Thursday, August 22, 2019

Game 8: F-15 Strike Eagle

There's not a good title screen, so here's the mission select.
The year is 1985, not only are the Soviets still around, a fear of a nuclear war is constant. At any moment a group of nuclear subs could unleash Hell on Earth, or a platoon of jet fighters could drop a nuke directly on the President's summer home. F-15 Strike Eagle comes in as the most realistic* flight sim of the era, bringing all the thrills of thermonuclear war and Mutually Assured Destruction, minus the dropping of the bombs. The developers at Microprose have developed the most faithful* depiction of the F-15's HUD humanly possible. The president of MicroProse, one Captain Bill Stealey, assures me it is so in the manual, and asks to drop him a note if I have any way to make it better. Oh, I don't think I'm going to do that.
The manual also goes on to laboreously explain the concept of how flight works.

This game is not so much difficult to start as it is difficult to play, although you will want to turn down the speed. The game requires use of the manual to understand, and even with the manual its very confusing to play.

I'm going to let you know right away, this isn't something I worked to complete, this game would've been fine in the '80s, but when you already know what wonders the '90s will bring it kinda brings a damper down on a plucky little CGA simulation from 1985. If this were the movie industry there'd be a fancy reissue bluray with special features next year, so I guess that's one point in favor of the people calling video games not art. Perhaps that's for the best, as my first impression of this game is one of confusion and disgust really.

Like some games from the era, it starts off with a simple mission selection screen. I pick the first one, it starts. Things happen, I guess. I test my abort and eject options, really could've used that in the A-10 I used to use, but I guess that's for the fancy F-15 pilots and their fancy strike eagling. You're kidding, spellcheck doesn't think eagling is a word? A bit more seriously I screw around with my weapons. The machine gun is automatically switched back to whenever you fire off a missile. I guess that's one way to increase feedback. I, uh, hit an enemy with my missile. Its a sign. The simulation is, uh...well...see for yourself.
You know, I'm no Sid Meier, but I'm going out on a limb and say that if this was the best I could do for a game, I wouldn't do that. I'm no computer programming pioneer though, in fact, I'm not a programmer. I'm not saying it looks bad or anything, but I know very few games that are worse on the graphical scale. This certainly wins for worst-looking 3D game...
At first I thought I would just play the first mission, call it unenjoyable today, then forget about it until the sequel/prequels, but I played through the first mission and didn't completely hate it. There are many problems, enemy planes just seem to spawn in. I feel like I'm going to have a seizure if I play this for an extended period of time. Bombing targets are difficult to hit thanks to your bombs being dumbfire and very easy to miss. (there's a real reason for this, I'll explain) You need the manual to understand what your mission is. Oh, and the sea turns the ground purple.
I promised to explain the bombing problem. You see, this game takes place between 1972-1984, on all very real missions. This I suspect is before many systems we now take for granted. The missions take place in the entire map of the country they're supposed to be in. I slightly question the scale, but I admit I don't know if an F-15 could cross the entire country of Egypt in under 5 minutes. The manual tells you of an additional mission you can do in Egypt where you replicate some anti-terrorist strike in '86 and a bombing run against some tin-pot dictator. Playing A-10 before this was a horrible mistake, wasn't it? Now, its worth pointing out that originally this was supposed to have copy protection. Given the immense amount of information in the manual you need in order to understand this game, I can't honestly understand that, but that's just my opinion.
There are four areas of the screen:
The playing screen, which at first seems useless, but is actually slightly useful. I like the little sun that shows up.
The map screen, which is very useful and lets you figure out where you went wrong.
The radar screen, which is what you'll be mostly looking at. Pressing the R key changes the radar distance.
The ship screen, which tells you how much ammo you have left.
That leaves combat, which seems to be a bit of a point and shoot affair. I only went as far as the 3rd mission on Rookie difficulty, so it probably gets more difficult later. Probably.
Let's see what that gives the game:

Its worth pointing out that this is supposed to be an indicator of not just how interesting a game's weapons are, but how these weapons feel. Given the almost complete lack of sound, this game is suffering a handicap already. Given the lack of any feeling beyond anticipation whenever you fire off a missile or bomb too, it has another handicap. The machine gun might as well give 25 bullets to the bullet fairy each time you pull the trigger. If you need to use that you might as well head back to base for a refill. 2/10

The enemies come in four flavors, three planes, one SAM. I can't say I ever found the planes a threat or that they were anything more than blobs I shot. 1/10

There are none. 0/10

The gameplay loop is a very simple one once you get the controls down. Avoid SAMs, shoot down enemy planes, hit target, hopefully have enough fuel to return home. The problem is that due to the way the game looks graphically these missions all come off as essentially being identical, despite being not. I didn't really have the desire to get past the 3rd mission. 1/10

Player Agency:
There's a lot of clever stuff going on under the hood here, despite the game's rather lackluster control scheme. Movement doesn't come off quite ideal to me and the game doesn't have any good methods of letting you know what problem is going on without extensively focusing on the manual. There's nothing wrong with the controls beyond the usual finicky not always responding to controls thing. However, I do question having both a eject (premature end of mission) and a quit option, but that's just me. 5/10

There is nothing beyond shooting planes and targets. 0/10

This game does not give any atmosphere, in fact I feel like a disconnected blob in a sensory depravation tank. 0/10

You know, I'm not going to say these are bad, since you work with what you had at the time. I'm sure there was a competent artist on staff who didn't have much to work with, and there are special CGA modes that make it look better. A bitterly given 1/10

This game functions as a greatest hits of the F-15's operating history. It doesn't have a story and the missions jump all over the place. 0/10

Kill me. Kill me now. There might be sound, but it is simple PC speaker and very annoying to my modern ears. The bluops are fine, but making someone listen to the jet engine sound is probably torture in several countries. 0/10

That's...10. Its not so much bad as horribly outclassed by most later games. I say most because I'm certain there are going to be games worse than this. Its certainly worth a shot if you're one of the twenty or so people still interested in flight sims. For the rest, I'd suggest picking some at least from the EGA era.

Its worth pointing out that the designation Strike Eagle refers to the F-15E, introduced in 1986. There is no sign that they were influenced by the title of this game or if this game was influenced by a common nickname for the F-15. The eventual replacement of the F-15 is not the F-16, as some might think, but the F-35, a fighter intended to be modular and replace all the planes in US and NATO service. As of 2019, it is apparently nothing more than a paperweight the Air Force uses to shuffle around money**.

*For 1985.
**Okay, so its a conspiracy, but do you really think the Air Force is going to list "Top Secret Floating Plane" or "Alien Tech Plane" on their list of expenses?

No comments:

Post a Comment