HiSoft launch a serious contender

ProFlight logo

Publisher: HiSoft Price: £39.99

The mission plan seemed pretty simple. All I had to do was follow a tortuous course through the hills, avoiding enemy missile sites, at about 200 feet and 500 knots to the tiny building which was my primary target.
Once there, a simple matter of precision bombing would leave me the straightforward task of navigating my way back to base through a solid wall of seriously annoyed, and by now very alert, enemy defences.

All in a day's work for a Tornado pilot, I thought, and, tossing my white silk scarf carelessly over my shoulder, I winked at the ground crew, shouted "chocks away!" as an added touch of bravado, and powered off into the gathering dusk.

Things went well enough at first, and I slipped through the first line of missile sites without incident. After only a few more miles, however, I realised with a trouser-endangering shock that the flight planning map had not been entirely up to date.
Smack bang in my path there loomed a SAM site, and I heard the threat warning begin to whine in my ear.

Praying for luck, I flipped off the autopilot and wrenched my Tornado round in an accelerating turn, almost blacking out from the high G I was pulling.
Too late! The threat warning, by now doing banshee impressions, was suddenly blanked out by the roar of an explosion and the HUD flashed a damage warning.

No need to ask what had been hit, however, as the controls began to sag like someone had coated the wings with lead. I flattened out of the turn with difficulty, hit the deck at 100 feet, and punched the throttle for all I was worth, reaching 800 knots in no time. Then I noticed I had another problem - an airborne one.
The MiG was above me and on my seven o'clock, so I pulled up as sharply as the controls would allow, hit the air-brake to lose speed, and went into a yo-yo roll.
The manoeuvre worked! Unfortunately for mu opponent, he obviously had slower reactions than I, and before he knew I was now on his six, I'd sent a Sidewinder up his tailpipe, Scratch one bird!
All that was left for me to do was return to the correct flight path, finish my precision bombing attack, and nurse my damaged ship back to base. As I said, all in a day's work for a Tornado pilot.

HiSoft's first entertainment release may be a serious flight simulation, but as it revolves around one of the world's fastest warplanes, it also comes with a comprehensive combat option, allowing it to challenge F16 Combat Pilot and Falcon for the crown of the flight combat simulations.

ProFlight starts off on the right foot by concentrating on the Tornado which, as the fastest aircraft in the world at low level, is ideal for a flight combat sim. Fast flying and a healthy wadge of combat options carry the program along so well that it's possible to forget ProFlight is designed to be more simulation that stimulation.

From the word go the program was developed to be as realistic as possible, and was built around complex flight algorithms to match as closely as possible the feeling of flying the real thing.

I was relieved, therefore, to discover that my version of ProFlight supports analogue joysticks. The first version sold did not contain this feature, but owners of these copies can receive a free update from HiSoft if they register as a user before July 1st to send in those cards now, folks!

Without the analogue option, control is centred around the mouse which as a proportional device goes some way to providing realistic flight controls.
There is a digital joystick option for those with a perverse need to cripple the aircraft before it gets off the deck, but I wouldn't recommend it.

With an analogue stick, the armchair flyer has the best possible simulation of real aircraft controls, so the omission would have been a serious one, especially considering the realism angle taken by HiSoft. Please take note, software companies!
With analogue joysticks such as the Voltmace Delta 3A selling for only £17, there's no excuse for not providing for them in flight sims. Now I've got that off my chest, I have to admit that ProFlight flies like a dream, and both mouse and analogue joystick control works very well once you get used to it.
Digital joystick addicts might need some time to adjust, but with practice, both offer a much more sensitive and manageable form of control.

Once on the runway the pilot can configure his or her aircraft to make the level of realism, and hence flight difficulty, as high or low as required using the extensive autopilot option.

Flaps and stabilisers can be taken care of by the computer, as can a host of other tricky flight controls, to make life as easy as possible for the harassed pilot lining up for the final bomb run. It's even possible to have the autopilot take the aircraft all the way to the target via several waypoints, though it won't drop the bombs for you.

For beginners there's a crash inhibitor, so you can bounce the plane off the ground as hard as you please while you've still got your L plates. All in all, the extent to which the program can adjust to the individual pilot's needs is very gratifying.

Combat, rather than being a thrown-away concession for adrenalin freaks, is an integral part of the program, and includes a detailed mission planner, ground and air targets, and a campaign option.
The map area is very large and conveys the impression of space often missing from other flight sims. There's nothing like a "now leaving map area" message to burst the realism bubble.

Dogfights are very enjoyable, with enemy fighters acting intelligently and using tactics of their own. Locking on and firing a missile is not the end of a fight, as the MiG will often decoy your missile with chaff or flares. So towards the end of long missions I usually found myself having to resort to cannons, all six of my missiles having been used.

Bomb runs are also rather hairy, as many of the targets are protected by missile sites. This forces you to plan the final approach to a target carefully, so that exposure to SAMs is kept to the minimum. In some sims it's possible just to fly straight to the target and back again, but in ProFlight, mission planning means just that.

ProFlight's long term appeal is guaranteed if you're a sim buff, and it will be a big hit for people who enjoyed F16 Combat Pilot. Those who prefer the more simplistic flight combat games might give up at the prospect of having to master aircraft controls, or fly within the realistic limits of pilot and airframe.

Any serious gamer who perseveres with ProFlight, however, will be rewarded by a simulator that blends flight realism and excellent combat in a way that few can match.


Der gezähmte Tornado

ProFlight logo

Von feuerspeienden Drachen über "Adler" und "Falken" bis hin zu futuristischen Raumgleitern wurde schon so ziemlich alles simuliert, was überhaupt nur fliegen kann. Aber jetzt haben wir doch noch ein UFO entdeckt - ein unversoftetes Flugobjekt...

Genau genommen ist die "Panavia Tornado" natürlich die Entdeckung on HiSoft, einer Firma die bisher vor allem durch Anwendungen wie "Lattice C Compiler" oder den "Devpac Assembler" (damit wurde übrigens "Populous" gemacht!) aufgefallen ist. Und ganz genau genommen hatte die Panavia schon zwei Bildschrimauftritte, aber das eine Mal nur auf dem C64 ("Twin Tornados"), das andere Mal bei "Fighter Bomber" - und da fliegen sich ja alle Vögel mehr oder weniger gleich. Wer sich aber mittels einer absolut seriösen Simulation auf seine Wehrpflicht vorbereiten möchte, der sollte es mal mit HiSofts Bundeswehr-Maschine versuchen.

Tatsächlich sind die Einsatzmöglichkeiten der Panavia Tornado äußerst vielfältig, dieses Allroundtalent beherrscht vom Luftkampf bis hin zur Bombardierung von Bodenzielen praktisch alles - altgediente "Falkner" werden sich zumindest in dieser Hinsicht recht heimisch fühlen. Im Spiel wird aber wesentlich mehr Gewicht auf das Fliegen selbst als auf den bewaffneten Kampf gelegt; das merkt man schon beim allerersten Erkundungsflug: Statt einer feindverseuchten Landschaft kriegt man eine ganz normale Umgebung mit Bergen, Seen und Dörfern zu sehen.

Überhaupt geht es hier weniger ums Bumbum, hier ist Realismus Trumpf! Tag, Nacht, Dämmerung, originaler Sternenhimmel (in der Stellung vom 1. Januar), wirklichkeitsgetreues Flugverhalten (Strömungsabrisse und Black Outs inklusive), verstellbare Tragflächen, Autopilot - das einzige unrealistische, aber dafür sehr praktische Feature ist der vom "Flight Simulator II" her bekannte Slew Modus, so eine Art Beam-Funktion.

Gelegentlich darf man natürlich schon mal eine gegnerische Stellung bombardieren oder sich mit der Bordkanone bzw. den mitgeführten Raketen (zwei Modelle) zur Wehr setzen, aber ein explosives Spektakel sollte man sich auch dann nicht erwarten. Dementsprechend beschäftigt sich das 190 Seiten starke, englische Handbuch ebenfalls ganz überwiegend mit der Beherrschung des Fliegers und den möglichen Flugmanövern. Beherrschung ist auch bei der Maussteuerung angesagt, sie funktioniert zwar ausgezeichnet, ist aber sehr sensibel (mit Joystick fliegt sich es etwas schlechter).

Die brauchbare Vektorgrafik erreicht nicht ganz das Tempo von "F-29 Retaliator", zählt aber allemal zu den flottern Vertretern ihrer Art. Enttäuschend hingegen der Sound: Das Musikhören hat man Tornado-Piloten anscheinend verboten, und die Effekte reißen auch niemand von Hocker.

Insgesamt gesehen schließt Pro Flight aber eine Lücke zwischen den völlig friedlichen Simulationen "Blue Angels" und ihren überwiegend kriegerisch orientierten Kollegen. Allerdings zu einem doch recht aggressiven Preis - für 120 Mäuse bekommt man ja fast schon anderthalb Falken...! (mm)


ProFlight logo

As even its manual points out, ProFlight is hardly the most innovative game ever; it's a flight sim, and in all fairness there are tons of flight sims already available for virtually every known breed of home computer ever invented. (Even the BBC).

Actually 'tons' of flight sims is quite an appropriate collective noun to use because, as someone once said, you can tell how good a flight sim is by how much it weights.

ProFlight comes in at a slightly disappointing 1 lbs (700 grammes) though, so (as the theory concludes), it looks like it's little to get excited about.

The author explains in the blurb that his reason for writing such a game was that he wanted to create a flight sim that isn't stifled by the simplicity of others. And you must admit, he has succeeded. Here you get to pretend that you're piloting a Panavia Tornado, one of the fastest aircraft in the world, and yes, I can't deny it, it all seems extremely realistic. In fact, far too realistic.

Okay, let's play the game. First you select your way through a few menus (tweaking absolutely everything envisageable), give your plane the once over and a number of one-key presses later you're airborne. Now you can select the map, set a destination, flick on the auto-pilot, and sit back and relax.

The graphics are fast but not outstandingly stunning (you can have different around-plane views, though), so how about a glance at the manual to find out exactly what can be accomplished?

Here you'll find over 160 pages of information explaining everything from how to pull off various complicated manoeuvres (barrel rolls or stall turns, anybody?) to graphs illustrating the 'drag co-efficient' (whatever that is). The snag is, you see, that as pointed at before.

ProFlight is so accurate down to the very last detail that it has become more like a serious simulator real fighter pilots would use, and far less of an enjoyable computer game. More evidence backing this up is the combat option - it sounds pretty good but, unless you've had considerable flying practice, it's a joke.

For serious flight sim buffs with excessive amounts of patience, ProFlight will doubt be fulfilling their wildest dreams. But for everyone else? A bit of a nightmare, really.


ProFlight logo CU Amiga Screen Star

What weighs 30 tons, travels faster than the speed of sound and flies low enough to knock the chimney off your house? A Tornado IDS of course! The pride of the Royal Air Force and the world's top strike air craft.
Pro Flight from Hisoft gives you the chance to fly one of these multimillion pound military toys. And if that's not enough your given the occasional missile silo and enemy plane to blow up.

The package comes with one disk, a clip binder and a wad of hole-punched papers. After spending fifteen minutes clipping skin off my fingers with the binder's rings I finally rendered my DIY manual readable. It starts with a brief history of the Tornado followed by a quick start guide, control summary and everything else you need to know to fly a multimillion pound plane. Interspersed between the instructions and tutorials are sections such as the theory of flight and advanced flying techniques which, although not necessary to play the game, provide interesting reading.

The presentation is a let down. Each menu is explained in detail in the manual, though poorly presented in the game. F1 calls up the main menu table which is badly superimposed over the main display, meanwhile the game carries on and it's left to you to juggle the pause key and fly the plane.

My first feeble effort at piloting a Tornado was a resounding failure. Plowing into the ground at Mach 1 is highly inadvisable. After wandering through the game's various menus, I found the crash inhibitor option, which knacker-proofed my Tornado but did nothing to enhance my flying prowess.

The first challenge is keeping the plane in straight and level flight. The controls are so sensitive that it's all too easy to over compensate and go into an unrecoverable spin. After practising a few basic manoeuvres, such as turning without crashing, it's time to try some of the trickier stuff. The first advanced move you're taught in the manual is looping the loop which, for all the detail it's explained in, didn't prevent my loop from ending up as a Mach 2 power dive into a village.

The instructions recommend playing with a mouse instead of a joystick, words of wisdom I can vouch for. For a start, the mouse buttons are used to operate the rudder, joystick users have to keep reaching out to the keyboard every time they need to perform a turn. The mouse also allows you to easily compensate for pitching and banking, whereas digital joysticks cause all sorts of problems as you fight to stop a plane going into a flat spin.

All the dials and readouts are dear and easy to read, an essential feature of any flight sim. The control and feel of the plane is excellent. Banking and pitching is very easy, using the mouse gives you complete control. Once you are fully at ease with the controls and the way the plane handles it's possible to pull off some really amazing moves. This, coupled with the smoothness and speed of the graphics, make this one of the most realistic sims I have played.

It's obvious that a lot of thought and calculation have gone into the main simulator. Having only sat behind the controls of a plane once (and that was a single prop Cessna) I'm not the best person to judge a flight sim's realism, but this is how I imagine a supersonic aircraft would handle.

In real life a Tornado pilot doesn't have to worry about map reading as he usually has a co-pi lot for that. Unfortunately, you don't get a co-pilot in the box, so mission planning is down to you. Up to eight way points can be set before take off which designate primary and secondary targets as well as your home airbase and routes around objects you might wish to avoid. Although the presentation on this section could have been better, it's still easy enough to use and a necessary part of the game.

Pro Flight can be played with solid or wire frame graphics, the latter of which enables the game to run at maximum speed. Even in solid graphics mode the visuals are crude and interesting objects are few and far between. However, everything moves so fast that there's scant time for site seeing. The impression of speed and movement given by the graphics is incredible, contributing a huge amount to the games playability.

This is not a simulation for the trigger happy or faint hearted. It's a complex, detailed and accurate simulation of one of the world's top military aircraft. Pro Flight achieves all its objectives, delivering a top notch flight sim.


FAX PAX
1 The Tornado was designed for close air support, battlefield interdiction, counter airstrike, naval strikes, reconnaissance, air superiority and air defence.
2 A Tornado can go from its hanger to 30,000 feet in 1.7 seconds.
3 Its maximum take-oft weight is nearly 30 tons.
4 It can carry a total weapons bad of 10 tons.
5 The Tornado is used by the British, German, Italian and Saudi airforces.
6 The most famous Tornado users are 617 squadron, made famous by their World War 2 exploits when then bounced high explosives into German dams.
7 Despite being able to carry a larger variety of weapons than any other tactical fighter, at ground level it's the fastest plane ever built.
8 By utilising its Terrain Following Radar the Tornado can fly on auto pilot at heights below 200ft.
9 Should they become damaged, a Tornado's engines can be replaced in less than 45 minutes.
10 The Tornado is the only plane in the world capable of carrying the JP233 area denial weapon.
LIKE A HURRICANE
During Gulf War the Tornado attacked airbases and were technically flying below sea level along dried up river beds and lakes. The Tornado was developed by Britain and Germany to be the ultimate all-weather multi-role fighter. With its Turbo union RB199 running flat out a Tornado can obtain speeds in excess of Mach 2.2, although it's designed for slower low altitude flight. The IDS version is designed to fly under enemy radar and deliver its deadly payload deep inside hostile territory.
It's capable of carrying a huge variety of weapons, ranging from 281lb practise bombs to 500 kiloton nuclear devices. For defence purposes every Tornado is equipped with a Marconi ARI 23246/1 Sky Shadow ECM unit which can detect and jam many different types of radar emission.
The first combat outing for the Tornado came in the Gulf war, where they were used to attack enemy airbases. By utilising their fly-by-wire radar, Tornado pilots where able to fly their planes along low-lying wadis, which meant that they were actually flying below sea level.
UP, UP AND AWAAAYYY
The Royal Flying Corp evolved from the Royal Balloon Regiment although it wasn't considered as a military branch until April 1st 1918, when it became the RAF.
By 1939 over half Britain's military spending went to Bomber command which made up just over half of the RAF. Their investment paid off. During World War 2 more U-boats and enemy shipping where sunk by the RAF than by the Royal navy.
During the latter part of the war metals such as aluminum and iron were scarce, so cooking pans, railings and shot down enemy planes were all melted down to replace lost aircraft. Unfortunately for the RAF, pilots weren't so easy to come by.