The good old flight sim. A genre almost as old as home computing itself, this type of game always attracted a hardcore fan base. There were, and still are, people who relish the opportunity to immerse themselves in completely authentic flying experiences - people to whom accuracy is more important than appearance.
An equally large number of game players, however, found the whole genre deadly full. Ground details were bland and unconvincing. There was no sensation of motion, and so-called dogfights often boiled down to electronic combat with specks on the horizon.
Then TFX came along to make the skeptics sit up and thing again. Developed originally for the PC, it featured convincing ground terrain, fluffy 3D clouds, satisfying explosions and gorgeous, state-of-
Now, Digital Image Design have unveiled TFX for the Amiga. Possibly the most demanding piece of software your machine has ever had to cope with, we test fly the state-of-
TFX stands for Tactical Fighter Experiment, a fact which should remind prospective buyers that this is not just a flashy visual feast, but rather a very serious simulation.
There are three hi-tech planes to choose from: The Eurofighter 2000, the Lockheed F-22 or the F-117 Stealth Fighter. Each one handles differently and possesses different armament capacities.
Several varying modes allow for different levels of action and involvement. To start with, the arcade mode is a bit of no-nonsense fun that sets the player off right in the middle of the action. The plain object here is to compete for kills against the clock and work your way up the hi-score board.
In preparation for more serious challenges, ten training missions must be successfully completed. This should give players a good introduction to mastering the navigation and weapon systems.
Once players prove themselves to be up to the job, they can take on the role of pilot flying for the United Nations in a large variety of missions. Alternatively, they may wish to test their skills against all the different flying conditions in the simulator mode.
Combat is realistic yet exciting. You'll find it very difficult, for example, to bring anything down with a chain gun, but tracking MiGs with the right missile isn't too tough.
The copy we had did still have some bugs, most of which were minor. One of the worst was the Chinook helicopters - the models had been imported incorrectly, leaving them distorted in design. DID are aware of these flaws so hopefully they will be swiftly corrected.
TFX is highly configurable, so it's possible to mess with various options during flight. For example, players can alter how strictly the laws of physics are applied to their aircraft.
Similarly, adjustments can be made to the level of G-force effects the pilot will suffer. Set it to maximum and some players will find it too restrictive - any manoeuvre seems to have the pilot blacking out and breathing heavily.
Having read how demanding TFX is as a piece of software, you may be wondering what the minimum amount of kit is to get it running properly.
The bottom line is that it can be played on a basic A1200 - just about - but you will have to turn down the detail to its minimum setting, which means missing out on some of the finer touches. Having said that, it still looks better than the opposition in most respects.
If you've got an accelerator things start to get more impressive, and the more fast RAM available the better. There's also an FPU version, so if you're lucky enough to have an accelerator fitted with a maths co-processor you should be set up for a pretty stunning experience.
Whatever your machine's specifications are, however, one thing must be stressed if you want to enjoy playing the game: It needs an analogue joystick. While there is an option to use a digital joystick or keyboard, this seriously undermines the smoothness of control, especially when flying the planes at high speed. For whatever reason, the digital controllers can't keep up with the graphics.
Forget the empty, flat landscapes and the basic block-
From the moment the player starts the engines up, there are significant differences between the look of this game and the standard sim fare. The skies in TFX have space and depth, and once airborne, the player has a panoramic view of patchwork fields or detailed cities beneath them. It is a far cry from the blue sky, yellow desert simplicity of some flying game.
Missions can take place in a range of conditions including day, night and dawn flights, and players may encounter cloud cover or even storm weather accompanied by sheet lightning.
The visual realism gives each mission a different flavour. Night-
Cross over enemy gun installation and the air is filled by streams of rising light as tracer bullets track onto your aircraft. At times it can be breath
Stormy conditions are gloomy and grey, with the most convincing clouds seen in any game I've played yet. As you pass into them the view outside the window gradually mists before becoming completely obscured.
Explosions, special effects and fancy camera views are offered as a satisfying reward for honing those flying skills. Physical danger is represented by more than a flashing warning light in the cockpit, as AA guns pump the skies full of clouds of shrapnel.
It may not be politically correct, but the kill is what a game like this is ultimately about. It's rewarding, therefore, that explosions are impressive and that it's easy to view any victim going down. Players can launch missiles and watch them streak off leaving a trail behind, then they can change to the missile's view to watch it close in on the enemy.
When it comes to different view sin general, TFX is better equipped than any rival as far as impressing your mates is concerned. One mode allows you to look in any direction from the cockpit (as opposed to the usual left, right and behind view), but the best is the fly-by shot which brings your fighter swooping impressively towards the camera.
Cockpit detail is high, with all necessary indicators being visible from the normal cockpit view. There are three screens on which a huge range of information displays can be selected, so the purists should feel well catered for.
The important thing to realise, unfortunately, is that TFX can only be seen in its full glory if played on a fast, powerful machine, because basic A1200 users will find the screen update too slow with the game detail turned up high.
Most players will probably be able to play TFX with medium detail. This means going without a few frills, such as emblems on a fighter's tail
For a long time, Microprose were the developers the sim fanatics put their faith in. One of the first game makers to introduce combat missions into the genre, their product's playability was always strong, even when the graphics were rather dull.
Featuring a stealth bomber as one of its planes, TFX bears comparison with Microprose's F117-A. Accuracy levels seem to be pretty much the same, but when it comes to the graphics department the Microprose game is old, and it looks it.
The closest rival technically to TFX has got to be Tornado. Featuring some stunning graphics, unprecedented accuracy and involving campaigns, it remains a very impressive game.
TFX surpasses its predecessor in most respects, however, simply because it combines even more detailed graphics while making improvements on the running speed. In short, DID have produced the best Amiga sim ever.
Try before you buy
As has been mentioned elsewhere in the review, minor bugs cropped up here and there, but generally they were no great cause for concern.
More worrying is the fact that our copy of TFX did not seem stable running on a basic A1200, thanks to regular crashing in the middle of the game. DID are aware of the problems and have made assurances that any problems will be resolved before the product hits the streets. The cautious among you, however, may like to see it up and running before you splash any cash.
Let's start with the bad point - the music. Imagine you've just bought the ultimate flight simulator boasting an unprecedented level of realism and excitement, and you're looking with anticipation at the introductory screens in preparation for the experience of Tactical Fighter Experiment.
In come the martial drum sounds sim games use to get you keyed up for the mission. So far so good, but as you prepare to arm your fighter with the latest deadly hardware, things on the music front start to go ludicrously wrong. Enter the noodling tinny noise of a theme played on a 1983 Casio.
Not that this matters one iota, but it made me laugh. Otherwise, the game's audio is proficiently handled, with plenty of varied effects to flesh out the atmosphere for the game.
A number of voices pipe up with information for the pilot during the game, including the girl with the home counties accent at take-off ("engines on!") and the redneck yank who, when you shoot a plane down, tastefully jeers "toasted bogey!"
Bay doors, the brakes and landing gears all make a satisfying hydraulic groan when activated - small touches maybe, but ones which make the game that bit more convincing.84%
TFX was originally designed with the fastest, mega-buck PCs in mind, so there were understandable doubts as to whether a conversion was worthwhile for the much cheaper, and in some respects less powerful A1200. So now that's finally here, what's the verdict?
DID have pushed the Amiga to the limit in an attempt to bring us the best flight sim ever. They have undoubtedly done an excellent job, but whether or not TFX is for you will depend on a number of factors.
Firstly, the basic A1200 cannot show the game off at anywhere near its best - a point worth considering if you're only interested in those gorgeous graphics. Even so, with minimum detail it still looks good and the real sim fan will find plenty of depth and accuracy in the actual gameplay to occupy many an early morning.
The more powerful your Amiga is, however, the more impressive TFX becomes, and at its best it really can be quite stunning. With a suitably accelerated machine, this game has the visual flair and excitement to attract fans usually put off by the Sim-designers' fetish for complexity.
It's a shame that only the select few will be able to play the game in its best form, but DID can't be blamed for pushing the Amiga's capabilities to the limit. An outstanding sim in its own rights, there's a lot to recommend it to owners of lower-
Problems aside, this game beats its closest rival both in detail and in speed. TFX is the best sim on the Amiga of all time, and that's a fact unlikely to change in a long, long time.