ATF - Advanced Tactical Fighter

Review of a Multimedia Game on a Compact Disc

by Stephen Morris

In my household, there are approximately 20 multimedia CD's, most of which are played by my 12 ½ year old son (for some reason, my 11 year-old daughter prefers to write stories on the computer). These CD's range from Doom to Myst, from Civilization II to SimCity 2000. Many of the CD's are educational, such as The Lost Mind of Dr. Brain or Life's Greatest Mysteries, but the games which are played the most are the ones where the user (my son) interacts with the game in some way (either creatively or violently). Top honors go to SimCity 2000, Civilization II, Colonization, and Doom. But beating out all of these is a CD called ATF - Advanced Tactical Fighters, part of the Jane's Combat Series put out by Electronic Arts.

The appeal of this game is on several levels: the visual action is fairly realistic; the user navigates the jets using a joystick so there is a tactile sensation while being in the simulation; the mastery of the aircraft is difficult requiring practice and skill; and the systems on board the aircraft (navigation, sensors, weapons, etc.) are complex enough to require thought and discpline for top-notch deployment. And then there is the exhilaration of successfully completing a mission; the user imagines himself/herself shooting down the bad guys and saving the free world once again.

The user gets to choose among seven fighter aircraft in which to fly in excess of a hundred different missions over one of several different battlefields. The detail and accuracy on the jets is outstanding, with great attention to detail on the systems and inner workings of each aircraft. Information is compiled from Jane's Information Group, the public world's leading resource on military aircraft. Less compelling is the scenery, with fairly low resolution and lack of detail owing to space limitations of the current CD technology. The audio is good, especially since you have conversations with your RIO depending on the action. Examples of the dialogue include "Incoming!" and "Watch out!" These messages, as well as more detailed conversational snippets, help the pilot understand the action and allow a proper response. For example, a pilot may have his/her attention entirely focused on trying to shoot down an enemy MiG, while oblivious to the anti-aircraft fire coming from the ground. Audio and visual clues, such as the conversations with the RIO and the blips on the heads-up-display (HUD), help the fighter pilot interact in the simulation very much like a real pilot and helps keep the pilot alert to all situations.

One part of the simulation that encourages a lot of playing time are the enhanced effects. Explosions, many different shapes for damaged aircraft, wings detaching and aircraft breaking in half, all add a sense of drama and adventure to the game. Additionally, a pilot can fly each of the missions using a different aircraft (each having unique weapons and handling capabilities) so that the number of different missions is well over 700.

Other features of ATF include allowing interactivity with another player via modem, or up to eight players on a network (just what the boss needs!). This can add another dimension to the game, trying to outwit other people, not just the programmed missions on the CD. Players can also design custom missions using the Pro Mission Creator that comes with the software, once you have mastered the existing missions and aircraft.

Electronic Arts does a good job in providing a comprehensive guide to the capabilities of the fighters, and also includes a separate sheet on keyboard commands. In order to master the simulations, though, a pilot has to have memorized the commands. Looking at the sheet while one is driving can lead to a missle up your tail.

Since the game is on a DOS platform and flight simulations are heavy users of conventional memory, the user must set up a start-up disk to insert into the PC when the computer boots. This is a very easy task, one that the instructions supplied walk you through with ease. The initial screen that pops up upon starting the game is fairly detailed and complex. You can be a user like me and read most of the instructions before starting, or you can be like my son, who just starts playing and hitting buttons (his way seems to work just fine). My only complaint about the initial screen was there was no obvious way to Exit the program.

Overall, though some of the battlefield graphics are only mediocre at best, I would have to rate this multimedia game as an ŽA'. The use of audio and visual cues, the tactile sensations of the joystick, the skill and concentration of the pilot, all come together to make this game a success.

A promotional web site has been set up by Electronic Arts for their games. ATF can be accessed at http://www.ea.com/janes/newatf/index.html.