Achtung! Spitfire (PC) review
"Avalon Hill's Achtung! Spitfire is a rare game in more than one way. The world-reknowned board game publisher, having produced excellent offerings ranging from a simulation of the airline business to art thievery, came up with this realistic depiction of World War II dogfighting. Apt, then, that it's based on a board game that's older than most people reading this. The formula is perfect: each turn depicts roughly two seconds of intense aerial combat. Missions range from protecting a flee..."
Avalon Hill's Achtung! Spitfire is a rare game in more than one way. The world-reknowned board game publisher, having produced excellent offerings ranging from a simulation of the airline business to art thievery, came up with this realistic depiction of World War II dogfighting. Apt, then, that it's based on a board game that's older than most people reading this. The formula is perfect: each turn depicts roughly two seconds of intense aerial combat. Missions range from protecting a fleet of Luftwaffe bombers over London to RAF strafing raids over German artillery. Your fleet is made up of a handful of salty veterans and a crapload of new recruits. You must train them while keeping the ever-dwindling amount of veterans alive. Skill heavily matters here.
A!S shows its age at times, with its (detailed) sprite airplanes set against a static sky background. Yet it works. If an Me-110 fighter-bomber gets ripped to shreds by the guns of the Hawker Hurricane pursuing it, you hear the airframe burst apart, see the broken vessel howling down to earth. Kills are made by navigating your plane in the right way to hone in on vital targets. Get in range, you have different hit percentages depending on angle, speed, rate of fire, and the skills of whomever fills the pilot's seat. Hit the gas tank and your target might simply vaporize in an orange flash. There are lots of random elements involved, all handled by the game itself. Make too many tight turns, you might pass out from G-forces. Plane engines can shut off from either fatigue or bullets. Defensive gunners in bombers will get off shots automatically. The closer you are, the greater chance that you will also vaporize in a sudden ignition of high-octane gasoline.
"Great shot, kid! That was one in a million!"
The Tour of Duty mode is by far the most engrossing experience Achtung! Spitfire has to offer. Your roster of pilots must survive over many months of skirmishes and campaigns. Depending on which time period you choose to start in, the game is totally different. Join the Luftwaffe and participate in the blitzkrieg and bombings of London. Inversely you can fill the shoes of an RAF commander and scramble fleets of fighters to blow away incoming Stukas and sluggish Junker bombers. If your men survive they may be able to deal with other formations of foes, but there is only a finite supply of gas, and the boys only have so much stamina. Get them back to the base for some R&R -- at least until the next German air raid. You'll see them rack up kills over time, and grow as airborne warriors, from worthless newbies to highly skilled vets. From green all the way to the grave.
Aerial dogfighting is portrayed very romantically here. Part of it may have to do with Wagner's Flying Dutchman Overture playing over the action. It's epic and Jungian in a way, just how Hitler would have liked it. The oil painting backgrounds are tasteful without being overdone, despite being completely static. The music loops, but Flying Dutchman is like 15 minutes long. It never gets old. Neither does AS for that matter. The controls are simple yet cover almost every aspect of flight save for rudder use. Having to only deal with two seconds of combat at a time is just the right pace. The game is chaotic yet never frantic. I dare say even classy.
It's rare to find a game this accessible, deep, exciting and historical. It's also rare to find a copy of this game nowadays (at least legally). Should you ever come across this game, either from a torrent link or an actual copy of the CD-ROM, please procure it immediately. Achtung! Spitfire is truly "one in a million". Unthinkable to release nowadays, it's an unsung masterwork and it just might get you interested in history.
Featured community review by johnny_cairo (August 15, 2007)
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