Before going on to this new game from Digital Integration, we must first put something right from last month's review of their simulation, Fighter Pilot. One reviewer noted: 'Key control is a fraction slow, you have to keep a key pressed for results...'
Dave Marshall of Digital Integration demonstrated to us that this remark was a little unfair. The reason being that the control keys were designed to simulate an aircraft's performance. In fact the control in Fighter Pilot is proportional, i.e. the longer you keep a key pressed the more effect it has, moving, for instance, from a slow to a very fast bank or turn. So we were a little wrong to criticise this.
Night Gunner is a massive program, one which the inlay is at pains to point out is more of a game than a simulation, and which is based on a Second World War scenario. You are the gunner and bomb aimer whose aim is a good one - defend your plane against enemy attacks and destroy the ground targets in 30 different missions. Each mission comes in two parts, firstly the flight to the target, and then the actual bombing run. In the first part you get a cockpit view with your gun sights in front of you. Three types of target appear, barrage balloons, enemy fighter planes, and very large bombers which cross your flight path occasionally. Points are received for hitting any of these. The attacking fighter planes fly at you with their cannons blazing. Below the display area, the Captain reports time to target with a countdown figure. There is also a visual display of how many shells you have and a small aircraft shape for damage reports. A flashing indicator also tells you when you have been hit and the status symbol changes colour in areas accordingly.
Flight deck damage will result in random movement of the plane during ground attack missions - if it's destroyed you crash. If enough engines are destroyed before a bombing run, then the bombs will be automatically dropped, and if 3 or more engines go then you will crash (seems reasonable). Wings and tailplane may suffer damage without affecting performance, but if destroyed they will crash the plane. And if the gun turret is damaged it slows down your gun traverse, and if destroyed means that you can still fire but not aim.
The ground attack missions are all different and alternate between high level bombing and low level rocket attacks. You have a limited number of bombs and rockets and the mission is terminated when the ammo is all used up. High level runs start off with static planes on the ground and the direction control will move the plane and therefore the sight as you pass over them. Another variation is moving tanks where deflection bombing techniques must be used to take into account the movement of the target. Low level runs are even more fraught. You are given a maximum height of 400 feet and must then dive to fire the rockets without crashing into the ground. During these low level attacks flak is being fired at you, so you must weave the plane about to avoid it. Again, the 'HIT' indicator tells you when damage is occurring.
The producers say that Night Gunner's concept is based upon the Avro Lancaster four engined bomber although it is not intended as a simulation. Between missions there is a screen showing a very large graphic of the bomber crossing a city skyline and dropping bombs which turn into the letters, MISSION 1, or whatever mission you are about to play.