I SAY CHAPS, Jerry's zooming in with his Donner und Blitzens and Englisch Sweinhunds and all that tosh again.
It's chocks away time, angels at seven, bandits at nine, don't prang the kite it's the only new one we've got Algy old boy, cripes, did you see the legs on that WAAF dakka-dakka-dakka I think the Wingco's bought it. OK, that's enough jargon, let's talk about the game.
Spitfire 40 is the name, Mirrorsoft is responsible for flogging it and you get no prizes for guessing it's set in the Battle of Britain. In fact what we have is a rather handsome flight simulation with combat sequences.
Attention to detail is impressive at first. When you load up you choose your pilot's name from a list of five. This seems dodgy. I'm not called Smith, Jones, Mackenzie, Marcel or Bolesky. On the other hand, I'm not a Battle of Britain fighter pilot. Let's choose Marcel, vive de Gaulle and up the Free French.
Marcel's details - no missions completed, no medals, no kills, no flying experience - nare entered into a logbook on-screen. When Marcel proves himself this logbook gets updated and you can save it for later games.
There are three modes of play - practice, combat and combat practice. Combat is the main game where you are set a mission to complete. Practice is basically there for landing and take-off, and combat practice is equally obvious. Marcel is going out on a practice flight.
The screen display shows the controls of the Spitfire in excellent detail, concentrating on rather old-fashioned looking dials and some grubby shading round the edges, giving a good impression of what th a real thing must have looked like. The first thing you'll notice, especially if you're a flight simulator fan, is there's no view of the horizon or landscape. Where's the window?
The window is got by pressing Space. You see the full view from the cockpit but lose all your instruments. Gunsights are there, and some dots at the bottom which are supposed to indicate altitude and speed, but those are very difficult to interpret.
The cockpit view at take-off. The pale blue shape is your mirror
The switching between controls and view is the major drawback of the game, especially when coming in to land - you must use the view to check your course for the runway, but you'll need the controls when you're just about to touch down. It's easy to be on the wrong screen and crash through not knowing what you were doing, It's the price of that great display of dials, but is it too high a price to pay? Let's see how Marcel gets on.
Taking off is dead easy.
You increase throttle to 1800 revs, let the brakes off, increase power again to 3200 revs and when your speed gets to about 100mph lift the nose up and you're off. Marcel can do this in his sleep, although it's quite easy to find the Spitfire violently bucking when the undercarriage is raised or the flaps down if you're not careful about the speed. Luckily Marcel has read the useful booklet with all its tips on correct flying.
Marcel is now climbing steadily over the beautiful patchwork fields and rolling downs of Kent. All he can see from the cockpit, however, is a completely flat blanket of green. It goes on and on forever. Even the English Channel is green. Luckily Marcel doesn't get seasick.
The Spitfire has, of course, no radar. Our French hero doesn't mind this, because it wasn't invented at the time. This means there's no navigational equipment like you get on modern-style aircraft, and you have to fly entirely by judgement and sight. In order to find out where you are going, look at the map.
The map shows an area of Southern England with three big rectangles on it. Those contain three airfields, and some other surface detail, and if your aircraft is in one of them you can magnify it. Marcel has a quick look and notices some blue shapes marked on the map. Unfortunately, when he flies the Spitfire very close to have a look through the cockpit, they don't turn into anything except bigger blue shapes.
The runway looks OK, but as for the rest of these details, they don't really seem worth defending. Let Jerry have them, thinks Marcel, and promptly crashes into a large blue triangle. Mr Churchill is not amused. Black mark, de Gaulle.
Maximum magnification on the map - the Spitfire is lined up on the runway
Flight Officer Mackenzie - our second guinea pig - decides to skip the practice routine and go straight into combat. This is much more fun. He receives a direction: Bandits 4, Intercept 11, Bearing 253°, Height 5,000'. That means there are four German fighters, 11 miles away, nearly due west at the given altitude.
Off he goes in search of glory.
Height is very important in combat. The traditional way to do things is to get above your enemy and behind him, then come screaming down in a furious pounding of cannon and blow him into little bits. Even better, come out of the sun so the poor sod can't even see you before he's roast pork and mostly crackling. War is not romantic, whatever you may think of Biggles.
Spitfire 40 doesn't simulate the sun, but the enemy certainly does Is best to get on your tail, and once there is hard to dislodge. Mackenzie discovers a most spectacular way of getting out of trouble - looping the loop and doing a half roll at the top of the loop, then pulling out of the dive before completing the loop.
That brings him hurtling straight down at the enemy, and surprisingly, he manages to pull out of the dive just in time to meet another Messerschmitt or whatever on the horizon.
Dogfighting is good fun.The enemy planes are small and stay small, but that's all to the good as they present a more difficult target. A mirror above the cockpit view shows an enemy fighter if there's one on your tail, and if you don't shake him fast enough your glass windows will be peppered with bullet holes and your flying jacket becomes distinctly ragged.
It does seem to be much easier to shoot down planes when coming in from behind, but that's hard to assess in the hurly-burly of combat. The most exciting part of combat is the way you have to fly on vision alone - there's no time to flip screens and check your dials. What is a drawback on landing therefore becomes an advantage in fighting.
Unfortunately, Mackenzie, having destroyed his four bandits, fails to make it to the runway at the right height and attitude and consequently gets posted missing in action. There won't be a dry eye in the WAAF's mess tonight.
Jim Gregory and his pals have done a good job for Mirrorsoft in recreating the atmosphere of the Battle of Britain. The concept of saving your record in order to progress in rank and glory is a good one, and the instructions state that life gets more difficult as you move up the promotion ladder - landings have to be more precise and so on.
In fairness to the lack of detail on the landscaping,there are a lot of features not included in standard flight simulations which clearly eat up the memory. lt would have been nice however to see something more interesting than little blue shapes on the ground, if only some patterns of dots for field boundaries and roads.
The controls are suitably responsive for such a manoeuvrable aircraft, and there seems to be little you cannot do in the way of aerobatics. The alternative screen system has its drawbacks, but does at least provide an excellent array of instruments when in that mode, uncluttered and realistic.
Not quite a Classic, then, but definitely Mirrorsoft's finest hour.
|Flight Officer Chris Bourne|
A Flaps lever - up or down