Reach For the Skies

Title		Reach For the Skies
Game Type	Flight Sim
Distibutor	Virgin Games
Company		Rowan Software
Players		1
HD install	Yes
Compatibility	Some glitches with AGA

Rowan Software already had a strong reputation for their flight simulators
with the earlier "Flight of the Intruder".  Based on the book of the same
name, that game featured a great deal of realism as you could take control
of an A-6 or an F-4 during the Vietnam war, even including the quite
ludicrous political directives that hampered air operations of the time.
This game was heavily delayed and somewhat marred by some serious bugs and
lack of play testing, but was still well ahead of the competition.

With this in mind, their announcement of a Battle of Britain simulation
using a refined version of the same game engine was warmly welcomed.
Despite a delayed release, most of the bugs had been ironed out and this
was a game in a class of its own.

At the start of the game you are allowed the options of playing on either
the Allied or Axis side.  Options to play as a pilot, a controller, or
both, greatly increase the strategic element and you can actually have a
full and satisfying game without even taking part in any of the missions!

There is a good selection of aircraft types for both sides, with the German
side having the benefit of including several bomber types.  Personally, I
would have liked to see some of the more exotic aircraft such as the
Boulton Paul Defiant or the Italian squadrons being included (for target
practise!), but the aircraft present are well simulated.  Each has its own
cockpit display and unique handling characteristics which do make a

Although they look very dated now, the mainly filled polygon graphics were
excellent for 1993, a time long before graphics cards transformed the PC
gaming scene.  The feeling of movement is well simulated and there are few
graphical glitches.  One problem is that accelerator cards and the AGA
chipset actually make the game too fast.  On a 68030 it is often difficult
to keep up with the action as your input fails to keep up with the display.
 Having said that, as the aircraft are not of the supersonic variety, this
is not as big a problem as it was in their Vietnam simulation.  On a stock
A1200 the game moves along very nicely, and it is playable on a basic A500.

Missions are varied and historically quite accurate.  The Luftwaffe begin
by targeting the radar sites before moving on to airfield attacks.  The
Royal Air Force have to react accordingly and the strategy element means
that all your actions have an effect on the overall conflict.  Radar
stations, which are very nicely drawn, are eventually repaired over time
but a well aimed bomb from a Stuka or Me 110 can put them out of action for
good.  The only real disappointment here is that cities are represented by
very simple grey areas with few buildings.  This was all down to the
hardware limitations, of course, and does not detract from the longterm
gameplay.  I personally find it satisfying to strafe Royal Air Force
stations that I have actually worked at in real life!

The balance between game and simulation is well judged.  External views
work well and enable you to admire some of the minimalist scenery.  You are
able to hop between gun positions on the multi-seat aircraft and realistic
flight plans and strategies help in achieving your tasks.  This does not
prevent "cheating";  when I desperately need to take out a target, I just
fly in low and slow, avoiding fixed anti-aircraft emplacements, knowing
that small arms fire has not been included.  Another useful strategy if you
are on the unlimited fuel and ammunition setting is to take out multiple
targets to make a bigger impact on the air campaign.

For pure dogfighting action, the Spitfire is perfect and the Hurricane,
true to life, is the best machine for getting amongst Luftwaffe bomber
formations and causing havoc.  The computer plays a decent game which
ensures that some good aerial battles take place with some real excitement
generated as you attempt to manoeuvre into a good position whilst avoiding
incoming fire.

Training flights or selecting various sections of the campaign enable
casual players to get straight into the action, if they so desire.  Even
the best of players will find that the game takes a long time to complete
in campaign mode, but the satisfaction of beating off the Luftwaffe, or
forcing the Royal Air Force into capitulation, is very satisfying.  As
usual with a simulation of this quality, the manual is large and
informative, which all adds to the atmosphere.  Of course, they do not
mention the fact that a German invasion was acknowledged as being suicidal
by the strategists in charge of the plan, but this has only really been
highlighted by historians and "revisionists" in the last few years!

Prior to the release of this title, the only other Battle of Britain
simulation of any note for the Amiga was "Their Finest Hour" released a
couple of years earlier by LucasFilm Games.  However, this was a completely
different style of game, incorporating bitmap graphics with frantic arcade
action.  That was a classic game in its own right but is almost impossible
to play on an A1200 or higher due to the graphical display.

There has not been a better simulation on the Amiga, or even the PC for
that matter, since.  Rowan Software did produce the follow-up "Overlord",
which simulates later campaigns over mainland Europe, but this is basically
just the same system with different aircraft and situations.  It is
excellent, but does not offer any real improvements in terms of gameplay.

This leaves "Reach For the Skies" quite literally in a class of its own,
and a true classic.  With the advent of powerful yet cheap graphics cards
and faster processors, I am sure I am not the only person who would love to
see an update of this game, but will this ever happen on the Amiga, bearing
in mind that Rowan are now firmly entrenched in the PC market?  Well, one
can live in hope!

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