1942: The Pacific Air War
I'll get straight to the point and simply say that 1942: The Pacific Air War is quite special, although it's not something that necessarily hits you instantly - it takes a couple of hours of piddling about before it dawns.
1942 is a W.W.II South Pacific extravaganza in which you get to fly for either the Yanks or the Japs. There are ten planes on offer overall, and the chance to specialize in fighters, dive bombers or torpedo bombers. There are more single missions than you could shake Delia Smith's drippy hairstyle at, and as for the ongoing war career, well, make that six ongoing war careers.
The mission builder
1942 contains an extensive mission builder. In fact, it's the same one the programming team used to make the missions in the game itself, meaning that everything they've done, you can do as well. The inclusion of the mission builder is quite generous when you consider the norm for this type of thing is to hold back until a game is reaching the end of its shelf life, and then release it as an add-on disk for $20 or whatever.
The film editor
Borrowing heavily from the Dynamix games, 1942 contains a full, mega, ninja-flight film editor. Not only can you summon up exterior views of all the planes in the sky, but you can even plop inside them at will and use all the side views, cockpit instrumentation views, padlock views, rear gunner views and so on. And, of course, there's a free-floating camera which can be placed anywhere, zoomed in, out and so forth. Oh, and one more thing about the film editor is that, if you stuff up in a mission, you can replay the film to the point just before the disaster and simply jump back into the action.
Task Force revisited
1942 :The Pacific Air War contains Carrier Battles, the follow-up to a Task Force 1942, which was actually quite good. This all-new package is sort of "tied together" at a genetic level. For instance. Carrier Battles, like Task Force before it, is essentially a strategy game: you play it from the scrolling map, zooming in and out, clicking on your ships, issuing orders, sending spotter aircraft aloft in the search for your enemy, and on and on. And in the original game, that was about it - it was kind of "watch the dots and control everything from afar" - something that doesn't appeal to everybody. However, the difference with Carrier Battles is that when you send out a bunch of aircraft to attack, say, an enemy ship convoy, you get a box up on screen asking you this important question: "Do you want to join the strike?" Click on "yes" and you're strapped inside the cockpit of the lead plane.
As you can plainly see, we're talking a guru-shaded extravaganza of rotary bitmaps in a sauce of texture mapping. The good news is that, even with a 486DX 33MHZ machine, you get some pretty good results. The only real problem that arises is when dogfighting, because that's when you'll be wanting to use the padlock view. It's an excellent padlock view, by the way, but very possibly because of this fact it eats into the frame rate like a starving elephant. So you have to knock the texture mapping off the ground and sea. (Mind you. dogfighting is so hectic that you don't really notice.)
The standard flight model is like the hard flight model on many other sims, while the "realistic" flight model is, well, "realistic". It's brilliant, in fact. But better than that, it's not generic, and all of the planes feel totally different. They even stall differently; with, for instance, one giving you a few moments notice, while another just falls away and goes into a spin. The enemy intelligence is also pretty good, with things like pilots ganging up on you (or more annoyingly, running away), and ships that veer about to avoid incoming torpedoes.
There is one point in the game where MicroPose have gone too heavy on the realism, though. For example, in the single missions, when flying any of the bombers, you can switch to the rear gunner position. However, it's been decided that you shouldn't have access to the rear gun when in Campaign mode, mainly because the designers felt the player might stay in the gunner position and allow the plane to complete the mission on its autopilot. Woolly thinking though, because in Campaign mode you lose access to your autopilot when in range of your target anyway.
Aaaah! I've only come across the one bug, but it's bloody annoying. To fully use the time-compress feature, you need to be on autopilot. Several times it's happened that I've reached the target, done the business, pressed the autopilot key, and been told that we've just arrived at the target so it can't be used. A check on the map screen and I'm informed that my flight of three is on its way home. So I've had to fly all the way back under manual control.
Another difficulty is that the manual doesn't tell you how to lock onto targets when using the padlock view. So I'll tell you, just in case you buy the game and need to know. It's the "j" key. Now you know.
MicroProse has been through a very long crap phase (as far as I'm concerned), but 1942 is a release that augers well for the future: a quality game with superb realism and a "flash" graphics engine that isn't dead fussy about the platform it's running on. Obviously, with a 386SX you'll have the detail toggled down to a minimum most of the time, but with a 386SX or greater you should be fine. So, if you've got a DX2, you'll be smiling from ear to ear, and if you've got a DX2 or a Pentium, you'll be laughing so hard your head will probably fall off.