicians stationed there - all help with the Vietnam-esque realism of the missions, but limit it rather as a game.

Still, that said, FOFTI had me gripped from the moment the steam catapult let rip. It's one of the most involving flight sims I've come across, giving the real feeling that you're flying a warplane. You can play it as a shoot-'em-up, but the potential's there if you're after something serious.

THE HIGHEST FLYING SIM
So it's a smashing game, then. But how smashing? This is the bit I've been dreading - the bit where I have to decide where Flight of the Intruder stands in the flight sim league table. While it's certainly an advance over Falcon, and beat everything else hands down on realism, it's not as instantly playable as F-15 II or Thunderhawk and needs hours of manual-studying.
Very much an enthusiast's game, then.

The fact that it's so thoroughly mucked up its timing as to quite roundly miss even the video release of the associated film has to count against it though as does the less-than-thrilling flying ability of the A-6 particularly. But look, I don't care. It's that formation flying stuff that really does it for me. I'm going to take a deep breath, shove a stout book down my trousers and say that while it's nowhere near as technically impressive, I enjoyed it at least as much as F-15 Strike Eagle II


WASN'T THERE A FILM OR SOMETHING?
Flight Of The Intruder began life as a best-selling book by a chap called Stephen Coonts about five years ago. The book sold rather well, so a film was made of it. That didn't do terribly well, as just as it was about to be released in this country things started hotting up in the Gulf and the distributors reckoned it would be more tactful to quietly forget about it. It's just come out on video, though, if you fancy watching it, but don't get too excited - it's not very good. There are some spectacular (computer generated? They look too 'clean' to be actually filmed) flight sequences in a 'Platoon meets Top Gun'-style, but the plot is real predictable stuff and actors Danny Glover and Willem Dafoe are given little to do. Avoid.
EYES OF THE INTRUDER
Dials, dials and more dials. That's what faces the pilot. Here's a quick run down on what to expect...
Flight Of The Intruder: User interface explanation
  1. Landing gear lights. How's that for attention to detail?
  2. Your HUD, otherwise known as Head Up Display
  3. Airspeed dial. Be warned, burning away at full throttle will soon leave you fuel-less.
  4. The Altitude Director Indicator
  5. The compass. Erm, not much else to say really.
  6. The altimeter is always something to keep an eye on. (Planes and ground do not mix).
  7. The combined moving map/radar.
  8. The RPM Gauge, and below that the ILS (Instrument Landing System).
  9. Toggle indicators, indicating, ooh, all sort of things.

Flight Of The Intruder logo

The likes of Falcon, MiG-29, and Microprose's F-15 games have taken the flight sim just about as far as it can possibly go on the Amiga.

After all, there are only so many views and missions that can feasibly be created, and the only other way games can advance are in the speed of their update. Following this trend, Mirrorsoft's Flight Of The Intruder offers absolutely nothing new, but still ranks as one of the better Amiga sims to hit the machine.

In addition, it also proves that, even after the likes of Hunt For Red October, Team Yankee and The Fourth Protocol, not all book-based games turn out to be real stinkers.

Based on the Stepen Coonts' (an unfortunate name, that) book of the same name, Flight Of The Intruder offers the player complete control over the Intruder plane and the equally-impressive F4E Phantom. Both of these have different specifications and handling, and whilst the Phantom is more suited to interception missions and the Intruder to bombing raids, both are easily interchangeable to ensure that flexibility is maintained.

After logging on as a novice pilot, a number of options appear from which the game can be moulded to your liking and skills. The difficulty of the missions range from simple attack sequences where you are supplied with unlimited supplies of both fuel and any weaponry, to much harder attack missions where enemy installations and buildings must be destroyed.

After selecting which of these you are brave enough to attempt, the game then switches to the customary view from the plane's cockpit. The HUDs for the Intruder and Phantom differ slightly, but the controls are very similar and only differ slightly in their capabilties.

Control is via the mouse or joystick, although I must admit that the latter was infinitely preferably over the finicky and over-responsive mouse controls - after all complete control is half the battle.

After leaving your carrier, it's time to take to the skies and engage the enemy. Each of the HUD displays keeps you briefed on your altitude, speed and climb, whilst other lights and panels inform you of the proximity of enemy planes and the numbers of chaffs and flares remaining. In addition, the usual array of warning lights and computer displays are present.

Similarly, your weaponry is equally well-stocked, with a full range of suitably offensive missiles and guns, including fly-by-wire missiles and the ever-present heat-seekers. Thanks to Intruder's relatively fast frame update, these action scenes are particularly effective and generate more excitement than most others in the genre - adding to an already impressive sim.

The nicest thing about Flight Of The Intruder is its adaptability. The game is appealing to both novices and old-hands alike, and it also benefits the user by updating the missions and adding more realism and details as the player gains proficiency. Everything about the game is smooth and polished - just as we have come to expect from Spectrum Holobyte - and, despite my grumble about the lack of anything really new, which, admittedly, is a probe associated with the genre, Flight Of The Intruder will keep all you would-be Top Guns busy for a long, long time. So do yourself a favour and rush out and buy this superior 'game-of-the-book' sim.


THE INTRUDERS NOSE YOU KNOW The A-6 Intruder is often laughingly called 'The Tadpole' due to its unusual squat-nosed shape. However, within this bulbous cone, lies a host of TRAM, Target Recognition Attack Multi-Sensor) computer which are used for the detection of oncoming targets. Also, positioned above the nose-cone is a large hook-like device which sticks incongruously in front of the pilot's cockpit. This is actually a stubby air-refuelling probe which allows the plane to take on extra supplies both quickly and with minimal spillage. In all, two men are responsible for the A-6 during missions, the team consisting of the Pilot and his BN (Bombadeer Navigator) both of whom are suitably equipped with G-Suits, and assorted survival kit should anything go wrong.