MiG 29 Super Fulcrum logo

MiGs are no longer feared by the F15-flying West. But with Domark's Superfulcrum it's software houses that better beware.

When Mikoyan rolled out the MiG 29 a couple of years ago the West was impressed. When Domark rolled out a sim based on the aircraft, Amiga owners were impressed. So was Amiga Format who gave it 91 per cent and a Format Gold. But since then Mikoyan has upgraded their fighter and so has Domark.

The first thing you'll notice (apart from a swankier loading screen) is you have four options of the number of colours and screen lines. This plays off visual appeal against speed. If you want the smoothest, quickest update you'll forfeit colour and detail but it does make a noticeable difference. Once selected, the set-up stays until you reboot.

Flying high on the campaign trail
MiG-29M actually gives you a complete war to take part in, whereas the original game just had six missions which you could play in any order. A map flashes up and you are plunged into a campaign. If you beat them all you could fly a tougher, previously inaccessible mission. There are several enemy airbases, a truck convoy and a large number of buildings. All these are legitimate targets, but before you belt off to attack them you should first log on as a named pilot.

You can also alter your weapon payload, choosing between air-to-air and air-to-surface missiles. Once you're happy it's time to you.

The cockpit display is similar to the original. The noticeable difference is the greater ground detail. A control tower (with associated radar buildings) sits to your left and an evil range of mountains glint in the distance. Full power sends you howling down the runway. Pull up at 400 km/h and... nothing happens, not unless you select ALT-J before your first flight, otherwise the computer won't recognise the joystick. It's irritating at first.

Once in the air, the MiG handles like a dream. It's more powerful than the original, and feels livelier. Throw it around and you'll soon find out that the program is also smoother and more responsive.

Two yoghurts and a pint of Fulcrum
The first mission pits you against a lone fighter which takes off from a base about five minutes flying time away. As you scramble you will find the chap on your long-range radar. You can head straight towards him and hope you get a lucky hit or you can vector around and intercept him from behind. This is a neat trick if you can pull it off without letting him know you're there. A missile right up the engines will soon see him spinning into the ground. As he goes down you see chunks of his aircraft departing from the airframe.

This is easy enough if you can keep your wits about you, but as you come up against other aircraft, you realise that instead of just flying around you in wide circles, the enemies in MiG-29M employ proper air-to-air combat manoeuvres such as high-G turns, Immelmanns and scissors interceptions. It's as real as it can get and as you learn, it gets more fun.

Kill the fighter, though, and you will end up in the vicinity of his base. It's a nice juicy target so you may as well hit it with an air-to-surface missile. Lock on to a hangar and fire when ready. With today's high-tech weaponry, it's as easy as that (no wonder the Gulf War was won so easily).

Evade, adapt and hopefully survive
The colour/screen lines selection system is a master touch, allowing you to play either a quick-fire, highly-responsive game (without too much ground detail) or a scenic exploration of the map. The scenic route is still very playable and unless you've just been playing on the faster level, you might not even notice the difference in speed.

The game retains the original's all-round outside views and even has a missile view which lets you ride your hardware right until the moment of impact. There is also an enemy-view mode, which puts you in the opposing aircraft's cockpit. You can't see his instrumentation, but you can see his HUD, targeting system and his speed and altitude.

If you are using this mode to cheat, that's all you need to gain an unfair advantage. You can still control your plane so it is possible to carry out all your evasive manoeuvres whilst watching from the other plane.

One niggling problem which Domark have carried over from MiG 1 is the target selector turns itself off after about 20 seconds (or after you launch a missile), so you have to re-engage it. If a real MiG does this then it is a realistic feature, though.

This is a minor criticism though. MiG-29M Superfulcrum is an excellent simulation, and definitely improved on the original. Graphics, speed, gameplay and the war-game scenario all add up to flying around in a brilliant type of Russian aircraft type of experience. It is easy to get into and very deep when you do. What more could you ever want from a flight sim?


LET SLIP THE DOGS OF WAR

The MiG-29M is a fighter aircraft. So its air radar is the best that the Russians have got. It's an aircraft-killer. In the game you can select different weapon configurations to tailor your payload for the type of mission you'll be flying.

AA-8 Aphid
Stupid name, lethal weapon. A heat-seeking air-to-air missile. When you get a red-lock (the missile box turns red) it's telling you to fire now while you are in a good position. The missile launches Mach 3 and can easily out-turn the enemy. So wait a few seconds and you should have a kill.

AS-7 Kerry
This air-to-surface heat-seeking missile looks for the nearest ground target. It's accurate but hardened buildings won't be destroyed by just one, so on a strike mission, take as many as you can carry and try and outrun any fighters you meet rather than engage them with the cannon.

Cannon
The GsH 23mm is seen on many Soviet fighters. It fires wherever you point it, so if you're aiming at other planes, you'll have to get really close and be really accurate.

S-240
Unguided rockets which destroy any ground target. Useless against other planes (unless they're on the ground). You can see where shots are going, so you can 'walk' fire along the ground and onto the target. They're best at close range (nearer than 2km). You've got 36 so don't waste them but they do create very pretty explosions.

MiG 29 Super Fulcrum
  1. Angle of attack/ G meter
  2. Compass
  3. Artificial horizon
  4. Speed
  5. Heading
  6. Waypoint direction
  7. Baddie
  8. Altitude
  1. HUD
  2. Vertical speed
  3. Horizon indicator
  4. Radar
  5. Altitude
  6. Airspeed
  7. Engine Console

MiG 29 Super Fulcrum logo

Der Vorflieger dieser Simulation war ja eine echte Sensation - zum ersten Mal durfte man selbst ins Cockpit des "ewigen Gegners" klettern. Andererseits war nicht jeder West-Pilot von der sowjetischen Technik angetan...

Mangelnder Realismus beim Flugverhalten wurde Domarks erster MiG gelegentlich attestiert, auch über zu wenig Abwechslung wegen fehlender Missionsvielfalt sind uns Klagen zu Ohren gekommen. Noch dazu kamen zwischenzeitlich Super-Simulation wie "Flight of the Intruder" oder "F-15 Strike Eagle II" für den Amiga heraus - es gab also eine Menge zu tun für die Programmierer, sollte ihr neuer Russenvogel nicht sang- und klanglos untergehen.

Doch im Vergleich zur realen MiG-29M, die von ihren Ingenieuren mehr Schubkraft, einen größeren Tank und ein überarbeitetes Cockpit spendiert bekam, sind die Verbesserungen beim digitalen Gegenstück etwas spärlich ausgefallen.

Sicher, das Cockpit ist auch hier ein bißchen hübscher geworden, gleiches gilt für die Grafik während des Flugs. Andererseits hätte man die Karten durchaus übersichtlicher gestalten, die Menüpunkte etwas logische anordnen und die Zwischen-Bilder gefälliger digitalisieren können.

Aber dafür gibt es nun statt ein paar lumpiger Einzelmissionen eine groß-angelegte Kampagne, bei der sowjetische und UN-Friedenstruppen gemeinsam ein von Rebellen besetztes Land in Südamerika befreien müssen.

Neben den kleineren Scharmützeln am Rände sind vier Hauptaufgaben zu erledigen, also beispielsweise dem Feind die Versorgungslinien abschneiden und sein Hauptquartier vernichten. Die Bösewichte wehren sich mit F-16 Jägern, Huey Cobra Hubschraubern und diversen Boden-Abwehrstellungen. Man selbst fliegt freilich auch nicht unbewaffnet durch die Gegend (vier Waffensorten), außerdem erhält man Unterstützung von seinen Kollegen, die sowohl in der Luft als auch am Boden tätig werden.

Ausstattungsmäßig gibt's einen Kartenscreen à la "Falcon" für die Einsatzplanung, wo Wegmarken festgelegt werden können, sowie diverse Piloten- und Waffenauswahlmenüs - bei letzteren ist allerdings nur das Auswechseln der kompletten Konfiguration möglich.

Des-weiteren dürfen sich Jungpiloten über ein "Selbststabilisierungsgerät" und einen einfacheren Flugmodus freuen; alte Fliegerasse düsen dagegen "realistisch" und auf Wunsch auch im Zeitraffer-betrieb über die Vektor-Landschaften. Schließlich kann man die ganze Kampagne auch einfach ignorieren und per Datalink gegen einen Freund antreten, was zweifellos viel Spaß macht.

Fassen wir zusammen: Am Amiga besticht die neue Super-MiG in erster Linie durch die sehr guten Steuerungs-möglichkeiten und das originelle Szenario, die Grafik und vor allem der Sound (Musik und FX) haben uns hingegen am PC weit besser gefallen.

Insgesamt also eher eine Einsteiger-Simulation, die leider nicht in allen Punkten voll überzeugen kann - schon gar nicht beim "abgehobenen" Preis von knapp 130 Märkern! (mm)



MiG 29 Super Fulcrum logo

To keep up with the inexorable advancement of technology, Domark have heavily updated their well-known MiG-29 sim. But what real difference does an 'M' make?

It may seem slightly odd for Domark to be releasing another MiG-29 simulation less than a year after their original game of very nearly the same name, but there is some justification. Since the first fighter game - simply MiG-29 Fulcrum - popped onto our screens, the aircraft's Russian manufacturer Mikoyen has built a faster, more advanced machine called (you may have guessed by now) the MiG-29M Super Fulcrum. And it makes a pretty sexy subject for a flight sim - the plane is as good (f not better) than anything the Americans have got, by all accounts; it's got an air of mystery about it, and it's fun turning the tables on the normal flight sim set up where MiGs are depicted as cannon fodder, flown by horrible Communists or the pawns of brutal Middle Eastern dictators.

There's a problem with this, of course. I mentioned that the plane's got an air of mystery about it, but that's understating it a bit - I don't suppose anybody outside of the Soviet airforce, the CIA or similar really know all that much about it at all. It's hard to simulate something when you don't know what it can do, which means guesswork is going to come into things rather more than is ideal.

A big problem for programmers Simis, then, despite their British Aerospace backgrounds - until you realise that the guys at MicroProse or wherever never really know all that much about the real capabilities of western fighters either. No matter whose sim it is, we have to take a lot on trust and treat it as a game, which is what it is. The bottom line has to be not how supposedly accurate or non-accurate it is, but how much fun it is to play.

WHAT'S NEW IN MILITARY JETS?
The problem with the first MiG 29 for people like us who are games players, not hardcore military hardware freaks - was that it was ultimately too techie and concerned with scrupulous accuracy, and not enough into being simple fun to use. The shortage of missions and severe lack of ground detail - all too often the flat blue sky and flat green ground made it look like nothing so much as a Speccy game - meant our interest flagged fast and we'd go looking for our thrills in F-15 Strike Eagle II, Their Finest Hour or F-29.

Hardcore flight sims tended to disagree though - despite the initially dull look it was actually faster and smoother than just about anything else, handled beautifully and had very realistic (in as much as any of us can tell what 'realistic' is) dog fights. A game more for the expert armchair pilot than the shoot-'em-up freaks amongst us, then.

So how's this new game different? Well, if you boot up both MiG games and play them side by side (the joy of having lots of office Amigas!) there's no doubting that the sequel boasts more power and speed than the first game - and that's actually saying something.

You've got a full electronic Head Up Display too - instead of the old (and quaintly old fashioned) analogue style instruments of the first game - and generally it comes across as a more sophisticated fly.

It's not just the plane that's been tweaked either. Instead of flying a set rota of missions, our pilot is now involved in a full scale military confrontation set in an South American country, threatened by some bully beef of a neighbour. As the war progresses so does his (i.e. your) role in the peace keeping force, the narrative link making each mission seem more involving because you know it all adds up in the general scheme of things. That this is an interesting twist on events, and a vast improvement on the first game, there's little doubt.

Perhaps more exciting however is the new two computer link option, allowing you to fly head to head combat against a mate. I could not actually get this function to work the time I tried it, but there's every possibility that I was just being crap, and forgot to put the right lead into the right socket or something. (Actually I have never yet been able to link two computers for a game without the whole operation turning into a fiasco). The manual is hardly illuminating on this subject so I gave up after a couple of hours of trying - let's just assume that it is really brilliant (which I'm sure it is), but that, like me, not many of you are going to take advantage of it all that often.


It makes a pretty sexy subject for a flight sim

LEARNING TO WING IT, MIG STYLE
There's a bit of a problem with reviewing flight sims at the moment - sooner or later you've got to draw the comparison with MicroProse's glorious F-15 Strike Eagle II, and not too many games come out of it looking any rosier than when they went in. Now it's MiG-29M's turn and, well, let's be frank, I don't like it anywhere as much as the MicroProse game.

It's not as shoot-'em-uppy, it's nowhere near as pretty and you don't get aa great a sense of being in control or (most importantly) of it being a friendly game to get into. For an average person into having fun with a flight sim I'd recommend the (five pounds cheaper!) Strike Eagle every time, while for the beginner I'd say hey, why not go for the ancient (but still jolly good) F/A18 Inteceptor at ten quid instead?

However, if you're either of these sorts of people, MiG 29M isn't really aimed at you anyway. This is for the plane buffs and technology freaks out there instead, and it has to be said that in technical accuracy it impresses at every turn. Super Fulcrum is a right handful at first, and just staying in the air is about the most you'll manage to do on your first few flights, but practice long and hard and you'll slowly find yourself getting drawn into it.

You'll have to put up with the fact that you're unlikely to be battling it out with baddies two minutes after leaving the runway (as you might be used to) or that all the navigation stuff has to be taken into account even if you detect that part of flight games, but - hey! - that's what flying a real plane is like I guess.

Unfortunately though, one old MiG 29 problem remains. The smooth and fast way the plane handles is still at the expense of the look of the thing - while it's been improved here, ground detail is still well short of what we've come to expect. Yes, you'll come across individual targets (obstacles like mountain ranges, navigational landmarks like rivers) but incidental detail simply does not exist. Even while you're flying at a reasonably low level you get the feeling that you're over an empty green wasteland, just the sort of things programmers were striving to avoid five years ago.

In fact, when you consider how entertainment driven Domark usually are, it's a very odd sort of product for them to be publishing at all.

A few traditional shoot-'em-uppy flight sim things I mess then: a) You can't tweak the enemy's level of competence. b) You can't give yourself unlimited ammunition and weapons. (Mind you, the standard weapons on offer do make up a fantastic set of fireworks). c) You can't access the map unless you're on the ground (This may be frightfully 'like the real thing', but it can make life pretty bloomin' irritating when you're just trying to have a little bit of fun).

However, quibbling about this stuff might be out of order - I do get the feeling that this game isn't really aimed at the likes of me at all. For the technically minded flight simmer this - even at £40! - could prove a very good by. The trouble is, it isn't a game that's been designed to be fun per se, and while many people will love it I suspect that some, attracted by the subject rather than the software, will be in for a rather confusing time.


SUPER FULCRUM: FIVE THINGS YOU NEVER KNEW
  1. It looks almost the same as the MiG-29 from the outside, because the external design is still considered to be perfect.
  2. The MiG-29 can compete head on with the best of the Western fighter alternatives. However, they're reputedly extremely difficult to handle, and poorly trained pilots often end up getting killed.
  3. The MiG-29 was originally designed nearly twenty years ago, after earlier MiG's had taken a bit of pounding in Vietnam. The Super Fulcrum should be in proper service within two or three years.
  4. The pilot of a Fulcrum can aim missiles by simply moving his head - there's a computer in his helmet (Blimey!).
  5. It has a flight ceiling of 56,000 feet and a maximum speed in excess of Mach 2.4 (i.e. pretty blooming fast).
DIAL M FOR MIG The initial reaction to any flight sim is 'What do all those dials and readouts mean? Well read below and you'll be ready for anything.
MiG 29 Super Fulcrum
  1. G Meter - This quite sensibly indicates the strength of G force.
  2. Artificial Horizon - Helpful when you don't know which way is up.
  3. Radar - The range can be altered, for a trade off between accuracy and distance.
  4. Airspeed - Speed of the MiG (a bit obvious, that one).
  5. Altitude - Oh come on, it's height above sea level.
  1. System status - Damage to various areas of the MiG are indicated here.
  2. Compass - Hey, how much help do you need?
  3. Weapon Stores - Check how many missiles you've got left before firing!
  4. Controller Status - Shows the alignment of the controls.
  5. Fuel/Thrust - It's always a good idea to know just how much fuel is.
  6. Accent/Descent - indicates altitude, and degree of angle.

MiG 29 Super Fulcrum logo

When the United States Air Force finally got their hands on a Russian MiG 29, they were blown away by its design and avionics, even more so when they heard the Soviets had already built its successor. Domark were also caught short, it meant their just-released MiG29 sim was already aged. Unperturbed by this, they girded their loins and approached programmers Simis to produce its sequel.

MiG 29 Superfulcrum keeps ahead of the time. In the game the MiG 29M has been unveiled to the world and loaned to the United Nations as part of a South American drug-busting force.

The missions follow a consistent storyline. First the drug runners' supply lines have to be cut, followed by the destruction of their airbases and finally their army. This plot works well in terms of generating interesting missions, but I don't think there's enough there to keep combat aces furnished with targets.

Domark have tried to address the problem of playing off detail against speed by incorporating user-definable detail modes. The game can be played with 32 colours and 256 lines on screen, or with 16 colours. For more speed the size can be taken down to 200 lines, again with 32 or 16 colours. This novel idea works very well, although the inquisitive mind will find itself constantly swapping between modes to see what the graphics look like.

As usual with Simis, the flight model for the MiG is impeccable. It handles extremely well. The graphics have been updated, and Domark claim that the game features fractals, although it appears that all this means is a few extra triangles in the mountain ranges.

Superfulcrum is a good follow-up to MiG-29, although it suffers from being rather similar. Once again, there's a comprehensive manual enclosed, this time on the world's top fighter planes, but the price Domark are charging does seem a trifle excessive. Still, if you haven't played the original MiG 29 and are after a challenging flight sim then take a good look at this.