Review: Bomber III: Flak Alley
Published by: DEADLY/GAMES©
PO Box 676, Bridgehampton, NY 119320676
Street Price: $39.95
8 MB RAM
This game was reviewed on a Macintosh Performa 6400/180 with 24MB RAM.
DEADLY/GAMES© ("A Chaos Tech Company") has a long track record of producing games that challenge the intellect rather than the itchy trigger finger. Bomber III: Flak Alley is the most recent in their series of "games" which will challenge your patience and administrative skills. Accordingly, this game will give you none of the flavour of Gregory Peck's starring role in the 1949 movie "Twelve O'Clock High," nor will it entice the computer gamer who is attracted to graphic "shoot-em-ups" offered by flight simulators such as Graphic Simulations Corporation F/A-18 Hornet 3.0.
The game is set during World War II. The famous American B-17 Flying Fortress has been given the task of destroying critical military industrial targets in Nazi Germany. Right up front, the company stresses that the goal is to use "Executive Skills" to manage the "Assets" necessary to complete a mission. However, there are moments when immediate, action-oriented decisions are called for. To an extent, I feel that this type of game is merely a sophisticated variation on the game of chess. As the promotional literature for this product states:
Avoiding flak, driving off enemy fighters, finding and bombing the target will test your motor skills, but this is no first person-shooter; planning the mission, choosing fuels and armament ratios...are executive skills. Asset management is really what this game is all about.
Upon installation, it is quickly evident that Deadly Games has not altered their use of the aging HyperCard application. A folder of approximately 3 MB resides on your hard drive, and play requires that the CD-ROM be in its drive as well. The application is adequate, but shows its age through the tediously-extended response times to mouse clicks and keyboard commands. Despite its dated interface, this is a PowerMac only game! You really need a powerful machine to appreciate and operate this product. This is another indication that the "68K" machines are being abandoned by developers.
Upon starting the game, you are presented with a "Pilot's Log" listing names and job descriptions of your crew members. To personalize your adventure of 25 missions over Europe, you may change the default names at this stage. Once you have decided on your "mates" you can chose from six B-17
aircraft to fly the assigned mission(s). One caveat—if you lose an aircraft, it is lost for the duration of the game, which decreases your chances of completing the 25 required missions. You can continue your tour with each of the other aircraft until they have been destroyed. Treat your crew and craft with extreme care!
A "Briefing" of the mission destination is presented on a map screen. Other pertinent facts, such as the amount of fuel necessary to reach the destination and altitude statistics to fly in formation with the rest of the squadron are also available. Initial asset management comes into play at this state as you attempt to balance your fuel requirement against the total bomb load you can carry. You have to think about how much extra fuel you might need if a fight or flak attack diverts you from the perfect flight path. Flying in formation is strongly recommended - flak and enemy fighters will enjoy picking away at any "loner."
Takeoff is not as easy as you might expect. You will spend a fair bit of time conversing with your Navigator in order to maintain contact with your flying group. To me, this seemed as though I was constantly careening across the map, trailing the formation by two or three miles and who knows how many degrees off course. The game's progress may seem extremely slow to most users. The only way to speed up the flight is to call up the "Nav" map, which expedites the activities of your plane and the larger formation. Most consumer complaints about the entire line of Deadly Games products have concerned how long it takes before any activity takes place. Bomber, like other Deadly Games products is a "thinking person's" game.
Once the action in Bomber III: Flak Alley occurs, look for the opportunity to participate in fighter defense, flak avoidance, and most importantly the, "sliding maintenance" of your aircraft as its "integrity" is depleted by the various attacks with their consequent effects on engines, landing gear, oxygen supply, heating comfort and so forth. Flying the aircraft is relatively simple. A mouse click and drag on the cockpit wheel will alter your course. Throttle, speed and height adjustment are made by easy mouse commands or keyboard indicators in appropriate areas on the "HyperCard" screen.
With respect to the action aspects of the game, the final approach to the target area, which takes you to
the Bombardier position, is the most interesting and challenging. As Bombardier, you take total control
of the direction of the B-17 and must "intuitively" compute the time to release the bomb load. A
"bit-o-luck" and some experience gives you an leg up on this critical aspect of your mission and your
Game players will quickly see the difference between shooting games like "Doom" and the shooting aspects of Bomber. I found that whenever I manned a gun position, the action was unpredictable and finished before I had a chance to figure out "line of sight" angle. Maybe practice makes perfect! The response to enemy fighter attacks is handled by automaticallly by the computer, or by the player if he or she choses to select a gun position from the menu bar. The attacks are quick and I found that my responses to the oncoming aircraft were intuitive and without feedback. This is one of the least satisfying aspects of the game's action sequences. But then, one must keep in mind that this game was not intended to be a mindless, violent shooting event.
All missions are preplanned until you achieve the rank of Major by succeeding at the assigned campaigns. As Major, you begin to dictate how various missions proceed. Accumulated missions and cumulative scores determine your promotions and the awarding of medals. Be aware that the company has used their time-tested method of copyright protection. You can complete your assigned missions only by using the "Pilot's Manual" which contains mission-specific aerial photographs critical to the success of the Bombardier. As the missions move toward the heartland of Germany, other aspects of management become important. Do you bailout if your craft sustains too much damage? Do weather conditions cause you to return to base, attempt another run at a different altitude, or just gamble that the clouds will clear in time for a single successful run?
As is true in the real world, you can expect to lose air crew, aircraft and complete your mission with varying degrees of success. This is definitely a game for a person who enjoys a good game of chess. Those who like fast action with immediate gratification may wish to steer clear. If you are familiar with
Deadly Games and its products, you might also know that Bomber has gone through several incarnations. I remember playing the original Bomber game when it was in black and white! I enjoyed it then and I enjoy the colourized and enhanced version now.
Copyright ©1997 Robert Madill, <firstname.lastname@example.org>. Mr. Madill is a Professor of Art and Architectural History on the faculty of Architecture at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Manitoba.