Two years ago, Digital Integration released their flight-sim hit F-16 Combat Pilot. Now they're back again with ATF 2, but unlike its predecessor it's centred on a fictitious aircraft from the 21st century known as the Advanced Tactical Fighter.
You must fly your ATF through a collection of missions, attacking ground, sea and airborne targets until your opponent is vanquished. To make this difficult, the enemy is a dynamic force that grows in size as you progress. You may be winning great battles and destroying his resources in one area, only to discover that he has been carving up your homelands in another.
Gameplay is simple. Don't expect F-16 Combat Pilot's precision and system-complexity in ATF 2. You have only the most basic functions available: weapons selection, a map, flight readouts and an automatic "Ariadne's Thread" that guides you to your next target. These systems are easy to use, leaving you to concentrate on the important job of engaging the enemy.
There are two distinct forms of the enemy. Fighter planes track in from the front or rear, and flak (ground-based artillery fire) blooms up into the sky as you approach the more strategic threats. Dealing with the planes requires you to use the RL (roll) button on the console to flip you up and over, and then VT (vectored-thrust) to jump back behind them. Danger is increased by the enemy's missiles and you must jam them using the Missile Alert button when it flashes. The flak, however, is not too much of a problem, since it's unguided and you can generally dodge your way through it.
Locking onto targets is another simplification of old F-16 Combat Pilot. If you have the correct air-to-ground weapon armed, a small square box on the Heads-Up Display shows you the chances of a hit. When a diamond is overlaid on the box, the missile is locked on and can be released with a good chance of target destruction. Some targets are better off just damaged, because your troops can then use that location to strengthen your resources, but you have little control over this element of the gameplay.
ATF 2 uses 3D filled vector graphic techniques (like those used in Falcon, F29 and F-16) and standard bit-map sprites more common in road-race games. The overall effect is smooth, but not altogether convincing. You tend to feel constrained by the repetitive attack patterns and lack of ground detail.
Musically ATF 2 offers very little, but you can deselect the annoying chip-based tune. Sound effects are marginally better, but do not convey the feeling of "being there".
After the spectacular F-16 Combat Pilot, ATF 2 is a bit of a let down. It's obviously not a flight-sim, but it would have been better if the flying were more realistic. Basically, it's an airborne version of OutRun, with a similar lack of gameplay. Though it's enjoyable for the first few games, interest in it soon wanes. Buy it if you enjoyed Space Harrier and other games of that genre, but don't expect it to be in the same league as its flight-sim stablemate.