Friday, July 12, 2019

A-10 Tank Killer: Central Europe 1

Remember when people made games about vehicles? Not jump into a random vehicle in an Battlefield kind of vehicle, just having a vehicle and then driving somewhere, before getting destroyed by an errant pistol shot. I'm talking an actual simulation of fighting in a vehicle. Are there even any of those anymore? It's like talking about commerical adventure games. I suppose the answer for all of those questions are "yes, there are some, but they're not as good as they used to be". I also don't really care too much.
The A-10 Thunderbolt II "Warthog" is a close-range, low-flying support fighter. Reading up on it, it sounds like a real nice piece of military equipment. Built like a flying tank. Certainly worth the 18 or so million each one originally cost. Compared to the disaster that is the F-35, this is something I'm glad to try out in the spaces of virtual space.

It works in Dosbox, straight off the CD.

It starts off with a nicely animated piece, for '89 anyway. Really jamin' music, too, a good sign the rest of the game is going to suck on that department. When the title screen pops up, I'm greeted to the slowest possible mouse movement.
Imagine 10 pixels a second.
It starts off like any good flight sim campaign should. You're introduced to the good ol' CO, Colonel Cord, your co-pilot*, and what to do with your aircraft so you can do more than crash into enemy tanks. In this case the Soviets. Characters are digitized, not something I expected around this point, but it is VGA, so I should've been expecting it.

Soon the smiling mug of Dracula shall grace about twenty computers.
After this, we're introduced to the weapons loadout screen. Which has very difficult to use controls. The keyboard seems non-responsive in this menu, so the missiles I get by default. The CO told me I needed a wide loadout and I have no idea what I am doing at this point. I feel like it would be a good idea to mention this before going into the sky, but I assume the manual had that information.
This loadout is perfect and I know exactly what I am doing.
Yep, yep, yep, I'm supposed to have a manual with this game. I do, but my manual looks terrible. Took a second, but the number keys control speed, the function keys control the view, and S, D, and M bring up various statuses. The CO is whining because I have no idea what I'm doing. Too high causes him to whine, not fast enough causes him to whine. This is a training mission, cut me a little slack you whining baby! And this is a plane, you can't possibly expect me to make a precision flight with it on the first go.
This game doesn't cut any crap if you screw up during the training mission either. It's straight off to the central Europe. Assuming you don't crash into the ground and die horribly. Your pilot dies and he is dead. Doing it with a little more grace, and with a manual. I get as far as shooting a single rocket and destroying a single target before smashing into the ground again. At least that mission over music is jamin'. After several more failed attempts, almost always on the Avenger machine gun against tank part. With the winning shot I blew through all my ammo, but used another missile on the last one. Still counted. The best part? I don't have to land the plane! Even better, when the next mission starts my loadout is automatically done. Its like I don't have to do all the parts I don't want to do. Except replaying the tutorial level. I could do it via the fly one mission, but I don't want to take the chance I'll miss something in the campaign.
This is just before I die horribly twenty times.
The second mission doesn't screw around either. Within seconds your wingman dies horribly after discovering some unforeseen SAM launchers, leaving you to take out three targets on your own. The Soviets aren't screwing around either. By the time it takes you to start your attack run as per orders, you've got to take out a few MiGs who are airborne. I managed to take out my two primary targets, a MiG, some tanks, who my wingman was supposed to take out before his accident. Would've gotten the secondary target too if I didn't hit the wrong building with an LGB**. I even tried using a Durandal, a pavement bomb, but I either couldn't lock on or didn't wait enough. I wasn't going to try another bombing run with another MiG flying around and SAM launchers.
Is there something wrong with your spine, colonel?
Mission three, we get thrust out thanks to a sneak attack. I blame this squarely on failing to take out the airfield the last time. I'm getting the hang of this. I'd have got it in one square shot if I remembered that I couldn't use a pavement bomb on a bridge. I also take out a HIND harrassing a supply convoy. War is won on the supply lines after all. But that's just accomplishing the primary and secondary objectives. Well, you know what, you damn commies? Its time to bring some freedom salad directly to your door. Open wide! Or that's what I would say if I managed to succeed in that plan.
We all knew that Riker would one day step out of Picard's shadow
Mission four, playing mother hen for a group of tanks. I have to protect them from Soviet ground tank killers, hence the mission's title, Mother Hen. Their objective is to punch through their SAM line so I can take out their supply depot. It's easier than it sounds. You've got four groups of tanks and a bridge you've got to protect.
They're fire and forget, buddy! I forgot!
There's nothing quite like accidentally firing on a friendly and seeing their final moments on this Earth. The realization that you just screwed up and someone's family is going to hate you forever. A court martial would surely await this incident in real life, but that would be nothing compared to the helplessness of the realization that you chose the wrong target and got to see a missile slowly kill several brave men and destroy millions of tax dollars. Even in a video game, this creates a kind of sickening feeling in your stomach. Fortunately, in a video game, I can take the pain away and make it right.
What did you do?
Because the map screen tells you what you're objectives are, even if you don't know it yet. You can use this to go ahead to things you haven't heard about yet. This time I go straight to the Soviet tank killers and knock them out, even getting one of their sam launchers. I almost get it, even a surprise addition enemy, but accidently discover that the Soviets brought more anti-air ordinance than we expected. I do it again, this time, perfectly, even turning around before hitting their killing zones. Movement sometimes doesn't work when you press the buttons. I'm not sure what that's down to, realism or bad coding. Sometimes I don't even realize I haven't changed my speed.
One day, I'm going to be in those things, and I'm going to curse when I see an A-10.
Every time a new element shows up in this mission, I die. I'm not ashamed to admit I quit out of DOSbox each time this happens, because I don't want to do the previous missions again. I don't really view it as cheating, since I'm not really getting any advantage out of doing this. I also check the manual more this time. It supposedly contains an interview with an actual A-10 pilot. It clears some stuff up on how I'm going to deal with this mission. I wasn't completely clear before on the height.
I too, care more about the fuselage than the ground.
Try, try, try again. I feel like this game makes it too easy to crash into the ground. Now, I'm not completely clear on how this is all supposed to realistically go down, but I feel confident I can say that I would notice the ground approaching me and know to get away from it. The game only offers the number to the right side and a beeping sound, a beeping sound that can easily be unnoticed while I'm gunning down something. Sometimes that doesn't even happen. Also, keep in mind, I died like twenty times and each time I restarted DOSbox, if I didn't, I'd restart the campaign. The problem is that in addition to having to destroy a bunch of anti-tank ordinance, on the first go, mind you, you have to dodge short ranged SAMs located in the hills. This wouldn't be a problem if I could A)Tell my buddies in the tank to eliminate them for me or B)Didn't have to deal with HINDs. I can't take out those SAMs without wasting munitions, and I can't take out those HINDs with SAMs on my behind. I'm guessing this kind of thing is in actual simulator missions.
That's all I had to do?
So, because I took out one of the SAM launchers so I'd have an easier time dealing with the HINDs, and then my CO tells me that the SAM line has been broken through and to bomb my primary target. You know, not to question the wisdom of anyone, but I can fly this sucker real low, like under 100. I'm just saying if this mission was just me solo breaking through a SAM line it wouldn't have been a very long mission. No, we have to bring tanks along. Not to question the game's logic either, but I wasn't aware SAM missiles could hit a plane speeding across the ground. In fact, I'd like to congratulate the Soviets for having such sharpshooting skills. I also think its impressive I can't gun them down from the ground either.
I wonder if real wars failed on such simple objectives as these.
Okay, we're not screwing up this time. I knock down their SAMs that are in my way, I kill everything attacking the tanks, I even stop another tank attack on a bridge. I finally get to the target free of attacking enemy forces...and I hit the wrong target. Twice. I finally hit the depot with some machine gun fire, but I'm taking on a lot of damage and that building's going to take a lot of damage. Time to take a partial failure.
I've been hit enough, thank you.
Mission 5, a deep strike mission. More the sort of thing you'd see in a video game centered around an F-16. As he mentions. Thanks to the A-10 being able to fly real low***. Compared to the relative clusterbomb that was the last mission, this should be easy. As long as my wingmen don't screw this up, it'll be smooth sailing. Oh, I'm one of the wingmen? Great. This is going to end badly. Col. Cord ends the briefing by telling me again I don't want to deal with a load of angry MiGs. I'm being punished for screwing up the last part of the last mission, aren't I?
You guys better not screw me over...
Smooth sailing for a little while. A bit of trouble keeping up with the AI, nothing special. I get told to blow up a platoon of tanks, and I accidently unload all of my Rockeyes, or clusterbombs. Should've been a visual indicator that you just launched a missile. Can't hear anything over the roar of three airplane engines. The base has six MiGs, nothing a few lucky Mavericks can't deal with...and I stall out. Again.
This somehow caused so many problems for me.
Here's where the game starts to fall apart. Whereas the last mission I could chalk up to extreme, if somewhat fair, difficulty, this one's difficulty is completely down to an interface problem. If another louder sound is playing, the only indication that a missile has launched is to hit the S key. On the first encounter with a group of tanks, you have enough problems trying to hit them in time. For some reason, the first Rockeye I launch always misses. This means I have to take out four tanks properly with Mavericks and Avenger fire. Okay, difficult, but less annoying. Destroying all the enemy planes before they take off. Not that hard. Getting back in formation before my flight leader goes to the next target without me and without stalling. More difficult than it sounds.
Finally, only another twenty times.
The final run on the supply base isn't perfect. I knock out most of the MiGs, but one of them gets away and kills the wingman. I get the MiG (and the vital SAM) while attempting to regroup with the flight leader. Flight leader shoves off leaving me to deal with the building myself. I could've done this on my own. Gosh.
This is potentially going to screw me on the next mission.
Mission 6, we are once again rushed out, this time to destroy some tanks. Solo. It'd be a barrel shoot if I didn't have so many problems stalling. Apparently I should've chosen the name Stallman for my character. A few more tries than it should have an I get a lot of tanks. Apparently not enough.
But colonel, I unloaded the entire cannon.
The final mission of the first campaign. Sam Slam. So named because its going to have more SAMs than Mother Hen. The Soviets are going for one final offensive. Enemy tanks are going to swarm our defense. My goal being to ensure our M4Bs survive so they can take out enemy aircraft. Wait, that means I'm doing air defense. No no no no no no no!
Colonel, what did you expect, given my record?
In this mission everything you've done so far plays out against you. Which means I should've gotten more tanks on that barrel shoot. At least thanks to my efforts in Mother Hen all our tanks are around. A secondary objective is defending a radar base from two HINDs. First time through I burn through three Mavericks on three SAMs, and a Sidewinder on the choppers. Unfortunately, that basically depleted my Mavericks. A SAM I didn't see does enough damage for me to lose my wings and I stall. Back to square one. It's amazing how a problem that first started in the first level of this campaign turned into an on-going problem. I don't rightly know if the problem is me or not.
That didn't take like 14 tries or anything.
The key to this mission, really, is to stay within air cover. Enemy MiGs are swarming all over the place outside of it. You need leave once to prevent a couple of HINDs from attacking a radar base, but they aren't in that direction. Unfortunately for the tank battalions, saving them all is not in your best interests. Destroying all the enemy tanks is and saving the radar base is. It's in your best interests to avoid any and all MiGs flying around.
With that we complete the first campaign. No special screens or anything, just a total score of 268934. A score I'm sure someone else can and has beaten.
Next time its more from Central Europe. I'm sure you can also beat my death count, of probably 90 or something.

*Which is not a feature of the actual A-10.
**Laser-Guided Bomb, or your standard building destruction weapon.
***It's a slowdive...

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