Title Air Support Game Type 3D Combat Sim Company Psygnosis Players 1 Compatibility All (Reset VBR, NoCache (*1)) HD Installable No (*2) Submission Hidehiko Ogata Profiled Reviewer (firstname.lastname@example.org) Review I love vector-scan display. Nowadays it's all raster-scan; it effectively "knits" pictures, as it's most likely doing on your monitor right now. Vector-scan, on the other hand, plays "connect the dots", typically at 30 sheets per second. It produces luminous, monochromatic, jaggie-free stick-figures in motion - or constellations come alive - on a velvet-black CRT. If you haven't seen one in action, imagine a laser show on your monitor, or search arcades for Atari classics like Asteroids, Tempest, Major Havoc etc. (and no, emulators won't do). I can't quite nail down its appeal... maybe its mechanics delight the geek in me. Maybe it leaves space for my imagination to fill in. Maybe I reminisce about the days of old with that old time vector- scan! Enough rambling, but why? Because without that background, you wouldn't understand why Air Support, a Psygnosis release as late as winter '92, has the "old, boring" appearance of vector-scan display: wireframe objects, bright vertices, pitch-black background, bony letters, flicker... they all add up to the "this is a serious scientific drill" pomp, the same kind which adorned the original arcade cabinet of Lunar Lander so many moons ago. Obviously the author, Alaric J. Binnie, happened to share my enthusiasm. Isn't diversity wonderful? The game itself is a multi-vehicle realtime tactical/strategic simulator, like Armour-Geddon from the same publisher 18 months earlier, or like the grandaddy of the genre: Carrier Command, an '88 classic. Here you fly the Command Ship - a futuristic hybrid of helicopter gunship and AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control Systems) - where you conduct a series of local wars, organizing up to 16 friendly units, such as fighter aircraft, tanks, missile launchers, and recon vehicles. It starts with simple one-on-one affair, then gradually builds up toward full-fledged war, which also involves the management of the Defence Complex: Your base with its own radar/defence/production facilities. Oddly enough, Air Support is played as a simulator; it is a training course for military cadets... and that's not just a manual filler. There's a strong sensation of "entering" the simulated virtual world when switching from the quiet, distant view over the top-down/isometric tactical map, to the thick of the battle in the first-person-3D cockpit view of each vehicle. Here the graphic contrast between the gorgeous rendition of the relief map - the only part in the game with filled colors and the vector grid abstraction (or should I say matrix?) of the vehicle-control screen helps most to enhance the illusion. The selection of visual style may be arguable, but the implementation is hard to fault. The whole section can be played with just a mouse and handful of keys, with ease, power, and adaptability; a respectable combi- nation which is duly needed by the inherent busyness of the genre. Yup, here's a title, for once, which looks poor yet plays slick - quite atypical of Psygnosis, who used to just bulldoze through the lack of accessibility with artistic and technical prowess. And the game does feature some Amiga rarities too, such as rolling fractal battlescape, synthesized speech, and 3D-glasses support (*3) - not too bad a feat for a 1-disk game. So how does it stack up as a game? Neat, yet unfulfilled. Neat, thanks to one major asset: The artificial intelligence for your "vacant" vehicles. Here they can perform patrol/attack/search-and-destroy missions unattended; it not only buys precious time for strategy/logistics, it finally makes a multi-vehicle campaign possible - both of which remained elusive in its predecessors (and in Armour-Geddon 2 ('94) for that matter). The key is that you can "take one over" anytime, but you don't have to; actually you could easily have fun just watching your plan unfold from various points of view. Yet unfulfilled is each element of the game. It has a little bit of everything, but not quite enough of any(*4): The physical model is "fantasic"; the combat system is basically to "duke it out"; the logistics is just a choice of production; the strategy is mainly the proper use of smallish terrain. They do amount to rather interesting, short mission-based play - then again, it's the only playmode available. Was this simplification really by design ("this is an idealized drill"), or yet another case of the "barebone A500" syndrome (*5)? Either way, the game plays not unlike a set of chess problems as a result; it can be intriguing, yet one can't help wishing for the "full game" that was never to be... All in all, Air Support is worth playing if you're not absolutely averted by the "obsolete, obscure" look of the vector-scan display - if not for the challenging gameplay, but for the sheer potential of it. If you're a "vectorhead" like me, on the other hand... this one could become your favorite vector sandbox (it is mine); it's like flying back into Battle-zone with a full arsenal (*6)! Notes: *1 ...if you boot from disk 2. The disk 1, which contains just a typical Psygnosis "intro", doesn't seem to work on anything more than 68000. Also, it seems to be just the instruction cache that causes problems. You can turn on just the data cache, then boot the disk 2 with one of the "degrader" utilities (I use TUDE: aminet/util/misc/TUDE.lha). It makes a notable performance impact even on 030. *2 The game has a look-up-in-manual copy protection. The relevant text is printed in hard-to-photocopy, faint blue ink *which seems to fade with time*. Write it down, before it's too late! *3 A pair of red/blue-filter glasses is included in the package. Undocumented is an optional support for LCD-shutter glasses ala X-Specs3D (which goes into the second joystick port). In the stereo- scopic mode, the "JOYSTICK" button in the Command Ship's option panel switches between these two types. By the way, all the manual says about the button is: "allows you to use a joystick for flight control"... correct, yet entirely misses the point. Sadly, this is the typical tone of the 68-page manual, which ranges from cryptic to just plain wrong. *4 ...so it seems, at the time of this writing (I've only played about halfway through the missions, I reckon). It's entirely possible that the game would reveal some new elements afterward. *5 The game claims to run on 512K systems (unconfirmed). *6 ...which is a bit ironic, because that's basically what the designer of Battlezone was forced to make, and left Atari Games afterward.