F-14 Tomcat

a game by Virtucraft Studios

Platform: GBA

Genre: Simulation

Overview

You are stationed on an aircraft carrier and can embark upon several missions, each with different objectives. The game includes air-to-air, air-to-surface, and air-to-ship combat objectives. Often you will find yourself outnumbered and overgunned; you must rely on your determination to survive the missions. The biggest challenge is using the GBA's limited array of controls to do all the necessary things to stay in the air and splash the bad guys. The game compensates for this limitation by doing some things automatically for you. For example, you only need to get within range and the game will land you on the carrier deck, refill, rearm, and launch you off again. This saves time and gets you back to the real action quicker -- landing on an aircraft carrier does not seem like an easy thing to master even without the GBA controls to contend with. It is hard enough to stay alive in this game; the developers mercifully made it impossible to die doing something routine. You can refuel in the air but not reload your armaments, so there is no substitute for the carrier deck, especially if you have been in battle and are bound for more.

This is like having a hand-held flight simulator and more. F-14 Tomcat is a very challenging game and an ambitious undertaking for a GBA title.

Gameplay, Controls, Interface

The controls are a bit tricky since each button has dual modes depending on what you are doing. The book is required reading before you even attempt the first mission. AWACS, or radar mode, will be your best friend. You will not be able to find the airborne refueling ship or your aircraft carrier, once you take off, without it. Keep in mind the controls are set up like a joystick: the down arrow is like pulling back on the yoke, which causes your aircraft to increase in altitude. If you are an experienced GBA player this may take a little getting used to but it does give you better realism in flight. When in cockpit mode you can press the Left and Right buttons to look over each shoulder. You are in a fast plane that at high speeds corners like a pig. If you want to win, you have to take the speed down around the corners and then your plane will turn on a dime. Keep in mind, speed uses fuel quicker and takes away agility. Don't get me wrong, speed is needed to get to the combat location and to help outrun SAMs but, when in a dogfight, notch the speed down and you will be able to get in behind your opponent more often. There is also an easy password option which means you do not need to replay finished missions unless you so desire. I love this feature since I do not want to have to replay all of the missions, since some are just for surviving and going on to the next mission.

Multiplayer

Yes!!! Finally a game that has up to four players in multiplayer mode! The documentation says that this is an 'Aerial death-match.'? I only hope I get to try this out some day. I will need to convince a few of my friends to buy this game so we can play this mode. I am happy to see this feature and would like to see more games include multiplayer options.

Graphics

The graphics are very good for the small screen and I like the views best when looking over a shoulder. This is counterproductive, however, unless you are trying to find out where that bogie is and which way you should turn to get away from him. At first, I found myself trying to keep right side up and keep the land below me on the view. This did not last long since I had to do a fair amount of turning and burning to stay on the bad guy's tail. The only time you need to worry about being right side up is when you are preparing to land or refill in the air. If you get dizzy easily this is not the game for you -- your horizon can be spinning on you as you keep on the tail of the plane you are dog-fighting with. This is one area where F-14 Tomcat did well with the limited size of screen, however you obviously do lose some of the "big" feel of most flight-sims and flight combat games.

Audio

The audio will make you feel like you are part of the movie Top Gun during the battle segments, but without the volleyball, shirt-off, muscle-flexing music -- who needs that when you can launch guided missiles or fire 200 rounds a minute, splashing down the bad guys? The sound effects are good and have decent effect over the small speaker system of the GBA. The sound in this game adds to the realism and to your survival. If you did not have the warning sounds you would find yourself parachuting out of a destroyed plane all the time.

Difficulty

The game is rated "E" for everyone, but I would not recommend the game for younger children since it is quite complicated and fairly realistic when it comes to flying and fighting. If found this challenging, especially when I was in the air to air missions with multiple bogies. There is nothing objectionable in the content, but the game's difficulty will keep younger children frustrated and make the game less than enjoyable. My eight year old son (who is a GBA junkie and is furiously saving his allowance to buy his own unit) begged to try the game, so I let him. He spent maybe five minutes playing and then gave up. Although rated for 'Everyone'? I would recommend this for older kids to adults due to the difficulty of the game.

Documentation

This is a MUST! If you do not read the book you will not succeed in this game. There are so many options for each mode and which button to press to get what you want. I would recommend keeping the documentation close for reference, until you know the controls. If you need, you can press the start button during gameplay to pause it and then you can reference the book for help.

Bottom Line

This is a good game. I think the game maker did a decent job bringing this to the small screen with the limited controls of a GBA. Keep in mind this is not as good as playing on a computer or on a TV based game system. Then again, you cannot take either of these other options in your pocket unless you have really big pants. I will continue to enjoy this game even though I do not think this game really appeals to 'Everyone.'? If you like flight-sims and combat sims then this is worth checking out; hence, the score 81. Read the book or splash in the ocean.

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