Self Similar self similar’s personal gaming nonsense blog

28Oct/080

A-10 Tank Killer 1.5 Review

Note: The screenshots posted on this page have been scaled up a little from their tiny native resolutions as well as had their aspect ratios corrected to proper 4:3 dimensions as they should have looked on CRT monitors originally. For posterity's sake you can also click them to view the "pixel perfect" originals.

A-10 Tank Killer v1.5!
"A-10 Tank Killer v1.5!"

Introduction

Until relatively recently the simulator genre was one of the few, along with adventure gaming, the Western style RPG, and various styles of strategy, that really helped separate computer gaming from console gaming. Back in the day sims, especially flight sims, were damn near everywhere! It was almost as if there was some unspoken rule that even if you weren't into sims you probably had to own at least one to consider yourself a real PC gamer. Not wanting to stand out from that crowd too much I naturally owned several.

One of the first PC flight sims that I really got into and one of my all time favorites to this day was Dynamix's 1991 release of A-10 Tank Killer v1.5. It's hard for me to remember exactly why it was that I picked up A-10 Tank Killer. One reason was most likely that I was fairly fond of the Warthog, having grown up on and around a couple of Air Force bases that they called home. Another may have been my fondness of Dynamix at the time, due almost exclusively to The Adventures of Willy Beamish (which you can bet I'll be reviewing here later!) Perhaps the great reputation of Dynamix's Red Baron played a role in my decision process. In any case at some point in the early 90s I ordered the game from a used PC game trader (as I often did, being a broke kid) and the rest is history...

Flying close enough to the ground to part Saddam's hair.
"Flying close enough to the ground to part Saddam's hair."

A-10 Tank Killer v1.5 is an updated re-release of Dyanmix's 1989 version of the original A-10 Tank Killer (hence the v1.5 part!) inspired by the success of their aforementioned WWI flight sim Red Baron. I may have some of the details wrong but I'm under the impression that the flight model was lifted from Red Baron into v1.5. The sound was also updated along with, probably most notably, the graphics being updated to full VGA. The game also included a new campaign based on the Gulf War to go along with the two previous Cold War Europe inspired ones.

I don't remember being particularly fond of the game the first time I installed it and gave it a run through. I've always found it fairly hard to get into flight sims and most of the ones I've adored I've latched onto for odd reasons. In the old days the most common reason was pure boredom inspired by a tiny game library and not much else to do - I'd often experiment with games, trying even ones I didn't like over and over again, I'd try to learn new things and develop my skills, I'd even make weird little meta games out of them. For that reason sandbox type games were perfect for exploring, fooling around, and otherwise wasting time in and most flight sims were, at least on some levels, sandboxes. A-10 had a couple of extra things going for it as well: it was relatively easy and it was painless to pick up and play in short bursts. These were the main two factors in me becoming hooked.

Ahh, so this is why they paint these things green.
"Ahh, so this is why they paint these things green."

The game was easy in part because of the nature of the beast: The A-10 is one of the last few military attack planes that is still flown the old fashion, by the seat of your pants way without tons of computer assistance. It's also fairly slow and specializes in attacking mostly ground targets. Couple those points in with a not so sophisticated flight model and what appears to have been an intentional preference for fun over realism and you've got a pretty easy game that, while filled with plenty of action, still feels more or less like a sim. Sure, there are challenges if you want them - some of the individual mission objectives can be quite difficult to complete and as is often the case in flight sims landings can be challenging.

Fill 'er up.
"Fill 'er up."

As for the pick up and play factor while the game feature campaigns it also easily let you skip the punishment and play each of the missions in all three of the campaigns individually, tweaking the difficulty and skipping the briefing, load out, and take off sections if you wish. You can have the game land for you after you complete all of your objectives and you can even enable what were basically cheats in the form of an invulnerable air craft and unlimited munitions - both of which helped make learning to effectively play the game the right way a cinch!

No sarcastic comment needed - this picture is just freaky.
"No sarcastic comment needed - this picture is just freaky."

After more or less figuring the game out and being fairly satisfied that I had gotten enough of my money back out of it my brother (who rarely games) either saw me playing or just out of the blue asked me to show him how to play Tank Killer. This sparked off what became almost a tradition in my household - when we were particularly bored, lounging around on a summer's day, we'd plug in the flight stick, fire up A-10 Tank Killer, and spend hours taking turns flying the same mission over and over again. By the time we had more or less stopped playing it we managed to literally master several of the more interesting missions. I still vividly remember burning away hours playing the last of the Gulf War missions, Coupe De Grace, attempting to blow up every last enemy unit on the map and land back at base unscathed. I also remember some daredevil stunt attempts through canyons and under bridges. What started off as just a way to kill time eventually grew into an addiction.

No one retreats through my sector!
"No one retreats through my sector!"

Gameplay

The gameplay is simple: Each mission starts off with a quick briefing about your objectives, selecting your aircraft's munitions load out (there's not a ton to choose from and a "recommended" option is available) and finally sitting in your cockpit preparing to take off. Once in game you can reference your map which shows you most of the enemy positions. You can select a position to make it your waypoint which makes flying to it much easier although you typically do start relatively close to the action. There are often scripted events in the form of changes to your objectives with new units showing up on your map, etc. usually explained through quick pop up text boxes representing radio messages from your co-pilot or the HQ but for the most part the missions are fairly static.

There always seems to be a hell of a lot more red than blue around these places.
"There always seems to be a hell of a lot more red than blue around these places."

Targets include tanks and other ground vehicles, buildings and runways, helicopters and (rarely) other aircraft. You'll need to use the right kind of munitions for the right kind of target which is where the load out you selected comes into play. You can, of course, always use you’re A-10's famous Avenger cannon which is actually easier to use then you might think. I'm not sure exactly how the game mechanic used for it works but usually a wild spray in the general direction of an enemy unit will blow it to smithereens if you're close enough. If you're not quite close enough then lining up your crosshairs just perfectly and successfully squeezing off a deadly burst is a highly satisfying experience.

Your biggest threat (besides flying so low to the ground so often that you may often become inspired into feats of pure piloting jackassery) typically comes from surface to air missiles and other anti-aircraft weaponry. These are usually highlighted on your map once discovered, along with an approximate visual of their effective range. You also have flares and chaff countermeasures if the situation merits their use. You can also sometimes take out enemy air threats by moving in and out of your own friendly anti-aircraft zones of fire. True to life your A-10 can take a fairly large amount of damage but once you've been shot down it is mission over.

Pixel versus blocks!
"Pixel versus blocks!"

Ahh, missile versus trucks!
"Ahh, missile versus trucks!"

Should have dropped a cluster bomb.
"Should have dropped a cluster bomb."

The Campaigns themselves are nothing more than the individual missions played in order with your score and other statistics being persistently tracked. If you die or heinously fail a mission then that's it, you have to restart the campaign. Your mission scores are based not only on objectives complete but also on individual kills which means the leader board system fairly interesting as you'll often encounter many optional targets and some of the objectives themselves can be ignored or not fully completed without failing the mission outright. This can lead to some fun score battles with other players as it definitely did between my brother and I. If only we had real time online leader boards back in the early 90s!

Controls

Another factor relating to the ease of this game that I haven't already mention specifically is the controls. Unlike a lot of flight sims this one thankfully doesn't have a necessary function assigned to every key on the damn keyboard. It has enough, sure, but for the most part you're not really given anything out of the ordinary: Some camera controls assigned to your function keys, a way to pick and cycle through munitions types, and a few basics like landing gear control and countermeasure deployment. Again, I suppose this is a combination of the aircraft in question and also a fun over realism design choice coming into play. I definitely approve!

Buzzing around enemy air fields is slightly more enjoyable after all of these things are gone.
"Buzzing around enemy air fields is slightly more enjoyable after all of these things are gone."

Joystick wise the controls are, again, very simple but this is more of an age factor than anything else. The game supports joysticks of course but only makes use of two of your available buttons - one to fire your cannon and one to fire your selection under-wing munitions type. The actual stick control is, like most games of the era, pretty rigid and low resolution but it works well enough with the limited flight model and is generally a easy and fun to use. The game also supports rudder and dual joystick support (a horrible, silly feature) though I've personally not dabbled with either of those due to not having the appropriate hardware handy.

I supposed it is worth mentioning that along with the new VGA and flight model updates they also decided to throw in mouse for most user interface operations which was pretty unusual for a flight sim game at the time. Using the mouse isn't at all required, in fact I often forget I can, but it is definitely helpful when I do remember.

Sadly this dude's hair is actually one of my more enduring memories of the game.
"Sadly this dude's hair is actually one of my more enduring memories of the game."

Graphics

A-10 Tank Killer v1.5's graphics were pretty good for their time, consisting of first and third person 3D polygon graphics and lots of digitalized pictures for various interfaces and cut scenes. They don't age amazingly well, with the low detail of the naked polygons aging a bit worse than their bitmap and more sophisticated 3D counterparts, and of course some of those (at the time) astounding digitalized pictures look pretty damn cheesy today. Still, I think the graphics hold up fairly well considering the game's age and if you're nostalgic for old school VGA graphics then this one will definitely hit the spot. At the time, though, I was definitely impressed.

Boooooom!
"Boooooom!"

Sound

The sound isn't anything too special for a game of this period with A-10 making effective use of the Sound Blaster with the occasional decent digital sample for sound effects. The introduction theme music is cool and believe it or not this v1.5 version of the game supports the famous Roland MT-32 for music. Listening to that introduction theme via my MT-32 definitely impressed compared to my memories of the old Adlib music (as usual!) and inspired some fun swapping back and forth between Adlib and MT-32 sound for comparison. It may also be my imagination but it seemed as if when using the MT-32 I was hearing more varied sound effects, some possibly being generated by the MT-32 rather than the Sound Blaster.

Proof that I didn't pirate this game - at least not originally...
"Proof that I didn't pirate this game - at least not originally..."

Documentation

A documentation category? Weird, sure, but manuals of old PC games are sometimes worth discussing all by themselves. The manual for this game, as was tradition back in the late 80s and early 90s, was a fairly good read. While it wasn't a massive tome like some other simulator game manuals it does contain plenty of information about the A-10 as well as section on the various munitions available to you and the enemy vehicles you'll be encountering on the battlefield.

Old Age

As far as playing this game on a modern PC goes apparently the 1.5 version doesn't have nearly as many slow down issues as the old original release does. Still, there are definitely some issues. The biggest thing I ran into was not being able to take off due to some odd issue relating to speed and/or acceleration. After managing to take off or skipping the take off sequence entirely I also run into the much smaller issue of the on-screen text cycling far too quickly. Even forcing it to the slowest speed in the in-game options will make it fly by without enough time to read it. After experiencing those two issues I decided I needed to go ahead and take action meaning I never really got the opportunity to witness any more machine speed related bugs though I definitely suspect there are more present. As usual playing it on my dedicated 486 gaming PC required disabling my internal cache to get it to slow 386 speeds in order for it to run both smooth and correctly as opposed to using various slow down utilities which made the game run far too choppy to be enjoyable.

I've not tried to run the game via DOSBox though it is apparently 100% supported in the last release version. I've read several form posts that seem to suggest it's easy to setup and plays fine that way.

So few bombs, so many people who need to be bombed.
"So few bombs, so many people who need to be bombed."

The game used to be part of Gametap's service but doesn't appear to be available there any longer so getting a hold of a legal copy might not be so easy. It isn't highly sought after however so you might be able to nab it off of eBay or elsewhere without breaking the bank.

Scans of the manual and reference card are available from Replacementdocs.

Sequels and Related Games

Besides the aforementioned original A-10 Tank Killer and Red Baron games, Dynamix actually released an official sequel dubbed Silent Thunder: A-10 Tank Killer II in 1996. Unfortunately I never played this game but it looks fairly favorable and similarly arcadey from what few reviews and other information I've been able to find on the title. There are, of course, many other unrelated A-10 simulators out there as well.

Closing

If you're a fan of old school flight simulators or the A-10 Thunderbolt in particular and think you can stomach the 15 year old plus graphics and sound then I'd definitely recommend you give A-10 Tank Killer v1.5 a try - It has a small learning curve compared to many flight simulators, can be played in short bursts, can be very casual and fun or as challenging as you'd like to make it, and has a comparatively large amount of replay value.

22Oct/080

Quick update and WAR screenshots

Argh... I haven't posted anything in a long, long time now. I've been far too busy at work to write there and far too engrossed in Warhammer Online to do anything else worthwhile when I actually have free time at home. I haven't been totally slacking though as I have been working on a couple of retro game reviews lately and we should be seeing the first two of those posted within the next couple of weeks. For now here's a small selection of Warhammer Online screenshots from the start of retail with my main character:

My main, a High Elf White Lion, posing at rank 18.
"My main, a High Elf White Lion, posing at rank 18."

Getting completely destroyed by rampaging Black Orcs in PVP.
"Getting completely destroyed by rampaging Black Orcs in PVP."

Hacking at Droolgut Da Basha while tripping over his Snotling cronies.
"Hacking at Droolgut Da Basha while tripping over his Snotling cronies."

Getting completely destroyed by rampaging Black Orcs in PVP.
"Skaven hunting in sewers of Altdorf with my guild."