I’ve never talked much about flight sims as frankly I’m pretty bad at them, and aren’t really qualified to offer much commentary, beyond subjective experience. One I did play a bit though, back in my childhood, was F-117A from Microprose. which puts you in command of the USAF’s stealth fighter. Rather than flashy Top-Gun style heroics, this is aerial warfare of a slower, more cautious nature. It’s your job to evade radar, sneak past enemy fighters, then drop lots of heavy ordnance on some bridge in Libya.


he gives a thumbs up but that was the wrong bridge, you muppet

Back in those days, Microprose were well known for this sort of military simulator. I don’t know what hardcore sim fans would make of features like the flight modelling and controls nowadays, and I’m sure the genre has advanced, but I think it was deemed pretty realistic back in 1991. Myself, I thought it managed a decent balance between being accessible and feeling reasonably challenging and authentic. Or to put it another way, I completed several successful strike missions without turning my hundred-million-dollar warplane into a flaming wreck, but I soon decided that manual landings were too much hard work.

It was also kind of atmospheric, cruising over the desert under under sunset skies in my alien-looking black jet. One key part of your interface is a little gauge showing how visible you currently are, and how close enemy radar is to picking you out; if I recall correctly this would depend on what maneuvers you were pulling, how high you were going, whether or not the weapons bays were open and so on. That created quite a sense of tension, as I picked my way through threats such as SAM launchers, watching the detection indicator creep upwards. Change course and risk blundering near another enemy, or risk it and plough on ahead?

For those of you who might this appealing, gog.com have now added F117 to their lineup. I hope in time they bring us some more of the old Microprose sims; I’d particularly like to see Gunship 2000.

And now, some fun stealth fighter related facts!

1: This game is Stealth Fighter 2.0. The first game was based on the F19, which apparently only existed in rumours and Tom Clancy novels.
2: The weird shape of the aircraft is to help deflect radar signals. Futuristic as it looks, the US Air Force actually retired the F117 six years ago.
3: The real F117 has no air-to-air capability, so I have no idea why it has the F-for-Fighter designation. So while it’s great for really dedicated stealth fans, the airborne version of Thief players, it’s perhaps a little limiting for everyone else. So Microprose offer you the choice of the real jet, or their own version which has a cannon and anti-air missiles, at the cost of being a bit less stealthy.