Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Test Drive III: The Passion

View of the California coast

Test Drive III: The Passion  is a driving game released by Accolade in 1990.  It's a sequel to of 1989's  Test Drive II: The Duel and it generally follows the standard Test Drive formula of driving exotic cars and fleeing from the police, except instead of 2D sprites the action in TD3 now takes place in a fully 3D world.

The game was a HUGE step forward in open world game design, with trains and traffic that followed realistic patterns, realistic weather effects and even hidden areas that waiting to be discovered. In TD3 it was now possible to choose from multiple routes and even race offroad.  The only game that came close to offering similar experience was Spectrum Holobyte's primative Vette.

Unfortunately the game is also very difficult to control, which might be explained by the fact that Test Drive III was developed in-house at Accolade instead of by Distinctive Software like the previous games.

Here's a scan of Computer Gaming World's review:

An add-on disk called Road & Car was also released that included a Cape Cod to Niagara course and two new cars.  Here's the CGW review:

Box scans. (courtesy Mobygames)

To play Test Drive III you'll need the DOSBox DOS emulator and the original game files which can be found here at Abandonia or here at EmuParadise. 

Also here are several exclusive files:

Download the original manual

Download the Road & Car add-on disk

Mount the game in DOSBox by typing MOUNT C C:\OLDGAMES\TESTDRIVE3(the blue part should be the path to wherever you put the game folder on your HD) and then type C: to move to the folder you just mounted.  Be sure to first run SETUP.EXE inside DOSbox, setting video to VGA/MCGA and sound to SoundBlaster/Adlib, and then run the game by typing TD3

If you want to play with the add-on disk you should also mount it in DOSBox as an A drive by typing MOUNT A C:\OLDGAMES\ROAD&CAR (or wherever you put the add-on disk folder on your HD) and then select the A: drive in the game's track setup screen.   

The optimal DOSBox setting seems to be about 3500 cycles.  

This video shows a full playthrough of Road & Car from Cape Cod to Niagara Falls  

Here's a view from the dashboard:

The game is pretty simple to play.  Just use the keyboard arrow keys to steer/accelerate and hit W for windshield wipers and M to change the music.

Here's a map of the game's first area, showing shortcuts and alternate routes:

While being fun in short bursts Test Drive III is a tough game to love even for a DOS geek.  It pioneered the concept of a go-anywhere sandbox inside a living game world, but this world is so crudely represented that it can hurt the eyes.  Also the steering control, seemingly designed for antiquated digital joysticks is amazingly awful for a driving game.

On the plus side the music is catchy and sounds great when played through a Roland card, and the game is bug-free and much more playable than previous similar open-world drivers like Vette.

The DOS Scholar gives Test Drive III: The Passion two and-a-half out of four golden floppies.

Monday, April 11, 2011

F-117A Nighthawk Stealth Fighter 2.0

Over the USS America, Libyan Theater

Bombing the Presidential palace in Baghdad

F-117A Stealth Fighter 2.0 is a combat flight sim released by Microprose in 1991.  It's an "upgrade" of sorts of 1988's popular F-19 Stealth Fighter game, which was the first flight sim to tackle the mysterious stealth fighter.   F-19 was released before anyone outside the US Air Force had even seen a stealth fighter, so that game's jet looked nothing like the real F117.

The real stealth fighter was unveiled to the public in 1990 and F117A Stealth Fighter 2.0 was Microprose's attempt to update their simulation to the specs of the actual plane, as well as upgrade the graphics to the new VGA standard and add a few new theaters and features...

CGW Magazine ad

The game was released to generally positive reviews that praised the action and strategy but complained that it wasn't enough of a step-up from the previous game.  Here's a scan of Computer Gaming World's review:

F-177A also managed to achieve an impressive 16th place on CGW's top 100 games in early 1992, and then slowly dropped over the next 3 years until it fell off the list in October 1994...

Box scans. (courtesy Mobygames)

To play any classic DOS flightsim today you need three things:  A cheap joystick, the DOSBox DOS emulator and the game files themselves which you can get here at Abandonia.  Also make sure to download the manual which is on Abandonia's F117A page.

The optimal DOSBox setting seems to be about 5500 cycles.  Keep in mind that the game was -designed- to play at a slightly choppy framerate.  You don't want it too smooth because the game will play too fast and make landings and combat impossible. 

Run the game by mounting the game folder and typing "F117", and then select AdLib sound.
This video covers the basics of playing the game:

So here's the F117A cockpit view. 

 This might seem complex but there are really only THREE systems you need to know about:

HUD modes: To target anything you need to first set your HUD to Ground or Air mode.  You can cycle between Navagation, Air and Ground HUD modes with the F2 key.

MAPS: The F3 key cycles the left MFD between the Mission Map which shows radar ranges, waypoints(F7 key) and the rough positions of enemy aircraft and the Tactical Map which shows a closer view of enemies and even missiles heading towards your plane. The Z and X keys zoom these maps.

TARGET CAMERA:  To attack any object in the game you first need to lock it up in the Target Camera, which you can aim in any direction with the / . , and M keys, and then cycle targets with the N and B keys.

Beyond this the basic idea in Stealth Fighter is to sneak into the target area by flying as low and slow as possible, and to avoid enemy radars by following this simple rule when flying near them:

Also remember that spacebar cycles your current weapon and that you have to open your bomb bay doors with the 8 key before launching any weapon.

After playing through a couple missions I have to say that F117A has stood the test of time. It remains a unique and strategically interesting game in it's genre; it's not just about blowing things up or twiddling knobs, its a STEALTH Combat Flight Simulator.  Also unlike later complex simulators F117A is a simple game to get into yet it still has the potential for deep strategic play.

Sure the graphics are crude, but this doesn't really matter if you're interested in pure gameplay.  You can almost think of it as a computerized boardgame with simple symbolic graphics.  It's basic, but it's FUN.

The DOS Scholar gives F117A Stealth Fighter 2.0 three out of four golden floppies.