Thursday, December 5, 2019

Expansion Pack 1: A-10 Tank Killer - Desert Storm

Name:A-10 Tank Killer: Desert Storm
For:A-10 Tank Killer
Genre:Flight Simulation
Time:12 hours

And so, we finish a beautiful chapter in flight simulation history. As we've learned, it was not always this bright and beautiful flower. Like a bird, this game started off unable to fly and almost completely useless, but now, other smaller creatures live in fear of it. That also might as well be a metaphor for the final campaign, Desert Storm. Now, unlike Central Europe, Desert Storm actually happened. This means we can compare how the game plays to the real thing. And I will. I'm also fairly certain that this lasted as long as the real Desert Storm campaign.
We're going to be seeing a lot of each other
Our new CO is Colonel Pitt, he's no non-sense and straight to the point. Or nobody working on the game cared now. Right away I get to hear about two things that are new to this campaign, the marines and SCUD launchers. The former, because we were in an actual war, and the latter because...the developer never heard of it. Probably. The USS Roosevelt* is launching an A-6 Intruder towards the SCUD. I have to clear out any SAM launchers in order for the missile to hit its target. Thanks guys. Why can't you let the marines do that? Oh, wait, they don't actually do anything! Another pilot shall assist me. Which will no doubt cause the marines to snicker in my direction whenever I inevitably lose the first twenty times.
A change of scenery, this sure will be interesting to tak-
That's one way to get rid of people "accidentally" bombing home base. Its nice to have a different vision below me for once. I check the map for targets. Can you say "metric ton"? There's so many you might as well have sent a Nighthawk in to bomb the SCUDs. Jesus. Soon enough my problems reach a peak, my ally flies directly into the reach of one of the big SAMs. If I ever manage to make a mod for this game, you know exactly what's going to happen to any pilots introduced on the first mission. However, luckily for the dumbass a Blackhawk appears to save them. By save, I mean I have to ensure the Iraqis with their T-62s and rusty AKMs don't turn him into pig chow. I have to add that I love flying over the desert, at least for now.
I start trying to gun down the side targets, and wouldn't you know it, but the SCUD launches. I'm not sure if my crash after can be blamed on my bad flying or knowing there's nothing I can do.
I bet F-15 pilots don't have this problem
Second time around, take out AA guns, easy-peasy. The tanks encircling the A-6? I use up most of my missile allotment, but hey, I don't have to pay for the replacements. The SCUD launcher isn't really trying to get away, who could blame him, he's under SAM cover. Against another plane he'd be safe, but no one is safe from me. Sure, the first time around I lost part of my wing, and tail, but that just gives me a challenge...except I spiral into the ground trying to do a vertical spin.
Third time's the charm. It was beautiful, getting enemy SAMs on my targeting system just long enough for me to hit them, then flying underneath. One missile, one kill on each target. Dodging enemy SAMs like this was a ballet. Beautiful. Beautiful.'re saying we'll be going on a SCUD HUNT?
Mission two, Scud Hunt. In which I hunt SCUDs. I have to figure out where the SCUDs are while dodging the neverending supply of AA the Iraqis have. There are some helicopters in the nearby city too, that I should take out. Its worth pointing out that there are 2 confirmed air kills by an A-10 in Desert Storm. Both against helicopters. Judging by what I know about the A-10, this isn't surprising. Barring a lucky application of 12.7mm ammo they have no way of defending against a plane.
This isn't everything, trust me
I try to pull my previous slick anti-anti-air maneuver, which doesn't work because they stacked their SAMs in such a way that it doesn't work. I manage to find a SCUD, which apparently isn't the primary one, I guess they're bait. Some helicopters I have to take out are fleeing as well, I take them out too. My plane's been heavily damaged, which isn't really good for finding the remaining SAMs. So, I start over and try again.
This time, I'm going to be sneakier. Don't dive like I'm in an action movie. Drop a missile, get out of the way, rush toward the SCUD and the HINDs. That leaves me the other SCUDs. I guess I'd better fly across the northern border for this one. And what do you know, but I find the SCUDs, guarded by a single SAM. Sure, it gets me, but all I have left are some helicopters. Easy. Turn around, get hit by another SAM as I go south. Missing my wing now. I can't go through anymore AA, leaving me in a bit of a pickle as to approaching the city.

Hang on, this wasn't in the briefing
As it turns out, the mission designers were sneaky and added something special to the area. A secret airbase. Complete with a MiG for me to destroy. By the way, killing a MiG? Fiction so far. But then, just because you have a hammer, not everything is a nail. I take my time with this one, using all my fancy munitions. Not completely devastated, but they've had some setbacks now.
That's a question I don't think you'll like the answer to
Going all the way across the map to take out some helicopters with one good wing is not easy. Aiming is also not easy. I suspect I have mentioned this in the past. Its difficult, and I have a few close calls with the ground, but my objectives are finished.
I feel cheated by the ending briefing. Nobody bothers to mention that I destroyed most of an enemy base by myself. The base game would mention it. He's just slobbering over my skill at hitting almost defenseless targets. I feel like Desert Storm is insulting me. The hardest part of this level, when you get down to it, is finding the enemy SCUDs.
Pitt questions the Iraqi military strategy...
...before explaining Iraqi military strategy
Mission 3, Track Town, assist some M1s in recapturing a town. I'm sure it'll be a boatload of enemy tanks that I can really take my time on. Sure, Pitt says more tanks are coming, but I have a pretty good shot at gunning them all down. He continues by asking me to make it as painless as possible for us. Sure.
I'm on the ground again?
I'd say that the strategy the Iraqis are trying to pull is very poor if they don't take out a nearby airfield, but then, it is the Iraqis. Trying to pull a Vietnam is the extent of their strategic brilliance. I've got a fair bit of distance to cover and it doesn't look like I have much time. Looks like a bit of AA, but nothing too troublesome...Helicopters are on the map, I'm guessing they'll be going after friendlies. You have to approach the enemy tanks so that when you go on the attack you're going north or south, so you can gun down the enemy continuously while attacking.
I can save it!
Wow, I didn't realize how bad their air cover really was. Only a single AA gun, the rest just tanks. Guys, you didn't even need to bring the tanks, I got this! See, look at those HINDs that I missed because I was trying to take out all the armor! See? They're shooting at your tanks. Guys? Guys? What's with all the funny smoke? Guys?
Who do they have left? They're all dead!
Round two, this time I'm going to do the same things, but hit them. There's nothing clever I can add to that. Tanks, almost all scrap. HINDs? Gone. A few enemy tanks sneak in and suddenly they're just freaking gunning down all my allies. The game says the mission is over, but I say screw it, there's an allied tank left. So I gun down the rest of the T-62s and, what do you know? Pitt says I secured the town. That's good enough for me, regardless of what the debriefing says.
Sneaky game, trying to pull one on me
What do you know, I won. Got 25 ground vehicles. That's some impressive numbers.
No, not special forces!
Mission four, Teamwork, help a special forces unit infiltrate an enemy base to destroy some hardened hangers. When I said I was good at this game, I meant destroying things. Because effectively the A-10 is an anti-ground platform. I mean, gees, infiltration? I need another 'copter covering me because I'm good, but I'm not THAT good. I have to find some chemical weapons too. That's great. Complete stealth. I'm sure that won't be hard**. You know, pilots of the real A-10 said it was a stealth plane in a pinch, because above a certain height at night it was essentially invisible to ground forces. All of the planes that were downed happened during the day. This mission is during the day, because Dynamix hadn't coded in the night sections yet. I have to wait until Red Baron for that. The game gives me a loadout of all anti-ground ordinance, but I'd be crazy if I didn't suspect I'll need some different stuff after a few tries.
You have more confidence than I do
Make up your mind with the up/down stuff, game. The mission starts off with you speeding towards the target, some ways behind our protected copter. I, quite naturally, speed towards the base so I can take out their SAMs. Some of the MiGs take off. Okay, this time I'll bring a Durandal. Easy. Not as I imagine. But I do get the MiGs after they take off, including one air-to-air kill.***
As an aside, I want to talk about the chemical weapons convey. You know where it is, the enemy knows where it is, nobody's hiding right now. That's it, that's the end of the joke. The secondary objective is basically a timer running in the background. Attempting to figure out what I'm doing wrong in the single mission section reveals that somewhere along the line I seriously screwed up and got the harder than hard version. Its worth pointing out at this point that I have done nothing to indicate that I screwed up anything that would lead to me having to fight MiGs. Did I not do enough damage against the base in the previous mission? This is some real difficult stuff. Not in a good way. You've got to rush through this too. The Blackhawk pilot is as bright as a black hole. He will literally throw himself into the enemies SAMs if they haven't been destroyed.
You can write something for this, but I find a secret base and nothing?
You know, I can't remember when I started Desert Storm. July? Solely because of this. At this point I'm trying to figure out what to do via the mission select and cheating to get everything. I'm still not avoiding losing the other part of the team. You know, in a real war, while there are pilots that will ignore your orders, either by being headstrong or by not hearing you, the pilot of a very vulnerable copter will probably hang back if you tell them to hang back while you clean out the enemy SAMs. Absolute commitment to the pre-planned mission is something that only happened to these kinds of missions in Vietnam. At this point, I have to weigh in whether or not I really need this mission completed to make my life easier.
So, I just don't complete the mission as planned. This game works better when its me against the enemy, and presumably I can take down any future MiGs on my own, or I'll just throw in the town because of the game's garbage. Taking out the convoy isn't any more difficult than any other defenseless ground target. The MiGs want to stay on the ground until the copter is pressed right up against them. At this point the game tells me the mission is over. Technically it is, but I want to see if I can't screw them out of a few tanks at the very least.
I end up biting the loss of an engine on the second SAM launcher. Let me tell you, you don't really want to futz around with your targeting system in a target rich environment under threat of death. We'll say ten minutes of diving the tanks very carefully with a machine gun.
This happened too. I wasn't aware Saddam has alien tech. Eventually, I just give up. Its hard to hit targets when you have to spend a minute getting air.
Have you ever heard of The Emperor's New Clothes?
Pitt whines about my failure. Whether or not I ever really had a chance, I'll leave up to other people, and also anyone who says he can play this game better than myself. He doesn't even give me credit for taking out the convoy. Meanwhile, the mission summary calls it a success. I got as many points as the first mission. Whisky Tango Foxtrot.
Mission five, Sandstorm. Now its time for our regularly scheduled Iraqi asskicking. The ground war has begun, and I'm part of it. In an A-10, of course, with my old friend Captain Stokes. I need to take out the artillery, then provide air support. With special consideration to one group of tanks, they have the only translator in the area. Well, this isn't going to end badly or anything.
You know, we meet each other so many times I'm starting to suspect the writers in this game didn't want to go to the trouble of making another character.
I'm shocked that Stokes gets gunned down like some kind of plot determined death. Hmm, he wants me to follow him slowly, if I race past him will he survive? Yes, he does. This is of some questionable utility, he'll take out some of the artillery. Some. More than he claims he actually has. The mission goes south the second our tanks hit any resistance. Pitt tries to pull the same Lucy crap that Cord used to, but it just isn't the same. Oh, the mission briefing says that the translator is with Task Force 4, but he's really with Task Force 3. This mission pack is such a sierrashow.
I succeed, in a sense. The game tells me its a partial failure. Half my allied tanks were gone, but there wasn't any surviving enemy forces. I was worried for a second, there were a ton of enemy tanks that weren't on the map. Its not really that difficult when you've got the big SAM out of the way. I'm sure I could get it perfectly if I practiced a few more times, but my patience is starting to wear thin if that isn't already apparent.
Mission six, Royal Flush. Time to take on the Republican Guard. Unfortunately, they've built up their defenses while we had limited sorties during a sandstorm. I'm pretty sure that wasn't a concern during the real war, but what do I know, I just read about it after the fact. Their tanks are thusly dug in. Meanwhile I also have to take out their AA...because I'm going to have a wingman taking out their hardened bunkers. Hopefully this time, they'll actually disappear.
They've definitely got a good defense going here. They're in a square grouping, very dense. Unfortunately for them, now I'm on fire, dancing across their AA defenses like a god of war. Of course, a god of war would use the cannon. Now this imitation god of war has to deal with thirty tanks with just a single gun. As it turns out, being dug-in means they're more difficult to kill. Like say, a low angle a certain plane is known for doing when I'm in the cockpit. You'll never guess who hit the ground again.
Second time, it goes well. Once again the AA is demolished, with minor damages. The tanks take out a couple of our platoons, but by and by large they are squashed by my might. I begin mopping up the retreating forces, because that's just what I do. A couple of guys fleeing north through a bridge. No problem. Take out number 1 before he reaches it, but number 2 makes the bridge. No problem I think. I keep missing as the bridge gets closer and closer until...not again.
Would you prefer if I nuked them?
Final attempt, down go the AA, down go one group of our tanks, then down go them all. Once again the game says there are less dug-in tanks than there really are. Eventually it gets to the point where I can nice and leisurely strafe them. Pitt keeps whining about missions with great results. The guy writing him has issues with authority figures.
The final mission, Coup de Grace. Attack Kuwait. By attack, I of course mean, destroy their command post in the city. They have it narrowed to two places, both related to telecommunications. Not any other building where there will be civilian casualties. There's also a mobile command post somewhere. I must do this before their air defenses come in. Knowing my luck, I can get away with a little after. Of course, there's also the usual tank killing business.
Is Cord dead? Did I miss his funeral?
The area has a city in a tiny peninsula almost completely undefended, save by a single line of air and ground defense on its southern border. My primary targets are in close proximity to each other, and no doubt civvie targets. Aircraft are moving in, are they MiGs or are they HINDs? The answer to that question determines if I'm scrap or not. As I advance on one of the SAMs, I encounter a couple of AAs unmentioned on the map. Thanks, Intelligence.
My words about Military Intelligence soon turn from sarcastic to hateful. The city is teeming with AA guns. Someone screwed up somewhere, either by accident or intent. You know, Pitt always did have it out for me. Doesn't impact my destruction of the non-mobile command posts, but I still have to find the mobile one. My luck improves further, their air power is a HIND patrol.
You smell that? That's the smell of victory. Sure, I use a couple of missiles on him instead of just one, but that doesn't cause the enemy to flee any slower. Those HINDs become my first fleeing target. Now its an all you can eat buffet of tanks and AA guns. The AA guns are spicy, so I'll be a bit careful with those. Supply truck? Don't mind if I-That's an ambulance? Uh, don't mind me, I'm just going to take out some AA guns. Armor? All of it gone.
Oh, now you have to go and make me do something else after killing off all the things I had to kill. Another supply truck? Well, I'm already in trouble-that's a lot of trucks. Several runs worth, because going full blast causes the gun to overheat here. That looks like that, I think the marines can manage to take out the AA guns on their own.
Pitt actually congratulates me for a job well done. He doesn't even get upset that I blew up an ambulance. I do think that will affect whether or not I get a medal, however. So, that's that.
I forgot to take a screenshot of my final score. Oh, no, however will anyone know if they're better than me at this game?
Now, let's compare this to the real thing:
[ ] Flying high in the air, outside of SAM and AA range.
[ ] Really dusty desert, obscuring ground visibility.
[ ] Long flights that really get the most out of the A-10. Not really, its more like a standard thing.
[X] Gunning down so many targets they literally save their planes from the boneyard.
[ ] Constant support from friendly planes.
[ ] Your fellow A-10 pilots, helping clean up Saddam.
There you have it, this game is very unrealistic in terms of its depiction of Desert Storm. On the other hand, this is a nearly 30 year old game. You aren't exactly going to feel like you're right there. However, another fun thing I discovered is that the first mission kind of happened later on in the Balkans, except with a F-117 being rescued. This was also made in '90, '91. During the Gulf War.
With that in mind, let's see what points I give it in what categories. Because this is an expansion, categories that don't change from the base game aren't counted.

I think the big improvements are SCUDs and things that seem like enemies but are not. There are also AA guns, which function as a heavily delayed SAM. Its definitely an improvement. 3/10

I absolutely hate Teamwork. That is possibly the worst mission in a flight sim I'll ever play for quite some time. I'm including the barely playable games from the early '80s in that. The rest are all fine, but I don't think I'll ever play through the campaign of this one ever again. 6/10

I like the desert atmosphere. This kind of 3D is better at doing that compared to say, forests in Germany. It still feels like a simulation though. 4/10

Minor changes, no change from the base game's 3/10.

I didn't realize how much effort was put into the base game's dialog. It feels lightyears ahead of this. With tons of options I don't think anyone has seen for 20 years. There are only rare touches of this here. 1/10

That's 17 out of 50. If you count the unchanged stuff that would be 31, but we don't. Slightly worse than the base game is a good comparison. Completely missable if you didn't like the base game.

*Big stick Roosevelt, not other one.
**I want to point out that this isn't necessarily the game having crap stealth, I'm just terrible at it.
***As opposed to air-to-takeoff which is how I've been getting all my MiG kills so far.

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