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Blue Max is a name very well known to all the older computer game players. It was a legendary C64 game. But this game, Blue Max: Aces of the Great War, doesn’t have much in common with the C64 game (although this game was ported both to C64 and Amiga). I have to admit that when my friend (who got a 286 quite a few years before me) invited me over to play Blue Max on his PC, I was disappointed. I was expecting the game I knew very well, but instead saw this game, which at the time I couldn’t quite figure out. I did make up for it in the meantime (I did have some 15 years to get used to it).
As the title suggests and the subtitle states, you’re taken back to the days of the Great War (World War 1), wherein you will be flying a vintage airplane. Now I can’t say that this game is excellent, but it does feature some options that were novel at the time and would still be a great addition to most of the new games.
First off, you should register – as a flyer. You can select one of the default pilots, or create a new one. You can choose the side for which to fly. You can also choose either one player (if you’re playing alone) or two players (if you invite over a friend). The players can play for the same side (cooperate) or for different sides (fighting). There are four planes to choose from on each side.
Next, I suggest you try the practice mode, in which the enemy planes cannot shoot you down so you can get the feel of the plane, get used to the controls, and practice landing and making kills. You can shoot at the enemy, but they can’t shoot back, and the score isn’t kept. After that you can go to single battle flights, or start a campaign (wherein you’ll have to complete certain tasks such as dropping bombs on enemy targets). In both cases if you die, your name is taken off the active pilots list. You can also try the strategic battle (probably the most original feature of the game).
You get a hexagonal map, where you’re taking turns planning the flight of the airplane. After a turn is done, you get to see the outcome of the turn in an animated sequence. The object is clear – shoot down the enemy! This mode is clearly for people who prefer the strategy of the dog fight – climb above the enemy and dive toward it with blazing guns!
Another great feature is the two-player mode. You can invite a friend, and both of you may have a goal in the game at the same time. You can cooperate against the enemy (if you both choose the same side in the war), or you can fight each other in two different modes! You can have an action dog fight or have a strategic fight (this is probably the most fascinating feature of the game). In either case, the screen splits in half, and each player gets a small view out of the cockpit. If you choose the fighting (either cooperatively against the computer or against each other), you might find the screens somewhat small, and it’s hard to make out detail. That’s unfortunate; although I must say I was very impressed by the fact that a game which takes up so little space can handle two different flying machines at the same time that interact with each other (and even other objects). But as I said, it’s the strategic battle that I find most interesting. It’s a good alternative to getting dizzy by spinning the airplane round and round.
The graphics of the game are also very impressive for the time of its release (I mean it was back in 1990, and it hasn’t aged as fast as many other games). Unfortunately you can’t expect much from the sounds.
You can also change (while still setting up a pilot) the reality level. You can select the type of plane control (whether pulling back will let you rise, or make you go down – because you pressed down), the weather and wind conditions and their effect on the flying properties of the plane, and you get to choose from two types of weapons. The guns are by far more realistic, as you have to take into account the angle of flight of the bullets as well as the movements of both planes.
As you start flying I should probably warn you that your first priority is to increase your speed. If your speed drops below 40/45 you will lose control of the plane and crash. You can change views from the cockpit (front, both sides, and back view). In addition to your primary weapons, you also carry some bombs with you, which you (if the mission requires it) have to drop on certain targets within enemy territory. I should also warn you that when you decide to land (or are forced to), you should try and avoid the enemy territory. If you land behind the enemy's lines, you’ll become a prisoner of war and your name will be taken off the list of active pilots. So it’s preferable to land on friendly territory or at least try and set the plane down in no man's land.
All in all it’s a very good game that will offer you a challenge and quite a bit of fun, whether playing against the computer or playing with a friend. It’s an impressive and underrated game, even though that certain something (which I can’t put my finger on) is missing. The game, despite all of its virtues, doesn’t have quite the appeal one would hope for. It’s still a worthy addition to your archive!