Coala (Third Review)

Title		Coala (Third Review)
Game Type	Flight Sim
Players		1
Company		Empire
Compatibility	020+
HD Installable	Yes
Submission      Angus Manwaring Profiled Reviewer

Coala describes itself as the ultimate helicopter gunship simulation, and
certainly the speed and appearance of its 3D system are highly impressive.

The game was developed after the Amiga's golden period, and the very last
issue of The One magazine (July 1995) featured a Work in Progress report
on the almost completed game with some very tasty screenshots.
Unfortunately the article was actually not very informative as the writer
involved seems to have seen it more as an opportunity to develop his
comedy skills. Anyway, what is clear from the article, and indeed the
game, is that the Dutch team involved (Bitfusion) were a talented and
dedicated group of Amiga enthusiasts. The game includes AGA and ECS
versions, but requires at least an 020 processor, as the team felt it was
unrealistic to attempt a 3D Amiga game capable of holding its own against
its PC rivals on a lower spec machine than this.

On the subject of specific Amiga hardware, the horizon effect in the game
uses "the famous Amiga copper chip" and I don't recall it being used as
well as this in another 3D game.

Initially I was a bit confused about what kind of game Coala actually is.
It calls itself a simulation, and looks like one, but in my judgement
its more of a 3D action game, with its straightforward gameplay, its high
score table, and its lack of a save game option. Its rather like the game
Guardian crossed with the Core classic, Thunderhawk. Nothing wrong with
that, however.

When starting the game you are not aligned with either the East or West
forces, rather you are a free agent that can throw in with whoever you
choose. You can even attack both sides and become a "Dog of War" if that
is your preference. Civilians and United Nations Forces also present
potential targets for budding psychopaths.

The game gives you a number of scenario options to choose from - there's
Peace, which is handy if you just want to fly around and take in the
sights, there are a number of Battle options involving ongoing conflicts,
then there's a set of Defensive and Offensive missions where you might
have to protect a troop convoy that has come under attack, or even
mercilessly pursue and kill fleeing enemy vehicles as they make off with
stolen loot from the country your allies have just kicked them out of -
Mutla Ridge, anybody?

In addition there are Random scenarios, Custom scenarios where you the
player decides which vehicles are involved and (in multiples of ten) how
many there are of them. There is an option for Practicing against a single
vehicle type, and finally there is Total War, where all vehicles from all
sides are involved.

You can choose from one of four aircraft: the AH-64 Apache, the MI-35
Hind, the MI-28 Havoc or, after scoring 100 points, the fictional A88
Coala. There are also four theatres (Western Europe, Antarctic, Mexico and
the Middle East) and four mission times (Dawn, Noon, Sunset, and Night).

One of the most impressive features of the game is the superb virtual
cockpit. By holding down the right mouse button and moving the mouse you
actually take control of the pilot's head. You can look smoothly from side
to side without changing the course of the helicopter. The real advantage
of this is that when using your chain gun or Hellfire missiles (or Eastern
equivalents), the direction in which you are looking is slaved to the
corresponding weapon. You can therefore fly parallel to a road, keeping
pace with, for example, an enemy Lada truck, and at a time of your
choosing blow the bejabers out of it, without having to so much as lower
your craft's nose, let alone changing your heading.

Another particuarly neat feature is the Target Acquisition and Designation
System (TADS) and its zoom facility. By hitting the Tab key you enter the
TADS view, which is essentially a zoomed in view for 'sniping'. The z key
will however zoom you in a lot further, and when you have the Hellfire
missiles selected, the targetting display, complete with target data
displayed along side, does look very tasty indeed. To some extent you can
make use of trees and buildings for hiding behind, but it has to said that
the lack of hills (or valleys) in the landscape does exact a price on the
game's tactical depth. Another niggle is that while you can fill the
screen with your separate radar display, select a vehicle, read data on it,
and even observe it with a tracking camera viewpoint, when you go back to
the cockpit view the vehicle is no longer selected on your HUD, even if
its directly in front of you. This lack of a proper interface between the
two screens feels like an oversight to me.

Included with the game are two bonus programs which are well worth a look.
These are EFA and Navigator which enable you fly a variety of aircraft and
view a range of objects respectively. They don't pretend to be games, but
they are quite fun to explore.

On the whole then, Coala is a very nice looking game with some impressive
features. It lacks a certain depth, with its wrap-around landscape and
point scoring system, but it certainly delivered unexpected bounty to
the increasingly disconsolate Amiga fans of 1995, and it remains an
enjoyable and stylish game that didn't quite realise its full potential.

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