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Genre: Flight Sim
Min OS X: 10.1.5    CPU: G3 @ 500 MHz    Graphics: 8 MB VRAM

OSX SkyFighters 1945
December 2, 2005 | Christian Franz

Click to enlarge
Ah, seat-of-the-pants flying! I have to confess right up front: I'm a flight sim nut. I love the computer flight simulation genre more than any other. On occasion, this may make me harsher on some flight sims than necessary (usually when talking about a Wintel flight simulator). Usually, however, I tend to like these games. And one of the flight sims I liked most was the venerable Hellcats over the Pacific. Simple to learn, fun to play, incredible replay value (which was astonishing when you consider the few missions that it provided). Alas, Hellcats ruled the Mac flight sim roster when Macs used 16 colors (yes, 16 colors, not 16-bit color). Few games have managed to capture the essence of combat flight simming as that game. Few, that is, with one possible exception...

When you think that talking about Hellcats is taking you back to ancient history, talking about Donald A. Hill will take us back to the Dawn Of The Mac. He wrote flight sims for the Mac when many of us literally weren't even born yet. The first Mac flight sim I ever played was Fokker Triplane, released circa 1985. It was black and white. It was a few simple lines, and a few dots on the screen. And it was addictive. Fast forward 20 years. Many flight simulators later (including, among others, classic titles such as P-51 Mustang, Valkyres, and Dogfight City), Don is in the process of releasing a new combat flight simulator, that may well end my craving for an updated Hellcats: OSX SkyFighters 1945.

What is it?
OSX Sky Fighters 1945 with Mission Builder is a WWII era combat flight sim that allows you to pit your aerial combat skills against those of your computer, or other players on your LAN or the Internet. OSX SkyFighters' hallmark features are fluid graphics even on low-end systems, a selection of different planes, mixed computer/human network play, and an integrated mission editor that allows you to roll your own missions.

It should be noted that the game is a work-in-progress. It's current version is at 0.88, with further releases planned regularly. You can download the fully working demo (five minute per game limit) and purchase a license of the game right now. The current version sports five different planes (P-51 Mustang, FW 190A8, A6M Zero, F4U Corsair, and Ki.84 Hayate), and more planes (most notably the F6F Hellcat—yay!) are planned. You can can duke it out over (currently) four different "worlds," only one of which represents a real-world setting: Solomon Islands.

Playing the game
A very nice aspect of SkyFighters (SF) is the low system requirements. The game requires OSX 10.1 or above, a video card with 8 MB of VRAM, and a G4 processor (it does run on a 400 MHz G3, but with low frame rates). This means that the game runs well on virtually any Mac purchased in the past three years. I played SF with great results on an (upgraded) Cube, Mac mini, Powerbook, and dual 1.25 G4. In all my playing the graphics were fluid, if perhaps a tad bland. However, for a flight simulator I always prefer fluid motion over pretty pictures, and the way SkyFighter responds to joystick input is just plain fun.

The flight model for the planes is adequate for a combat flight sim, and a nice compromise between realism and playability. While the planes perform realistically enough during most combat maneuvers, some extreme behavior is not represented. For example, although the planes stall somewhat realistically, stalled behavior is much simplified, allowing a player to easily recover. Entering a spin (which was feared in the Corsair) is impossible. While this may not be totally realistic, it makes the game more accessible and fun to play (believe me, realistically flying a Corsair close to the performance envelope is not much fun at all). Being the flight sim nut I am, I spent quite some time simply flying the planes (with all enemies disabled). And flying in SkyFighters is fun. Its real, seat-of-the-pants feeling is a joy I have been aching for ever since Hellcats. One thing I particularly liked in SkyFighters is the exceptionally readable instruments that update quickly, and help a lot to convey a feeling of realism. There are some issues I initially had with the way the planes handled, but I got used to this quickly. To everyone looking to see just what this game feels like I recommend downloading SkyFighters and tryin the "First Landing" and "Practice Strafing Skills" missions.

The missions (even "First Landing") suffer from a common flight simulator problem: flying close to the ground fails to convey a feeling of just how close you are. This makes flying an actual landing more difficult than it should be. The problem here is that in reality, the closer you get to the ground, the more details become visible. In computer simulation, however, the details are generated from textures. And the closer you get, the more blurry they become, which is counter-intuitive for most people. There are some user-built missions that aim to relive the situation somewhat by providing ground objects and specially built runways, but they, too, only go so far. Still, this is a common problem to all flight sims, and SkyFighters copes gracefully by adding individual trees to the landscape when you fly low.


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