Preview - Flight Commander 2 (Windows 3.x, 1994)

Games simulating warfare – whether modern or ancient – seem trapped in certain circles. If you're simulating Napoleonic war, then you're doing a medium-scale overhead ground-conflict strategy game, for instance – your only design choices are "real-time" or "turn-based." There are no first-persion shooters simulating front-line action in World War One, and no RPGs that put you in the French Resistance in World War 2. Looking for a Civil War-era arcade game? No dice. Make your own.

Some of these limits are sane and reasonable – whether anyone would WANT a first-person shooter about the Tommys in WW1 is questionable. Some of them, though, are RUTS, pure and simple. The worst of which might be games about modern jet fighters. All of them – all of them except the Flight Commander games, that is – are flight-sims. First-person shooters about modern jet-fighters, if you will.

Flight Commander 2 is a turn-based wargame – the scale is on the individual-plane level. There are a few nice touches that move it beyond a simple hex-based number crunch with planes painted on the counters, too – the maneuvers aren't done on any kind of visible grid (although an invisible one underlies the movement system) – instead you control your turns and rolls, plotting out movement in a system reminiscent of a sophisticated football play-planner.

It's surprising, perhaps, that Flight Commander 2 is unique in its treatment of jet-fighters – surprising because the genre is so rich in potential AND surprising because Flight Commander 2 exploits that potential so successfully and beautifully.

The missions are a mix of historical and purely speculative, and include fights over both land and sea. The fights over land are more than just fights over a different background graphic, too – land-targets are an issue both in terms of anti-aircraft fire and targets to be bombed. The game will also include a scenario-builder in which you can define your own battles, over either land or sea. And if the game is successful – something Avalon Hill is fairly certain of – expanded scenario packs and other sequels and spinoffs are a certainty.

Flight Commander 2 requires the ubiquitous Microsoft Windows to run – the principal advantage of that being the ability to minimize it when you don't want to be caught loafing. The other advantage – that of putting information into moveable and sizeable sub-windows – is fully exploited in Flight Commander 2. This growing trend in Windows games is a welcome one, and is especially important in a game like this one, where available information is vital, and arranging it in a way that is COMFORTABLE is very useful.

Another important trend which is explored in Flight Commander 2 is email support – the email mode won't change play considerably, but special scenarios ARE being developed to put maximum entertainment into games played over the Information Highway . . . in particular, larger numbers of planes will be involved, to put more strategy into each individual turn. This feature is likely to attract a lot of people to the game – email play is becoming almost the assumed standard in wargames, leaving the developers of the AIs for such games at lesser companies breathing a lazy sigh . . .

But the AI in Flight Commander 2 is ANYTHING but the result of lazy programming – far from it. While the real-time and email-only programmers grow lethargic with uselessness, the men who REALLY know how to make a computer a place of war have put their minds to work in Flight Commander 2, making a truly challenging computer opponent with the requisite three levels of difficulty. Be warned – even the easiest level of AI challenge is likely to keep you busy until you're very used to playing the game. And at that point – you'll be eager for more. Flight Commander 2 will be happy to deliver.

And beyond entertaining gameplay (the game moves fast and fun) and a unique strategic concept, the game will sport LOTS of nice sound effects and pleasing graphics. The land terrain is created on the fly, allowing you to fly "off the map" with no trouble – the computer will just make more map for you. And during combat, a huge collection of "radio samples" kicks in periodically on the speakers, creating a convincing illusion of being in the midst of a genuine fighter operation.

On top of the game – and on top of the sound – Flight Commander 2 will include a comprehensive online encyclopedia of modern air warfare, including details on the air forces of every major world power – and a LOT of the minor ones. Want to know about the Swedish Air Force? It has an entry. And the details on the planes themselves might even come in useful in combat – which makes it extra-nice that you can access the library in the middle of a fight.

As a concept, the Flight Commander name still represents the vangaurd. As a game, Flight Commander 2 could hold the top spot if there were a thousand competitors. Watch for it.

Play the demo for this game directly in your browser