THE name “Microprose” conjures up some very fond memories for Gamers Of A Certain Age.
Throughout the late 1980s and early-mid 1990s they were the last word in simulation and strategy games, publishing a plethora of ground-breaking titles including Civilization and Civilization II, RollerCoaster Tycoon, Transport Tycoon, UFO: Enemy Unknown, Falcon 4.0 and 1942: The Pacific Air War.
Their back catalogue is basically a Greatest Hits Of 1990s PC Gaming list, and one of my favourites from that list of greats was 1992’s B-17 Flying Fortress: World War II Bombers In Action.
The idea, basically, was to take control of every aspect of commanding a B-17G Flying Fortress across 25 missions over Europe from 1943-1945, managing the crew, operating the gun turrets to defend against fighters, and even trying to fly the bomber (right down to operating the individual switches etc on the dashboard).
I loved the ability to rename and customise my bomber and crew, and lost count of the number of hours I spent flying missions over Occupied Europe in a B-17 where the crew all had the names of my friends from school or TV shows/movies I liked. I put a lot of time into the game, in other words.
You can imagine my pleasant surprise when I got a notification from Steam a few days ago that the game had been released on the platform by MicroProse themselves as part of a ramping up of their return to games development and publishing under new ownership.
I have the game’s 2000 sequel B-17 Flying Fortress: The Mighty Eighth on GOG but hadn’t gotten around to finding a copy of the original game, so was pleased to have the chance to fix that – a pleasure that was shortly followed by a reminder of how some positive gaming experiences from the past are probably best left there.
Just to be explicitly clear: This is not a remake or a remaster; it is literally the 1992 game running via DosBox with a few options in the launcher to ensure it’s playable/viewable on modern PC gaming monitors.
Back in 1992, this was a ground-breaking game; an incredibly detailed simulation of bomber operations at every level. In 2021, it’s a polygon-tastic, low-res clunky sortie that will have most people born after the Gulf War wondering how PC gamers ever managed with such low resolutions, primitive 3D visuals and sound effects that are one step up from beeps and bloops.
The actual “static” illustrations – crew management stations, briefing views, etc are fine, but the 3D graphics in-flight are an eyesore to modern eyes and I doubt there’ll be many gamers, even those who played it when it came out, who can look past how poorly the 3D graphics and have aged.
The controls are mostly keyboard based (unless you have a joystick), which works pretty well but it’s hard to identify how much of that is a sort of muscle memory (a lot of flight sims were keyboard only at the time) and how much of it is because the controls, while complex, still lend themselves to a keyboard.
One saving grace is the inclusion of (in .pdf format) of the original manual, which originally ran to 266 pages and is an incredibly informative overview of the real-life plane, its operations, the history of the US Army Air Force in the theatre, and of course how to actually play the game.
It’s a nice reminder of how Back In The Day computer games frequently came with enormous printed manuals which were both informative and entertaining, but the experience doesn’t always translate well to a digital screen – scrolling through more than 200 pages on a .pdf just isn’t the same as opening up an actual printed book and leafing through it.
Between the 30-year-old graphics, sounds, and gameplay the after-action report from me is that this isn’t worth AUD$12.99, except possible as a very specific nostalgia hit, and especially not when 2000’s B-17 Flying Fortress: The Mighty Eighth (a better game in nearly every respect) is on GOG for AUD$8.99.
I’m glad to see MicroProse making a return to publishing games. I’m not pleased to see them charging this much money for a game that came out when I was in primary school, though. If it was AUD$3.99 or even $5 I’d be saying “At this price it’s worth it for nostalgia and game history/preservation reasons”, but at $13 I can’t help but feel it’s a bit cheeky.
If you just want a bomber crew management game, then Bomber Crew is very good and also lets you command an Avro Lancaster, while if you want a more detailed simulation then the aforementioned B-17 Flying Fortress: The Mighty Eighth is where you want to be.
Unless you are absolutely determined to play an old, old, incredibly old school bomber simulator from the early days of actual flight simulators, then I’m sad to say you don’t want to make this one your target for tonight, unfortunately.