Almost there! Less than 100 games needed to reach our MobyGoal of 1,500 documented arcade titles!

The Ancient Art of War in the Skies (DOS)

Published by
Developed by
Released
Also For
66
MobyRank
100 point score based on reviews from various critics.
3.6
MobyScore
5 point score based on user ratings.
Written by  :  David Bailey (14)
Written on  :  Feb 17, 2004
Platform  :  DOS

1 out of 1 people found this review helpful

write a review of this game
read more reviews by David Bailey

Summary

Strangely compelling game for its time.

The Good

Some of the mini-games where fun and in tense situations could seriously effect the outcome of the overall battle.

The battle flow was surprisingly good. Much like world war two, it was hard to lose a battle unless you just kept screwing up. (Or decided to play against Sun Tzu!) And hard to win a battle. Games could at times stretch on for hours. To me thats a good thing, but others might not think so.

I really got a kick out of some of the now dated looking animations between bombing runs, like one where it showed a little guy sticking his head out of a bunker to see if the bombers where coming back. The music was pretty fun too. Lots of little graphical and sound details helped the game seem better then it was. Such as the generals and air commanders talking during selection of your opponent. (Although Lupe De Lupe or whatever his name was annoyed me endlessly, Sun Tzu's "My Stlategy bends with the wind..." line stuck in my head till this day.)

One thing I did like about bombing runs was a pretty pointless but fun feature. One could blow stuff up that wasn't your target. If it wasn't a patch of ground, you could blow it up. Big holes in a forts wall? Why not. Trucks near a supply depot going poof? Go for it. That kind of freedom is something I miss when playing modern games, and it did seem to make a slight difference in how much damage you did! Nice eh?

Taking a key position after losing tons of bombers, and then holding it! That feeling when you know, "Yes! He ain't getting that installation back!"

The Bad

Bombing missions usually blew... (Get it? Huh?) Flak often was positioned in places so near your targets that if you had any more then three to blow up you usually could never take out the target completely. It was hard enough to actually hit a target with one bomb, so you where forced to carpet bomb in most cases.

Some damage usually helped, but a total "shock and awe" bombing run was just fantastic and in the case of a fort, almost required. Forts could prevent you from passing them unless they where nearly destroyed. Considering that some maps had a load of forts, bombing run could have been made a little MORE fun.

Also if you didn't play the mini-games, most of the time you got your butt handed to you. Skip a bombing run and your bombers got shot down or nearly, and didn't do much damage. If you didn't play dogfights sometimes an ace would die for no good reason up against a single rookie pilot.

In fact... Since about the only way to get an ace was to control the dogfight yourself and once they where one it didn't help all that much, actually bothering to get a flight of aces wasn't very useful.

Although it did depend on how you started the game. For example, if you wanted to have a good strategy game, select Sun Tzu or one of the slightly less insanely good ground AI and then select a stupid pilot to be your enemy air commander. That usually worked like a charm.

Highly repetitive. However most older games of this nature where. In fact most modern RTS games are repetitive. So can't mark it down much on this point.

The Bottom Line

This game is very hard to review because while it was fun to me when I used to play it, nothing about it would seem new to anyone used to modern RTS games. However, the combination of its many functions where and still are unique and I have yet to see any game reach this kind of play again. This does not mean it was a perfect game, but rather worth revisiting or playing for the first time if it is new to you.

The key to this game was a combination of simple strategy on a map and arcade action. Not a new combination for its time, but it was unique in that arcade and strategy both where real time. Nothing before or after combined these two things.

But before I get into that, lets talk basics. At the opening menu you could select to just play one of the many mini arcade games, (Dogfight, shoot down a bomber, be shot at as a bomber, or bombing runs of various shapes and sizes.) or step up to taking on a whole battle. The mini games where pretty basic. Some where more entertaining then others.

While I quite enjoyed the little side scrolling dogfights or bomber shoot down games you could play, the bombing missions usually where too tedious or downright near impossible unless you where playing a battle and approached them correctly. If for some reason you run across a copy of this game, my advice is to play all of the different types of arcade game settings, and learn what is easy and hard for you. Then once you know your limits, play a battle.

This game was billed as "Fun for the whole family!". The reasoning behind this was two or three people could sit down and play a fairly hard strategy game, that included arcade sequences that effected the outcome of the strategy game. To understand how these mini-games fit into the picture I'll try to give you an idea of game play.

The game had several different types of buildings or rather installations. Airports, supply dumps, aircraft manufacturing plants and forts where the most important ones. There where also some smaller things, like bridges. You never actual bothered to control the direct battle plans. You couldn't order a charge up the line if you wanted to. However, you did have a tool for changing the shape of the war. Bombers!

*sigh* Sadly yes, the weak link in the game was also the most important. Bombers could fly in as many as three at a time to attack a target. Some targets where better protected then others and that was random. Some things that usually never went down on the first try, would be easy ever so often. Other times even a small unimportant installation would give you fits.

The two last, but most important things to mention are the front line, and your HQ. If the enemy ever moves the front over your HQ, your toast. He can bomb it too, but that only has a slight effect on the total battle. The real goal of every game is to take your enemies HQ.

Fighters are for defending. Most of the time your going to be using them to patrol the front to keep enemy bombers from getting your important installations. Sometimes your going to use them to escort bombers to a target, and rarely will you use them to patrol a specific target or to fly over an enemy airfield to challenge enemy fighters or to keep there bombers on the ground.

Simple really. But the real fun to me in this game was the total slug fest it usually turned into. Since you could select one of the many pre-designed battles, it took a while before you felt the need to make your own. If you did decide to do that however, it was not only easy but fun. Within ten minutes you had your new battle, named and saved and ready to rock and roll.

I suppose the real fun in this game was trying to balance out strategy with the mini-games, as most of my fond memories playing it where after a highly successful bombing run managed to knock out an important installation, and allowed me to move my front up at a fast pace to take it over, then shortly there after have it repaired and used against my enemy.

Basic outline for playing.

1. Bomb your enemies supply installations closest to the front, and protect your own. Then bomb the front line next to the nearly demolished supply installations. This will cause your lines to go through a short lived push, which may envelop the installations. If you can keep it away from the front long enough, it can be repaired and used for your benefit.

2. Try to avoid knocking out anything that doesn't effect the push of the lines, unless its a vital airport or fort. The reason? Forts have to be demolished, or else you can't pass em, and airports can be reused by you if you capture them. If you damage one seriously then take it, it will be useless for quite some time as even a slightly damaged airport can cause crash landings that not only destroy planes, but kill good pilots.

3. Try to shoot down as many of his bombers as possible. The less he has, the less damage he can do, and bombers take longer to build then fighters. Bomb your enemies airports to keep his planes on the ground or unable to land. Fighters are usually best to be avoided, however it never hurts to own the skies.

4. Watch out if your enemy bombs three or four tiles of front lines next to each other, and try to do the same if you can. If you somehow manage to have a few highly successful bombing runs all next to each other on the front, the lines will move and move FAST! Its a great way to take over installations that may be harder to destroy then to just move past.

Thats all there really is left to say. Good game. Ahead of its time.