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VALLEY WEEKEND | VIDEO GAMES

Sony Flight Simulators Leave Others in Vapor

The red-hot PlayStation system has three new, stimulating fighter games at a price that won't kill you.

February 15, 1996|AARON CURTISS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In less than six months on the market, Sony PlayStation has reportedly sold more than 800,000 units. It's not hard to see why. With great graphics, killer sound and a price tag that's about as good as it gets, PlayStation knocks its competitors out cold.

For example, the 32-bit system has given me new respect for that staple of electronic gaming: the flight-sim fighter. Three new PlayStation titles--Warhawk from Sony Interactive, Air Combat from Namco and Agile Warrior from Virgin Interactive--are some of the hottest, smoothest and tastiest games out there.

All three blow the doors off even the slickest games on the PC and just plain shame competing next-gen systems. From presentation to execution, these are some of the best flight fighters out there.

But before you run out and pick one up, be warned that each offers a totally different kind of gaming experience, from air-to-air combat to napalm-filled strafing runs. So no matter your tastes, there is a sim to fit you.

Namco's Air Combat is perhaps the most realistic of the bunch. I've never flown an F-16 in a hot zone, but I imagine Air Combat captures at least some of the adrenaline. The trick here is to keep your jet out of trouble while taking out the numerous bogies gathering at your tail.

Although the graphics sometimes seem rather stark, consider what it must be like to be flying in the lower atmosphere. It's all shades of blue with a patch of ground far below. In any case, mastering Air Combat takes considerable skill at managing precious resources such as fuel and missiles as you fight to stay alive in various theaters.

Warhawk, by contrast, is one of the most graphically splendid games I've ever seen. From opening cinemas that are crisp and clear to game play that is hot and heavy, this futuristic flyer has it all.

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Despite a pretty steep learning curve, Warhawk was plenty fun for even an intermediate player like me. One thing about it is that it never lets up. Levels are packed with action that starts white hot and just gets worse.

Agile Warrior from Virgin provides a nice compromise for players who don't have the patience for a game as technical as Air Combat or as furious as Warhawk. It reminded me quite a bit of the 16-bit Desert Strike series with a lot more firepower.

Agile Warrior requires players to wipe out various installations on their progress through a variety of campaigns that span the globe. A nice addition to the standard arsenal: napalm, which incinerates entire divisions of enemy soldiers.

I love the smell of video games in the morning.

Staff writer Aaron Curtiss reviews video games regularly. To comment on a column or to suggest games for review, send letters to The Times, 20000 Prairie St., Chatsworth, CA 91311. Or send e-mail to Aaron.Curtiss@latimes.com.

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