"Ready, Aim, Fire" reads the tag line for Fighter Pilot, EA's somewhat offbeat new entry into the jet fighter market. I say offbeat because instead of touting new advances in flight model realism or authentic cockpit recreations, Fighter Pilot, as far as I can tell, is simply about big, impressive explosions, with some flying thrown in for good measure. In fact, I would almost swear that this is the old coin-op arcade game Afterburner updated to 1998 graphics and with a little tiny bitof sim thrown in. The main thing is, it's definitely not a hardcore flight sim, or really much of a sim at all; this is an eye-candy, blow-up-some-MIGs shoot-'em-up with the same look, feel, and in-your-face fire and debris of those fighter games of a decade ago.
Now that I think about it, Fighter Pilot seems a whole lot like an Electronic Arts title of a few years back called, except this time instead of a helicopter, you're flying jets. Some of the controls and keyboard shortcuts are even the same ... I'd say that was kind of lame, more repackaging than anything else, except this game has two things that redeem it: 1) it's actually a lot of fun and a nice break from the ultra-realistic jet fighter games, and 2) you can pick it up almost anywhere for $19.99, which makes it considerably less of a gamble with your gaming dollars.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
If you can push a joystick, you can fly your F-18, Stealth Fighter, or other plane du jour. A very simple stick will suffice for Fighter Pilot; you need a trigger and one other button to select a weapon, and that's about it. One or two keyboard commands, and that's the whole deal. A manual is neither needed nor provided, save the little booklet in the jewel case. I guarantee that if you've never even seen a plane before, you'll still be able to be up gunning down bad guys in under five minutes.
Despite the ease with which a novice can jump into this game, though, one of the main criticisms I have of Fighter Pilot is that everything in the game seems quite predetermined in terms of the mission tree, which planes you can fly at what time, etc. In short, it's simple, but perhaps too simple, even for an arcade gamer. Nonetheless, what matters most is that a game be fun, and Fighter Pilot is good for a quick fix when you just want to take to the skies and have plenty of targets to go after in a hurry.
In a word, pretty. Reading the EA press materials, looking at the game docs, and checking out their Web site has convinced me that these guys set out to make blowing up airplanes look as gorgeous as possible. To that end, they've done a nice job. After all, do you really care about meticulous aileron detailing, or about watching some Iraqi SOB go down in Technicolor flames and smoke? C'mon, be honest. I'm voting for the frosting myself.
The audio is decent until you get to your post-flight debriefing. That's when the really annoying and repetitive voice of your supposed squadron commander takes over. "Let's review your mission. You obliterated that patrol. You wiped out that refinery. You annihilated those MIGs. You crushed those fighters." Yeah, yeah, it's like let's see how many ways you can say "shot down." It would have been funny if they'd used a Sports Center-style approach, but going for some fake macho Top Gun bravado without any conviction just made me hurry up and hit the "Next Mission" button as fast as I could.
Minimum: Windows 95/98, Pentium 166, 85 MB hard drive space, 16 MB RAM, 4X CD-ROM drive, DirectX 6 capable SVGA video card with at least 2 MB video RAM and DirectX 6 capable sound card. DirectX 6 is included on the CD and installation is required to play.
Supports multiplayer over LAN, Modem, or Internet via TCP/IP; 3Dfx support is built in, though a 3Dfx card is not required.
Fighter Pilot is good, brainless fun. It's an arcade shoot-'em-up all the way, but it's nonetheless awfully pretty the way a MIG bursts into flames from your missiles and slowly spirals down to the desert below. Hardcore flight sim fans should steer clear by a mile, but for those who want a quick flight fix you could do worse than Fighter Pilot, and for under twenty bucks, it's a decent bargain. The final score of 73 represents the limited scope of this game and the fact that there are few options within the game other than a single linear progression through pre-defined missions with pre-defined planes. In other words, it's a decent game, but it won't keep you up into the wee hours trying to get better at it.