Aces Over Europe (1993)
Hi all, Nate here again with another flying game review. This one is an oldie (but not goodie) from the early days of computer gaming, back when we were all super excited to have framerates in the single digits and see our wire-frame polygons ever so slightly shaded. Thanks to DosBox, I can play this creaking, lagging, mono-sound MS-DOS dinosaur from Bill Clinton's first term on my Windows 10 laptop. Yay? I guess. The "minimum system requirements" are amusing to read. Requires a whopping 7 MB of memory to run? Seriously? I have 245 times that on my cellphone's sd card. I could run Aces Over Europe on my son's math class calculator.
As the title implies, in this game you fight across the skies of Northern Europe during WWII, taking the controls of various planes to either kill Nazis, kill Brits, or kill Yanks. It's not nearly as exciting as you might imagine, especially if, like me, you have the attention span of a toddler and/or have better things to do with your spare time, including, but not limited to, sleeping, farting, eating, and watching women's Olympic volleyball on TV. If, however, you are hankering for some nostalgic memories of floppy discs and 386/486 IBM computer stacks, then, by all means, play this game and enjoy the pretentious hipster high you'll get from telling your friends on reddit that you "love the retro feel and authenticity of these old DOS games".
Yep, I can tell this is totally going to be worth it...
First, what sucks about this game. 98.7% of it sucks, and that's probably a lowball. Everything moves glacially slow, even in the emulator, and there is virtually zero action. And I mean that. Missions take place in almost "real time" where taking off from an airfield in England to fly over to occupied Europe to shoot up some Nazi convoy takes just about as much time as in real life. You can take off, set your course and speed, and then just walk away from the game for upwards of a half hour while your Gouraud-shaded polygon plane motors across the English Channel uneventfully. I've cooked entire meals and watched whole episodes of Futurama during these aimless flying-to-there stages, which I'm guessing is antithetical to hardcore gamerdudes. Aces Over Europe screams out in listless pain for a "speed up" button, or at least the option to start missions in-flight and near the target area. At least I can adjust the window size so I can do more imporant things with my computer while playing this game.
Like, you know, important work stuff.
And when you finally (finally!!!) make it to the action parts, be prepared to die quickly. The enemy AI is brutal, attacking fighters never miss, the bomber's gunners are all crack shots, even flak from ground targets seems to instantly find the correct range and bearing needed to shred your plane before you can even hit the trigger. I flew half a dozen missions where I barely survived 90 seconds in the furball before being shot down (made extra annoying by the fact that I flew for 25 minutes to get to that point). Plus, the enemy planes have like a bazillion hitpoints, so you can dump bullets into them all day long and they just won't go down (unlike your own plane, which is apparently made of tinfoil and ultra-flamable candy wrappers). Was this "fun" back in 1993? Who programmed this shit?
AAAHHH!!! Why won't you die???!!!
And even when you do manage to reach the battle area, there's a good chance you will never be able to find the enemy planes to engage them in the first place. Visibility is extremely limited in the cockpit-only view and there's nothing like a tactical-level radar screen showing in what direction the enemies are in. On one memorable mission I flew around and around for what seemed like a goddamn hour looking for a bomber raid that my "whole continent view" flight map told me was right on top of me. I never found the bombers and I ended up just clicking X out of frustration. Historically accurate? Yes, sure. Perfectly passable for 1993? Whatever. A complete deal-breaker for anyone who has played a flight simulator in the last 10 years? Absolutely, and I fucking hate it.
Oh, thanks, that's totally helpful.
Some good things? You know, I'll say that the cockpit interiors are superficially historically accurate, every plane type you can fly has a different feel and look to the instrument layouts and cockpit frames, and that's pretty cool. I also appreciate that you can stall your plane and even run out of ammo, making flying and fighting even more of a welcome challenge at times (I am being sarcastic). The variety of plane types you can fly is also nice, a selection of wikipedia greatest hits from the 'Muricans, Limeys, and Krauts are available from the start, though other than notable variances in ammo capacity I can't really tell any differences in how they fly. The sound is pretty good, the drone of the engines are comforting and the machineguns rat-a-tat-tat with authority, but I'd like some background radio chatter or something else to break up the monotony.
Most of my missions ended like this.
I also appreciate the effort they put into the "historical flavoring text" of missions, giving you details of individual squadrons and targets and even named historical pilots in the briefings (before sending you off to get bored to death...). There's also a welcome amount of settings changes you can make to the missions, from difficultly levels to what type of enemies you will face and even the weather. You can also progress in rank and status through campaigns, though I never could get past First Lieutenant in anything because I lost patience too quickly (or not quickly enough?).
If only any of this really made a difference in gameplay.
So, in closing, I feel like I wasted a couple days of my summer on this game. I'm sure it was awesome back in 1993, but it's nothing more than a frustrating technological curiosity now. These old games are almost never "fun" in any sense of the word, and I'm not sure why anyone would lie to you and say they are. Tell your hipster DOS friends to suck it.
Yep, I'll just be up here, flying along, doing nothing, yawn.
Written in July 2016 by Nathan Decker.
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that's between you and the vengeful wrath of your personal god...