PC Pilot

The Complete Guide to Computer Aviation
by Steve Smith


There's an old adage in Hollywood that movie studios are desperately seeking screenplays that are exactly the same as those that have gone before…and yet completely different. Exactly the same…because Hollywood never,ever ventures beyond its tried-and-true formulas. Completely different…because you can't very well expect audiences to sit through the same movie twice, can you? Same thing with flight sims, apparently.

Chris Roberts' Pacific Strike is an almost battle-by-battle remake of Damon Slye's Aces of the Pacific for Sierra/Dynamix (See Chapter Ten), which was, in turn, a gloss on Battlehawks 1942, the first installment of Larry Holland's World War II trilogy for LucasArts. Both of the earlier sims centered on reenactments of two pivotal engagements in the Pacific Theater—the carrier-based battles of the Coral Sea and Midway (which, although inconclusive by themselves, had the effect of dissuading the Japanese from further expansion in the eastern Pacific.

Completely different, because unlike Battlehawks, which was chronologically limited to 1942, and unlike Aces of the Pacific, whose "what-if" scenario explored the possibility of extending the war well into 1946, Origin's Pacific Strike toys with the idea of shortening the war. If you're preternaturally successful as a U.S. Navy fighter pilot, you could bring the war to a conclusion as early as 1944…obviating the necessity of dropping the atom bomb altogether. On the other hand, if you foul up, you could face the possibility of our side having to sue the Imperial Forces of Japan for peace instead of the other way around. Chilling.

Thus, Pacific Strike is completely different for Origin, too. Whereas virtually everything that chief designer Roberts has done before, from Wing Commander (an outer space sim) to Strike Commander (air combat early in the next century) has been, in effect, an interactive movie (that is, you as a player can bring different "takes" to your role, but not change the script), Pacific Strike is more like a strategy game (that is, the ending is not preordained; how well you do will materially affect the outcome).

"If you don't sink the Shoho," a Japanese vessel that we actually sank in the Coral Sea, says Pacific Strike's producer, Eric Hyman, "that particular carrier will still be there at Midway, making [your] overall mission that much harder to complete." In addition to those two crucial battles, you're involved in the initial attack on Pearl as well as in campaigns for Guadalcanal, the Solomons and the Marianas, Leyte Gulf, Iwo, and Okinawa, with four missions each.

As has become the norm for these sims, you start the war as a lieutenant j.g. and—if you survive—earn decorations and promotions and added responsibilities. As squadron commander, you gain wide-ranging authority over mission profiles, weapons loadouts, and pilot assignments (you fly with up to six wing-persons; none via modem, unfortunately).

Early in the war, you fly Douglas Devastators and Dauntlesses and Grumann Wildcats and Hellcats. (There are plans to release an add-on disk that would permit you to fly for the Japanese in everything from Mitsubishi Reisens to Kyushu Shindens.) Later on, you get Chance-Vought Corsairs and Grumann Bearcats. Objectives vary from dogfighting to close air support to antishipping strikes. One nice detail: when your torpedo hits an enemy ship, instead of disappearing behind an explosion, the stricken vessel first lists to port, then capsizes and sinks.

The cockpit views allow you to pan around in one continuous sweep, the same way you can in Strike Commander—a major advantage over most other sims. In the forward view, you can also step-zoom to get a closer look at your opponent. For an unobstructed view, you can make the canopy and instrument panel disappear—everything vanishes except the gunsight cross hairs—the way you can in Chuck Yeager's Air Combat(see Chapter Eight).

Pacific Strike's "RealSpace" graphics engine is virtually identical to that employed in Strike Commander—beautifully detailed, Gouraud-shaded (that is, the light source produces appropriate shadows), and texture-mapped (which gives a more photographic look than bit-mapped). With less "ground" detail needed than Strike Commander (ocean scenery is less taxing than ground scenery), Pacific Strike's resource demands are lower, although Origin does list a 486 CPU, four megs of RAM, and twenty megs of hard disk as minimum system requirements.

Sound support is good. As with Strike Commander, there is an add-on "speech-pak" that digitizes radio messages at the expense of another five megs of hard disk space. The flight model and enemy AI remain at about the same level as in Strike Commander—that is, aimed more at beginners than experienced flight sim enthusiasts.

Without the restraints of having to follow a predetermined outcome, anything is possible, although it's hard to know what to recommend Pacific Strike in lieu of. Perhaps if you think Aces of the Pacific is too difficult or doesn't look convincing enough…


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