B-17 Flying Fortress: The Mighty 8th
Imagine the scenario. A military coup in the Faroe Islands leads to persecution of its ethnic Welsh population. All diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis have failed. In a last ditch effort to stop the genocide, your crack F16 squadron has been given a mandate to bomb things until they blow up. F16 - Operation Sheep from Shitesoft features 12 square miles of accurately modelled terrain etc, etc.
OK, this may be being a tad unfair to jet sims, but you can't deny that one of the best things to happen to flight sims recently is the rediscovery of World War II as worthy subject matter. Back in those days they knew how to have proper wars, with death tolls of millions, proper baddies you could really hate, and not enough bananas. But even more important is the fact that WWII planes were far cooler than their modern counterparts. And coolest daddy-0 of them all was the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress.
Like its country of origin, the B-17 is big, not very pretty, and in possession of an unhealthy amount of guns. Thousands and thousands of these big shiny things were used on raids over Europe, striking fear into the hearts of anyone that didn't live in a magic bomb-proof house. Unlike the RAF, the US Eighth Air Force concentrated on daylight raids which is why the B-17 carried up to 13.50 calibre machine guns, covering all possible angles of attack. Being a bomber, the B-17 obviously also carried lots of bombs, which came in handy for blowing things up.
The Real Thing
There are games out at the moment that let you fly a B-17 (Fighter Squadron. Air Warrior III), but none that come close to modelling the complexities of the real thing. B-17 Flying Fortress 2: The Mighty Eighth, from Wayward Design, looks like it's going to flatten all previous attempts (and other flight sims) with a scary amount of realism, an awesome new graphics engine, and missions and campaigns so engrossing that you'll buy a big jar of Brylcreem, start listening to Glen Miller, and fancy your granny's mates in old pictures. The big thing about B-17 2 is the sheer amount you have to do, as you can take control of any of the crew members - pilot, bombardier or gunners.
Of course, you can't control them all at once, but they're well capable of taking care of things without your cack-handed efforts. The characters themselves use motion-captured animation, and they move and react beautifully - if they get hit, they collapse to the floor, if a gun jams, they try to get it working again, if there's a fire, they let you know. The animation is so good that the men cast shadows as they move - incredible stuff.
Although manning a B-17 sounds like a full-time job, this game isn't limited to the bomber and, if you fancy something a bit more nippy, the game also lets you escort the bombers in a Mustang, or even have a go at shooting them down flying for the Luftwaffe. The cockpit controls themselves aren't the usual simplified version of the real thing - every lever and dial you can see in the views in B-17 2 can be activated, and since the internal views are directly modelled on the real plane, this means that the game has all the controls of the real plane.
As you'd expect, Wayward have also gone all out for realism when it comes to modelling damage and flight characteristics. If you turn too hard on the ground, the undercarriage will break and your wing will plough into the ground. Get shot up by a German fighter and you'll see holes appearing in the metal skin of your plane, revealing the skeleton beneath. You also get engine fires to deal with, and with no on-board R2 droid to activate fire extinguishers and carry out in-flight welding, things can get a bit dicey.
No flight sim worth its salt lacks some form of campaign mode, and B-17 2 is no exception. The game contains over 200 targets that are used when missions are being created, and the targets selected depend on the situation at the time so no two campaigns are ever the same. The campaign is also fully dynamic, and the targets and threats over different areas change as the war progresses. There are training missions as well, and quick-start scenarios that dump you right in it. Of course, whenever a new sim comes out one of the first things everyone wants to know about are the in-game graphics. Needless to say, in B-J72 they're top-notch. As we've already mentioned, the cockpits and crew members are gorgeously rendered, with dynamic lighting and shadow effects. The external views of the planes are equally pleasing to the eye, and if you look carefully you can see crew members going about their business through the glass.
See The Sights
But the best visuals in B-17 2 are reserved for the terrain, and Wayward appear to have come up with something pretty revolutionary. All flight sims use either photo realistic textures, which can look great high up, but a bit blocky close in, or pre-rendered ones that tend to look artificial. The terrain in B-17 2 uses new bump mapping code to create proper 3D ground detail that is correctly illuminated, casting proper shadows that grow longer as the sun gets lower in the sky. While a few bumps and shadows may not sound exactly earth-shattering, the effect these subtle touches have on the believability of the whole experience is awesome, and flying low gives a fantastic sense of speed and imminent death.
Every now and again, a new sim comes along that gives the whole genre a kick in the pants, and B-17 2 looks like it more than fits the bill - original subject matter, plenty to do apart from just fly the plane, detailed mission planning and campaigns, multiplayer with up to 10 players manning the same plane, and graphics that'll make your head fall off -in short, total immersion. Watch our for a review as soon as we can lay our grubby hands on a copy.
- A time of great change. The Bosnian conflict entered its second fun-packed year, the United States recovered from four years of George Bush by appointing a sex-mad yokel as president, and Manchester United began an annoyingly unstoppable assault on the newly formed Premier League. Meanwhile, the flight sim genre was about to be rocked by a bold new approach as then-mighty publisher MicroProse unveiled B-17 Flying Fortress to an astonished public. Eight years on and we've got a sequel. Who says this is a fast moving business?
Bally Jerry's On The Move
Essentially this is the same game as the original, albeit with vastly improved graphics. You control every aspect of life in a ten-man B-17 crew. Everything. From planning missions and directing the war as a Squadron Commander to twiddling the knobs on the wind drift scale as a navigator.
Surprisingly, it isn't the nightmare of administration you might think. Once you're in mid-air it quickly becomes second nature to jump around from one station to the next, and you spend as much of the game in crew management mode as you do in simulation mode. Perhaps more. Flying is actually pretty secondary to the whole game. The computer does a good job of running things in your absence. As soon as you leave a station the AI takes over so you never have to worry about flying into the side of a hill while you examine the map or scan for fighters.
Despite that, it's something of a surprise just how attached you do get to the crews, probably down to the fact you get to see them physically moving about the plane during a flight. This is especially true if you rename the crews and planes. Our advice is to name them after the cast of favourite films and TV shows. Watching 'Linda Lovelace' bailing out of a crippled 'Deep Throat' is enough to bring a tear to the eye, so to speak.
On Your Own
"We've had to take the multiplayer code out." "Hmm?" "Do you think that will affect things much? Will it get marked down as a result?" I've been pondering this ever since Hasbro's PR lass thrust a beer into my hand and asked the question during a press trip to Duxford Air Museum. On the one hand it seems that everything has to have some sort of online facility to it these days, even where it isn't warranted. On the other, is the online audience really that large in the flight sim market? Doing a spot of research on the newsgroups elicits a mixed response. Some are feeling let down by the lack of a multiplayer B-17 game, even to the point of saying they won't be buying it as a result. Others, and this docs seem to be a much larger share of the crowd, aren't too fussed. Just make sure it works, they say, memories of Gunship! and Falcon 4.0 still fresh in their minds.
The thing about B-17 is that I can't really see how it would make for an effective multiplayer experience. Yes, of course, you could have up to ten humans all in the same bird at once, each at a different station (although the radio operator would get pretty bored). But this would only really become fun during Luftwaffe attacks and they tend to be few and far between for the most part. So what about having one player controlling each plane. Mr I Have All The Answers? The problem there is co-ordination. How many of you - and be honest here, even you really, really dedicated flight sim nuts - are actually going to fly through an entire mission in real time? You're going to sit there for anything up to six hours, holding a steady course, occasionally responding to an attack, mostly just keeping things ticking over are you? You might do it once, but I guarantee you'll be using the time skip function more often than the fire button before long. So how do you do that online? How do you deal with the switch between crew management screens and simulation world, while randomly jumping forward through time, across up to eight different PCs all connecting to each other at different speeds? You don't. It would be a logistical nightmare and you know it. There isn't a viable multiplayer game in here that would provide satisfying gaming experience.
Oh and don't throw the Air Warrior Warbirdsi World War II Online argument at me. "They do real-time bombing runs with multiple players, why can't B-177" They're not dealing with a real-world scale. At most, a bombing run by a dozen planes takes an hour, most of which is spent getting into formation. Distances are either compressed big time or the game takes place in fictional locales designed for quick action. B-77 provides an accurate map of northern Europe. You do the maths.
So be told. No multiplayer doesn't equal less fun. If anything it has meant that Wayward has been able to focus on making the single-player game a thing of beauty. Will it appeal to everyone? Probably not. The fact that it isn't purely a flight sim may attract a larger crowd than usual, but what might hinder B-17s progress is it can become repetitive over time.
Sure there's the option to jump into the fighter craft and zip around in a dogfight or two, or there's the strategic element involved with planning missions and managing your crew (you don't have to fly at all if you don't want), but essentially each flight boils down to the same thing.
That's hardly Wayward's fault though. If you must point the finger, blame WWII for not being more varied. There is a crop of WW II sims on the way that may have more thrills in the dogfighting department (Rowan's Battle Of Britain looks nice in this respect), but nothing is going to top B-17 for painting an accurate picture of life in a bomber crew. Except maybe Memphis Belle. But that was a film. So it doesn't count. I'll shut up now.
Processor: PC compatible, P-100
OS: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game Features:Single game mode