The Complete Guide to Computer Aviation
by Steve Smith
ALONE, UNARMED, AND UNAFRAID
Two other thermometer graphs track enemy ground and airborne radar. When these bars get longer (augmented by beeps), they are probing for you. If your EMV bar overlaps their search bars—BRRAAAP!—they've found you. You can break the lock by flying behind a mountain (easy in Korea; impossible in Kuwait), throttling back and cleaning up your profile, or other action. If you're flying the MicroProse F-117A you can turn and fight. In the Lockheed F-117A, you can only try to make yourself very small. As in Eagle III, these are solo missions—in enemy airspace no one can hear you scream.
Meanwhile, your MFD (Multi-Function Display) keeps tabs on the whereabouts of every enemy aircraft in your vicinity; if they get close enough, you can pick them up on your FLIR (Forward-Looking Infra-Red) viewer. You also get visual and audible indications of enemy radar contacts and missile launches (if any). Most of the mission can be flown on autopilot, but if the forces of evil are closing in on you, you may have to get below the autopilot's 400-foot minimum, where the ground effects make for a choppy ride, and fly by the seat of your pants.
But even if you've escaped detection all the way to the target, dropping two tons of high explosives on somebody's national treasure is sure to draw enemy aircraft to your position like flies. They may not be able to find you, but only a quarter of a mile away, they can make you sweat.
If you're able to evade the tightening noose—altering your waypoints to fly around mountains instead of over them, for example—the missions aren't exciting; they're nerve-wracking, harrowing. But if they do find you, all hell breaks loose. The cockpit is awash with the red glare of trouble lights and filled with warning sirens announcing all sorts of bad news … enemy air or ground radar has a lock on you, somebody has launched a guided missile, an infrared missile has spotted your exhaust, enemy fighters are scrambling … while you try to decide whether to drop chaff or flares or decoys or turn on the ECM or make a dash for home. Eastern Europe in particular is crawling with topflight Russian hardware—rotating radar dishes, Shilkas, MiGs, and enemy AWACS surveillance planes, etc. And you don't have so much as a snub-nosed .38.
You can take a number of hits and still limp home. You can suffer fuel leaks and fire damage, lose an engine or your inertial navigation gear, have your flaps or bay doors jammed, or even lose your precious MFD, and still bring it in on a wing and a prayer. Or, if not, punch "F10" ("Eject").
As in other MicroProse games, there is no recorder or replay, only an illustrated mission summary, and—if you got the primary or secondary target—points, promotions, and medals. One nice touch: a trumpet fanfare when you receive a medal. (Another: your running lights go off when you enter enemy territory. Note: Theirs don't.)
F–117A Stealth 2.0 isn't for everyone. If you're lusting for dogfights, you'd probably be better off with another sim altogether than trying to make do with the hobbled dogfighter version in this game. Stealth simulation is a head trip, an intellectual challenge, almost like a strategy board game: remapping waypoints, conserving fuel, outfoxing your opponents, keeping a low EMV profile, struggling back from your errors. It's a cat-and-mouse exercise: skulking around in the dark like an assassin, servicing the target, and slipping away in the fog of war. If you're as fascinated by stealth warfare as I am, great, otherwise…
Fortunately, the owner's manual is a boon to understanding stealth technology, technique, and operations. It explains electronic warfare in all its forms, particularly radar (pulse, Doppler, phased array, search, tracking, ground-based, and airborne), as well as the ways to defeat it (you fly straight at pulse radar and arc around Doppler, keeping a steady distance). There's good stuff here on the missiles, too. (My favorite is the HARM, a powerful, long-range missile that homes in on enemy radar at SAM sites. If the enemy turn off their radar to foil the HARM, the darn thing loiters until they turn the radar back on again.)
Also easy: the resource requirements. F-117A Stealth 2.0 will run fine on almost any 386 (or fast 286) with VGA. The graphics are plain and kindergarten blocky, but serviceable. The ground detail is exceptional—even the windmills revolve.
You don't need more than a megabyte of RAM, you don't need DOS 5.x (3.x will do), and you don't even really need a joystick (the flight model is so simple that you can make do with the keyboard), but I would definitely recommend a sound board.
In sum, a great tutorial…and a sometime white-knuckler.