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SummaryA sense of authenticity that's rare to this day
The GoodI loved this game when it was new in the 1990s, and it's still impressive today. The flight model that takes account not only of energy (no manoeuvring if you're too slow), but also engine torque (unless corrected, the plane constantly tends to list to one side) and overheating (if you run at full revs for more than a few seconds).
Better yet is the limited-ammo feature. There's no way to tell how much ammo you've got left, until suddenly your guns just stop firing. If you're anything like me, that will make you play - conservatively. No just blazing away on the remote chance of hitting a distant target, and often I'll use the option to fire only a few guns at once.
Playing as a Jap fighter pilot is challenging. On the one hand, you have the sheer joy of manoeuvrability that your enemies can only dream of. But on the other, there's an acute sense of vulnerability - even a short burst from a Wildcat can finish you. Particularly later in the campaign, when Corsairs and (worse) Hellcats start to appear, the sky begins to feel a very scary place. Surviving the full 30 missions in a Zero is a real challenge. I may resort to changing the difficulty settings mid-campaign (yes, you can do that).
Conversely, as an American, in the early game you'll be cursing the slow, lumbering Wildcat compared to the graceful ease of the Zeros. When you get to fly the later planes, there's a real upgrade.
What it adds up to, for me, is an almost horrifically authentic 1940s "feel". This is *old* technology, and it feels like it. The graphics help to
The BadLittle. Landing is ridiculously hard, particularly on a carrier. In theory you're supposed to be able to land, refuel and rearm during a (defensive) battle, but I've never managed it.
And the bombing missions, while sharing the same 'authenticity' feel, can be pretty anti-climactic. You dodge and fight your way past the enemy fighter cover, drop one bomb (which almost certainly misses), then dodge and fight your way back again. Torpedo runs are similar, but with the added twist that you can't even know if you've hit the target until about a full minute or more after you've launched.
No matter what you do, you can't influence the outcome of the battle or the war. Even if you fight off the American attacks at the Coral Sea and Midway, the Americans will still somehow win those battles and go on to win the war. Again, probably accurate - one pilot alone probably couldn't have made a difference - but frustrating.
Finally, there's no personalisation. It'd be nice to be able to at least give yourself a name.
The Bottom LineA beautiful period piece. Try to look past the obvious limitations of its age, and enjoy the real sense of danger, of improvisation, of making the best with what you're given.
In campaign mode, if you get shot down (or even run out of fuel) and fail to bail out, or bail out in the wrong place, that's it - game over, your pilot goes up in the hall of fame with whatever score he's achieved at that point, and you don't get to do the mission over. That gives me a greater sense of investment in the character than any amount of personalising one's name and appearance.