War Birds

a game by Atari Co.
Platform: Lynx
Editor Rating: 8/10, based on 1 review
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War Birds is a breakthrough. Not only is it the best air combat game available for any hand-held videogame system, but itrs also among the best air combat games for any videogame system, period—including full-size home consoles!

What makes WarBirds so special? It's the first and only true flight simulator made for a home videogame machine. Other flight games for home videogame systems use what is sometimes called "railroad-track programming." Although you seem to be flying an aircraft through the sky, you don't really have the same freedom to maneuver as a real pilot.

For instance, in Sega's Afterburner (both the home and arcade versions), your jet can fly in only one direction: straight ahead. You can seem to veer left or right, but it's just an illusion. No matter how long you steer in either direction, you can never reverse course and fly back where you've been before. Nor can you freely perform aerobatic maneuvers, such as loops or rolls. In effect, your "aircraft" moves along a predetermined path, like a train on a railroad track.

But WarBirds is a true flight simulator, much like those for personal computers. You're in complete control and can perform almost any maneuver you could in a real World War I biplane. You can climb, dive, turn, loop, and roll. If you fly over a barn and then turn around and fly back, you'll pass over the same barn from the opposite direction.

In fact, the simulation is so realistic that it even considers the inertial effect of the rotary engine. Because the engine spins clockwise (as seen from the cockpit), the plane can turn faster to the right than to the left, just like a real WWI plane.

You've also got multiple views — another videogame first. The forward view from the cockpit is standard, but by holding down the B button and pressing the directional pad, you can look left, right, straight up, or directly behind your plane. In addition, you can look down into the cockpit to check your instruments. There's an altimeter, an airspeed indicator, a compass, and an oil gauge, and all of them really work.

There are a few unrealistic features, however. The most glaring omission is the lack of a throttle. You can speed up or slow down by climbing, diving, or turning, but the only way to independently adjust your thrust is to temporarily shut off the engine. Also, WarBirds lets you perform some radical maneuvers (such as outside loops and high-speed power dives) that would tear apart the flimsy wooden airplanes of WWI. Still, there's a considerable amount of detail in WarBirds. Before you begin your flight, you can pick from six different missions and several options. You can decide how much damage your plane will absorb before crashing, how much ammunition you'll carry, whether midair collisions will be fatal, and how many lives you'll start with.

If you run out of ammo, you have to land your plane to get more. Landing isn't easy, but it's not nearly as difficult as in some computer flight simulators. After you've landed, a ground crew reloads your machine guns and waves goodbye as you take off.

You can play WarBirds alone or use Comlynx cables to hook as many as four Lynxes together for wild multi-player battles. If you're addicted to nonstop action, though, WarBirds may not be the game for you. It's so real that sometimes whole minutes go by without a shot being fired, as you roam the skies searching for an elusive enemy.

But if you'd like to experience the freedom of a pretty realistic flight simulation and the challenge of air combat, WarBirds is the best. It simply blows everything else out of the sky.

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