Tuesday 19 June 2012


Look what I found on my shelf. ATF II - a two decade old "arcade" flight simulator for the IBM PC which I've never bothered to play. How does this masterpiece fare in 2012? I can't say, because I couldn't get it to run.

But that's okay, we can still experience the redundancy through this Amiga copy! What a glorious day for the world!

ATF II, or "Advanced Tactical Fighter" II (or "Airstrike USA" as it's known in the states... I'm not going to call it that), is much as you'd expect from a game of this nature - dated and confusing. Beyond the bloated menus lies a relatively simplistic concept - you pilot a jet fighter with the sole mission in life to destroy enemy aircraft and structures. The game is played on a global scale, with missions forcing you to fly around specific countries or continents to destroy enemy bases littered all over the world. Essentially it's a real-time strategy played in the skies... with turn-based elements too.

The game adopts a pseudo-3D approach - you can adjust your height and turn left or right, but you lack the freedom associated with more recent flight sims. You're also armed with a few types of weapon, and can perform various aerial tricks to keep things stable in combat. There's several "advanced" features, the user needs to use tactics, and the aim is to fight things.

Though I have been friends with keyboards for longer than gamepads, I have always struggled to adopt a early PC gaming mindset, and flight simulators have never kept my boat floating for more than a few minutes. ATF II is no different - having spent an abnormally long time figuring out how to take off, my first real attempt at the game ended in tragedy thanks to a lack of fuel. Apparently I didn't equip enough to get me more than a few metres. Why did these people let me out of the hangar?

Trial and error doesn't work well when you're attempting to liberate the world region by region. Crashing gives the enemy an advantage and makes your job harder on the next run, and if it weren't for the fact the game gives up on you after two tries, you'd be forced to reset to better your chances every time your day ended in disaster. And remember, this is just to achieve a basic level of control - you need to apply a brand new strategy for dealing with your foes. You can't always fly in there all guns blazing, but you can't play the waiting game either. To succeed in ATF II you need to know exactly what you're doing straight away and play a perfect game.

...except that's made more difficult by the fact there's an element of randomness to the level generation. So you can't make plans either.

Even though the box clearly says there's some "arcade action" involved, like all flight simulators you end up having to check a dozen different dials and consume half of the keyboard for optimal play. Though perhaps less complex than a "real" flight simulator, it's still expecting a bit too much for a game attempting 3D without polygons. We've completely missed the point of an arcade game here - arcade games are meant to be easy to grasp and exceedingly difficult to master, to persuade customers to insert more coins. Here, "arcade" seems to be a substitute for "fewer features", which likely means its a poor flight sim too.

ATF II is also pretty unremarkable when it comes to graphics and sound - something the Amiga is meant to excel at. It's slightly more comfortable on the IBM PC, as DOS games were usually a few steps behind the rest of the pack, but time hasn't been kind to this game over the last twenty years and nothing looks nice these days. Conversely the original ATF, a 1988 release for the Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum, seems to have fared a lot better. Nice job.

So it comes as no surprise that ATF II isn't a game I can recommend, nor is it a game I can adequately rate due to my inexperience with the genre, but it's still good to know this exists... I think.

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