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

Flight Commander II (FC2) is the fourth computer game release from Avalon Hill in 1994. After several years of inconsistent and many times indifferent computer games AH announced that it intended to get back into this genre of gaming in a serious way. FC2 certainly reflects this new commitment to quality computer games.

FC2 covers tactical air combat operations in the modern jet age from 1950 until the present. Unlike a myriad of simulator games covering this subject which work in "real time" FC2 uses a strategy and boardgame approach. What makes it work so well is that the many factors that make up flight operations such as turns, banks, maneuvers, climbs, dives and changes in air speed, functions normally found in simulators, are well modeled in a strategy/boardgame gaming system. The result of this is that flight operations can be accurately and realistically managed in a turn based environment, something that should be of much interest to those who enjoy the subject but lack the dexterity to successfully play an action game yet appeal to those who enjoy real time flight simulators as well.

The core of the game is built around missions. There are a number of scenarios covering various conflicts, both real and hypothetical. The player is assigned tasks to accomplish via a briefing. Once the mission is chosen the player is taken to the main screen. The player starts out having arrived in the general area of his mission. The actual flight to the target area is done abstractly and represented by a percentage of fuel already having been consumed. Aircraft are depicted as icons on a game map and this map comprises the largest area of the viewscreen. Prominent terrain features such as forests and rough areas are shown. Overlaying the map is a square grid (which can be toggled on or off) which regulates unit movement.

Surrounding the map are the various controls and information boxes used to maneuver aircraft, operate systems such as radar , firing missiles, etc. The interface is very well done and easy both to learn and use. Planes are can be ordered to turn, climb, dive, fire weapons, etc. Most of the aircraft maneuvers are entered using a flight stick. Speed is regulated by adjusting the amount of thrust. All these operations can be done via a mouse. All orders will be executed in an action phase after orders have been entered for each aircraft . There can be as few as four aircraft per side in the introductory scenarios. The more advanced scenarios can have considerably more. This process continues until objectives are met or one has to turn back to base.

One of the nice features of FC2 is a layered approach the designer chose to use in terms of complexity of the game and the game manual. The manual explains things clearly and includes introductory and intermediate tutorials to walk one through game functions. The game itself has been designed to operate on a relatively simply level all the way up to a very complex and realistic simulation. This is accomplished by having a considerable number of optional features which can be toggled on or off. Thus such options as altitude, radar and visual contacts, high-G turns, missile tracks, stalls, advanced ground attack and movement phasing can be selected individually in any combination to tailor the amount of realism a player might wish to have.

FC2 also has a campaign feature in which several missions are needed to accomplish an assigned objective. One is presented with a roster of pilots of varying abilities and one chooses the makeup of each mission. Planes can be armed with a variety of different ordinance. The game comes with fifty-eight aircraft representing thirty-three nationalities. One can also access an extensive database giving considerable information on aircraft attributes. FC2 can be played against another opponent, versus the computer or via E-mail. Each side can select from among several difficulty levels.

FC2 is a solid effort. The graphics are well done, the interface is easy to use and intuitive and the sound library is fairly extensive. It's nice not to have an opening sequence where the music sounds like a theme from a game show. Probably most refreshing of all, the game appears very stable and I experienced no lockups, freezes or glitches while putting it through its paces. A couple of minor bugs were reported just after the game came out and designer Charles Moylan had patches out for them in just a few days.

In short, for those interested in air-to-air and air-to-ground combat this is a highly recommended simulation. It is a game that can be enjoyed by both novice and advanced wargamers as well as simulator and strategy game fans.

Play the demo for this game directly in your browser