B-17 Flying Fortress: The Mighty 8th

Hasbro’s obscure B-17 sim features a complex campaign and brutal realism.

There is still much discussion over the effectiveness of daylight bombing during WWII, though everyone can agree that bombing in daylight over German occupied territory was extremely dangerous. The planes were relatively slow, maximizing the stay over the target, and the gauntlet of enemy fighters and flak that had to be run was murderous.

6_1Hasbro’s B-17 Flying Fortress attempts to capture that sense of danger and aerial chaos. When AA guns are within range, the flak starts exploding all around the planes. When flak is especially heavy the effect is amazing. As combat damage accumulates, the planes develop holes that you can see through, scars on the aluminum panels, seized-up propellers, and oily smoke extending from the back of an engine. When a plane is unlucky enough to take a direct AA hit or to get pounced on by several fighters at once, it can disintegrate and pinwheel to the ground.

Beyond the external views, there are the internal views of the bombers and crew. The crewmen are somewhat blocky, but you can see them move about the plane, dodging other crewmembers and sidestepping through narrow areas. They will shake injured crewmen as they apply first aid while shouting, “get a hold of yourself!” All the stations are meticulously modeled: radio, navigation, cockpit, bomb bay, gun turrets, even the bombs themselves sit ominously in their racks.

A Real Team Effort

You can play B-17 in one of several ways. There are historical and training missions that encompass many common situations. There are typical bombing raids, a take-off exercise, bombardier training, and an emergency landing. The campaign is the real heart of the game, however. You can play as a squadron commander or a bomber commander. As a squadron commander, you command a flight of bombers, pick out targets for the next mission, and schedule reconnaissance flights. Managing manpower and bomber resources is key to being successful as a squadron commander. As a bomber commander, your task is to stay with the same bomber throughout a 25-mission campaign. Considering the attrition rate, that is a very challenging proposal. You get to pick your bomber group, squadron, nose art, and your crew.

You also have to manage the crew during a mission. Keeping their morale and skills high while protecting their lives is one of the great challenges of the game, and is accomplished by assigning them to different stations to give them diverse experience and by moving them around during a mission. If a crewman becomes especially demoralized, you can assign him to ground duty for some needed rest. You can actively control any of the stations in the lead plane, and doing so is a fairly simple affair. From every gun position, to the navigator’s chair, to the cockpit, you can play a career as just one crewmember, or play all of them in turn over the course of one mission.

Flap Them Wings

The flight model has some drawbacks but also includes some stunning details. Put the aircraft through an aerobatics trial and it will pull off some impressive maneuvers that might not be expected from a B-17 – especially one loaded with fuel and bombs. There is not a lot of reason to do this in a real mission, though – the doctrine of the day dictated remaining in the box formation to maximize interlocking fields of fire from the machine gun turrets.

Purists may be annoyed with the somewhat forgiving model, but will probably be pleased by the plane’s reaction to a damaged engine. When an engine seizes up, it becomes a source of drag and the engines on the other wing create an asymmetric thrust about the yaw axis. This can be partly compensated for with the rudder, but also requires some roll applied through the ailerons to counteract the damaged aircraft’s tendency to turn from the desired course. It’s a nice bit of detail.

13_1Speaking of details, the number of keyboard controls for this simulation is a little excessive. You can go through the 30-odd steps to start the engines, including setting manifold pressures and the like, but you can just hit the time-skip key and find yourself in the air and in formation if you don’t feel like it. There are also 12 different trim controls to adjust heading, 8 landing gear controls, and 8 brake controls. Remember keyboard templates? This game could use one. And despite the broad range of stuff, the manual only sparsely goes into the full complexity of the game.

Even with the rough edges, it’s still a good singleplayer game. The variety of working crew positions and the ability to adjust the difficulty by changing positions makes each mission a unique adventure.

System Requirements: Pentium II 300 Mhz, 32 MB RAM, 8 MB Video, Windows 95

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