PC Pilot

The Complete Guide to Computer Aviation
by Steve Smith


Their Finest Hour is the same kind of game as Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe (see Chapter Nine; both were created by LucasArts' Larry Holland), only scaled down and much less intense. Here the tables are turned; it is the Germans who are attacking and the Allies (okay, the British, all by themselves) who are defending. Instead of thousands of planes in the air at once, it is only dozens. And the emphasis is not on the weapons of war (although both the Spitfire and the Messerschmitt Bf-109 were good ones), nor on the interaction between successive missions, and not even so much on the teamwork between the leader and his wingmates. Here it is pretty much on dogfighting, one-on-one. As in Dynamix's Aces series and Red Baron (see Chapters Ten and Eleven), it's tactics, not strategy.

Although the Battle of Britain, which raged during the crucial summer of 1940, was only a few years and a few kilometers removed from the great climactic battles over Continental Europe—although no less decisive—it seemed a more innocent conflict, full of pluck and dash and swashbuckling heroes. Consider this, from Their Finest Hour's user's manual (which is, by the way, hands-down the finest piece of computer documentation I have ever had the pleasure to read):

After a dogfight over the English Channel, Pilot Officer Tony Woods-Scawen was forced to crash-land his Hurricane on the Isle of Wight, knocking out his teeth in the process. He then caught a ferry to Southampton, but arrived too late to rejoin his squadron. He made his way to a bar in a Southampton hotel, had a few drinks, and spent the night. The next morning, he telephoned his squadron and told the adjutant, "If you want me to go on fighting, you'd better send someone down here to pay my bill."

The German war machine, after its Blitzkrieg attack on Poland in 1939, breached the Maginot Line and raced across northern France in mid-1940, but failed to close the noose on the British Expeditionary Force that it had trapped on the beaches at Dunkirk. It was Hitler's intention to invade Great Britain in September, right after the Luftwaffe annihilated the RAF.

This the Luftwaffe was well on its way to doing (impeded mainly by Britain's coastal warning radar—the first of its kind), by concentrating on fighter bases in southeastern England, when, through bad luck or colossal stupidity, civilian London was bombed. Prime Minister Churchill, aroused, retaliated by bombing Berlin. Hitler, attempting to one-up his archenemy, vowed revenge, and focused all the Luftwaffe's efforts on bombing London.

Big mistake.

As is well known, The Few ("Never in the course of human events have so many owed so much to so few"), outnumbered three to one, put up a firestorm of resistance. The Luftwaffe retreated to lick its wounds. Hitler postponed and, eventually, cancelled Operation Sea Lion (the invasion). Many of the air battles of that summer are replicated, date for date, in Their Finest Hour.

Choose Your Weapon

As in Secret Weapons, you can fly for either side. For the RAF, you can fly the Supermarine Spitfire (descended from a line of seaplanes that competed in the prewar Schneider Cup races) or the similar-looking (but less successful) Hawker Hurricane. For the Luftwaffe, you can fly only one pure fighter, the Messerschmitt Bf-109; one fighter-bomber, the Me-110; and three medium bombers (Hitler never thought he'd need heavy bombers), the terrifying Stuka dive bomber, the Dornier Do-17 "Flying Pencil," and the Heinkel He-111. As with Secret Weapons' multiposition mode, you can put the bombers on autopilot while you play the bombardier's or gunners' positions. And again, although the flight models make them ridiculously easy to fly, they are correct relative to each other: the Me-110 can outrun a Hurricane, for example, but it can't outclimb it.

The missions (single or "Campaign" mode) include everything from bombing the RAF facilities at Chain Ventnor to picking off E-boats as they fish Luftwaffe pilots out of the Channel, poking holes in the fighter Schwarm protecting a high altitude attack on "Bomber" Harris' headquarters (Harris was the mad genius who later directed the firebombing of Dresden and Hamburg), flying low-level runs against British shipping in the Thames estuary, and joining top ace Werner Molders in a surprise sortie against the Forward Airbase at Castle Browich.

Your reward for ammo well spent? If for the RAF: a pint of bitters with the lads. If for the beleaguered Luftwaffe: a good night's sleep.

Low-key, but fun.

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