The Complete Guide to Computer Aviation
by Steve Smith
The emphasis in Strike Commander isn't on a realistic flight model or proper military etiquette, it's on the flow of the game, so it comes as no surprise that your F-16 handles about as well with a full load of ordnance as it does empty, or that landings are as simple as lining up with the runway and cutting the throttle. Likewise, getting the best of your enemies in a dogfight isn't too difficult, even at the highest skill levels. And to ease you past the boring bits, there's a "Fast Forward" command that zaps a lot of intermediate waypoints and transit stages.
You may equip your Falcon with the usual Sidewinders and AAM-RAMs (at a cost of $50,000 to $200,000 apiece), and 1,000 rounds of 20-mm ammo for the port-mounted Vulcan. The TEWS (Tactical Electronic Warfare System) is a model of simplicity; the air-to-air radar is the most useful, with a single-target mode giving plenty of information (range, altitude, heading, speed, even aspect angle) at the expense of losing track of all other targets. Range is adjustable in four scales: 10, 20, 40, and 80 nautical miles.
The second-most valuable display is the Threat Warning Indicator, which differentiates between ground- and air-launched missiles, and between first-, second-, and third-generation enemy fighters (for instance, an ancient MiG-19, a 1970s Tornado, and a modern F/A-18 Hornet).
I have several problems with Strike Commander, and like the game itself, they are tremendous. First and foremost, it demands more resources than most of us can afford: if you load the optional "speech pack" (which enables spoken dialogue; otherwise the lines appear on the bottom of the screen as subtitles) and "Tactical Operations," the first add-on disk, the game consumes a whopping 51 megabytes of hard disk space. And loading files (before each mission, for example) takes quite some time, even with a 12-ms. hard disk and a 4-megabyte hardware cache.
Second, despite Origin's assurances that it will run on a "fast 386," I would recommend a minimum of a 50-MHz 486 (which is faster than the fastest 386). On my 66-MHz 486, the frame rate was what would pass for average in a less-demanding game. (On a 60-MHz Pentium, it looked great.) That it requires DOS 5.0+, plenty of RAM, and a hot VGA setup should go without saying. And the fact that the graphics are so spectacular only encourages the use of a seventeen-or even twenty-inch monitor.
Finally, I deplore the lack of a multiplayer option, even though this would be at complete odds with the game's cinematic strategy. I mean, you couldn't have another player come in and hijack the plot, could you? It's already one-on-one (the player versus the narrative), with no room for a third party to complicate or contradict the story line. Still, going up against a real live opponent always gets my heart rate up considerably more than playing a computer, no matter how charming or deadly or both. Maybe in another life.
One other element is missing: replay. If Strike Commander is supposed to be like a movie, what could be more cinematic than being able to view your takes again, or—better yet—save them to disk for later analysis? Certainly the computing power is present in the game to depict the action from multiple "camera" angles, and as with gun-camera footage, to be able to view the battle in retrospect, and maybe even assemble "footage" into a permanent "film." A glaring omission.
The "Tactical Operations" add-on disk makes some minor improvements—to the sound and to enemy AI. Although in the add-on the narrative begins six months after the end of the original scenario (Turkey is no longer hospitable to mercenary squadrons), the effect it has on your opponents is retroactive. That is, if you go back and fly the original missions again, enemy fighters are no longer the pushovers they were the first time around. A new level of flight model has also been added; if you choose it, your F-16 becomes harder to fly. Other aircraft have been added; notably Lockheed's F-117A Stealth.
But the documentation hasn't improved much…and it was only marginally acceptable to begin with—a disappointment in a game with this much potential.