Vietnam made tunnel rats famous, now Electronic Arts aim to give tunnel flies the same exposure. The fly in question is a Magic Fly, the only craft in the Universe that stands a chance of saving humanity from a fate worse than Vapona.
Deep within a disused mining planet, the Ceti Triad has gathered an army of inconceivable magnitude. It must be destroyed, but first information must be gathered about the spec of the Triad’s Moth fighter. No easy task when the mines run for miles and the heavily-armoured Fly guzzles fuel like Olly Reed drinks shandy.
As pilot, you must negotiate the maze of tunnels, scan every enemy craft and neutralise the communications centre, the planet’s reactor, the computer centre and the missile defence system. A simple job in comparison to the task of getting out of the complex once you’ve triggered nukes to trash the place.
The Magic Fly is as easy to pilot as it is to crash in the tunnels of planetoid of LB-400-21. ‘Zone flying’ the Fly automatically steers away from walls and turns corners without you touching a control. Manual flying is needed to steer the ship past obstacles or to catch an enemy. The joystick controls the ship’s speed and rotation, while mouse-driven HUD systems are employed for steering, shooting and scanning.
The need for power drives the game. Dotted throughout the complex are recharge docking bays which you drop into for a top up – it also serves as a game save point. Unfortunately they’re miles apart, so cautious flying is needed to avoid damage and excessive use of the weapons. And as a new Flyer you’ll need plenty of energy to repair all the self-inflected damage from the walls, blocks and craft in the labyrinth.
Flying while shooting or scanning is a basic skill fly guys need. Trolling around on auto’s okay, but is ineffective and boring. True fliers blast along using the HUD cursor to identify or kill opponents, as well as steer.
The Fly’s big secret is the turbo. Like any good go-faster extra it’s fun and potentially lethal. Hit the button and a countdown flashes. After five seconds you’re hurled down the tunnels at a ridiculous rate, escaping any pursuant but risking massive damage. The turbo not only takes five seconds to activate but needs five to disengage! Not much fun when a door looms, because if you can see it you’ve hit it!
Starting slowly, Magic Fly builds into an absorbing challenge. Piloting the ship on manual becomes increasingly difficult as the enemies multiply and the tunnels get more complex. It’s like a flight sim played indoors: pilots need patience and courage to choose the right route and survive. Will you blast or scan an opponent? Which way now? Do you run back to a fuel stop or head on, hoping? Questions which will determine the fate of the fly in one huge web of tunnels that seek to ensnare and kill.
GRAPHICS AND SOUND
Wireframe 3D ain’t the hottest concept on the gaming front but it’s never been used so effectively. The 3D map takes masses of getting used to, but it is an invaluable aid to navigation. Rotating images of scanned enemy ships gives you the chance of recognising what dangers they hold from a distance.
The variety and flexibility of screens is impressive. They allow pilots to choose between two main flight screens with key-press shortcuts for the information tables. While only wire-frame, the smoothness and the speed of the corridors leaves nothing to the imagination, just the way it should be.
It is sonically underwhelming so good pilots may hear little for hours. Bad pilots, on the other hand, hear the sound of their ship scraping the walls time and time again, an effect which soon induces nervous overreactions as you desperately pull away from collision.
Magic Fly is a lasting game. It has limited instant appeal, it’s awkward to control and builds slowly in pace. Once the library of saved games starts to grow, its appeal grows too. Thousands of different routes demand exploration, the enemy grows in menace the deeper you reach and each enemy is a challenge to scan and shoot.
As the arsenal on board of the craft grows, then so too does its potential. When ship is at full power, then and only then will you find the Moth and complete the mission.
Magic Fly has a quiet charm. Its magnitude as a game is only appreciated after you’ve tried and died a few times. To begin with any pilots are more dangerous to themselves than the Ceti Triad, yet with a little practice the balance shifts. You’ll know when to use the auto pilot and when to fly yourself, and more importantly how to reach the all-important docking bays for a refuel. Then the game switches from being an interesting 3D coding exercise into an immense challenge.
As indoor flight sim, it is never really exciting in the shoot-em-up sense. Instead it supplies tension as you negotiate the twisting tunnels destroying yet ore insect-like craft. The Triads will be safe for a long time in their subterranean retreat, but one day their defences will be yours to plunder. It’s a day worth working and waiting for.