Greetings Readers! Once again, Carl dons his flightsuit and beckons you to join him. This time, into the wasteland. The way back machine has been cranked to 8… How high does this knob go anyway? (How high should it go? comment below!) We’ll be exploring a game described as a 3D flying game, but it’s really not. A game that has 4 color graphics but still manages almost 30 years later, to be totally playable and a good time, if you can get past the odd ‘one hand for X Y axis and the other for Z’ controls. Confused? Read on.
Flightmare is one of the first shareware games released for IBM PC/compatible systems way back in 1984. If you’re over the age of say, 30, this was may have been one of the first games you ever played on a PC. It was released as shareware, and contrary to other games, donating money did not unlock extra secrets or levels to the game. This is not a bad thing as Flightmare has enough to keep a gamer busy.
The long winded intro which is over five screens of text can be summed up with the following: Humanity is in ruins and the only remaining civilization is the Omegans. You happen to be an Omegan. They are grouped in a few small cities and factories. No apocalyptic future would be complete without mutant crazies and we have them here in the form of the Vandals (Not these Vandals), who intend to destroy the remainder of civilization (specifically: you) with their airplanes and motorcycles. Fear not, for this is where you enter as the defender of the Omegans, flying your plane out to meet the Vandals in combat, away from your cities and factories. You’ll have to totally destroy each enemy in combat to start a new wave of enemies. Think “The Road Warrior” but with airplanes, and no Lord Humongous.
As the lone defender of the Omegans, you’ll move your plane along a strategic map so you can encounter enemy Vandals. They may be a combination of planes and motorcycles. Using the interesting control layout, you must line your plane up both vertically and horizontally so you are behind an enemy. Then shoot. Simple,except for the fact the enemies are shooting at you, you can crash into each other, and the ground height varies, as in real life. You also have limited ammo. If the Vandals reach your factories, the game is over. You’ll receive a new extra plane every level, which you’ll need. Ammo is replenished by docking with a blimp (!). The game is also sophisticated enough to have enemies still slowly creep towards your cities on the map, which shrinks to the bottom of the screen, even while you are locked in combat. As a result, you’ll need to both make combat as quick as possible, and choose which enemies you want to attack (hint: choose the closest one to you AND a factory.)
Play control is unique. The plane is controlled by the numeric keypad during the ‘map sequence’. Combat is initiated with the space bar. It gets very interesting during combat as you use both the numeric keypad AND the QWEASDZXC keys to control the plane, on two different areas of the screen. The numbered keys control the altitude while the letters control the X – Y position of the plane. Confused yet? You’ll get used to it in a little while (or not). Docking with the blimp is easy, but can be screwed up, as you need to line the cockpit of the plane up with the base of the blimp. I guess the ammo is handed over through the glass of the cockpit.
Graphics in Flightmare are actually quite nice for a CGA shareware game. The screen is laid out nicely with the game information along the bottom and game play at the top. The map screen feels like a RTS game. Your plane is easily identifiable from enemies, and crashing gives a nice display. The four color graphics are not exciting and do make the eyes squint. CGA games can be pretty gross to look at, but this one makes good use of color graphics available at the time. (At least it’s not that yellow/brown/green CGA setting. YUCK!). The sounds in this game really stand out. (You DO have a PC speaker, right?) From the engine of your plane, to shooting bullets and killing enemy Vandals, and to the map screen, the sound effects while ‘simple’ actually work quite well. The ‘clunkity-clunk’ noise of killing a Vandal has stuck with me since childhood.
Flightmare is a unique game. I don’t think a game with this type of control scheme would ever be released today, as it’s too easy to default to a mouse or WASD controls. It’s interesting to see how a game with 4 color CGA graphics hold up and even though the colors are questionable, once again, game play shines through. Using Jason Lamb’s great article on DOSbox, I had this running in less than 30 seconds. You’ll need to use the slowdown setting quite a bit, however. I settled in for a quick game that ended on the Gamma Wave. I always liked how this game has some snarky things to say to you during and after game play, depending on what wave you ended on. This admittedly isn’t one of the world’s greatest games ever made, however, over the past 25 years, I seem to come back to it with a vengeance for a week or so every so often. It still is playable today, once you get out of the mindset of using WASD for up, down, left, and right. Looking for something different that encompasses strategy and flight? Give Flightmare The Fair Shake.