OVERVIEW: Modern air combat is hardly as glamorous as it appears in the movie theatres (or video games, for that matter). Modern radar and weapons systems seek and destroy a target well before the pilot even sees his enemy, and today's "dogfights" end in the blink of an eye. Not since the days of the early 20th century have air combat involved pilots flying close enough to salute each other before the kill.
This is the world of WARBIRDS, the new aerial combat game for the Atari Lynx, and the first true flight simulator for any home video game system currently available. Other flying games currently available only give the illusion of flight -- While you can move around the screen, you have no real control over where you go. WARBIRDS, on the other hand, puts you in complete control of a World War I biplane. You can fly over a barn, loop around, then strafe it from another direction. You determine all of the plane's maneuvers, and can turn, roll, dive, and climb any way you want.
GAMEPLAY: So what are you doing here? Up to four pilots (including yourself) can occupy the airspace over the lush green countryside. No matter how many are present, your objective is the same -- destroy them all. Your only weapon is a front-mounted machine gun, and your only defense are your skills and the occassional cloudbank. "Scoring" consists of how many planes you can shoot down before you yourself are killed, over a series of missions. If you run out of ammunition, you must find, land, and reload your guns, during which you are vulnerable to enemy attacks.
Several game options are available. These include how much damage a plane can take, whether collisions are fatal, how much ammunition is present, and where your airplane starts. In a multiplayer game, everyone can choose their own settings, providing a handicapping feature between players of different skills. In a single-player game, six "missions" are available; however, the only difference is the number of enemy planes, and whether they're amateur or professional pilots.
As a simulator, WARBIRDS is filled with features not found on any other video game. Your plane has instruments for airspeed, altitude, direction, oil pressure, and ammo rounds remaining; all are important in their own way. The physical effects of stalling, high-speed dives, and even the inertia from the rotating engine are duplicated convincingly. Because WARBIRDS is a simulator with no fancy weapons, success or failure is fully dependent on your own flying and hunting skills. This realism cuts both ways, however -- biplanes were not known for their speed, and players accustomed to the high speeds of today's arcade games may find WARBIRDS boring. There is an "arcade" option, which gives your plane a faster "jet" engine, which may satisfy your need for speed.
GRAPHICS/SOUND: The graphics on WARBIRDS are a mixed bag from good to great. The opening title page is attractive, with biplanes and credits flying by the player. The actual combat scenes are done with a combination of filled polygons (for hills and barns) and scaled sprites (clouds, planes, flying bullets, smoking engines). Digitized pictures are shown at the end of a fight, indicating your success or failure. Overall, it's slightly above average for the Lynx's abilities.
Sounds are essentally basic and effective. The game uses several music scores before and after flights. Actual combat is filled with the noises of your engine (unless you turn it off), the rattle of gunfire, and several sound effects indicating when you're hit, when your shots hit, and when a plane has been downed.
SUMMARY: WARBIRDS is designed and written by Robert Zdybel, a newcomer to Lynx game design; He dedicates the game to his father, and it's a worthy piece of gaming to be proud of. It's a game that's simple in concept and fun to play. Throw in true simulator realism, a variety of options, and the ability for four-player competition, and the sum is greater than its parts. For the video gamer looking for realistic aerial action, WARBIRDS leaves eveything else behind.
Gameplay: 9.5 Graphics: 8.0 Sound: 8.0 Overall: 9.0