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The Beckoning Blue Yonder

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

There are enough macho war fantasies programmed into “Chuck Yeager’s Air Combat” to turn even the meekest computer nerd into Sam Shepard at full throttle.

No brag, but after riding this baby a while, you’ll believe there’s just ain’t no plane you can’t fly, no whiskey you can’t drink and no woman you can’t. . . . Well, you get the drift.

Electronic Arts’ new flight simulation is a piece of work--challenging, exciting and beautiful. You fly one of six World War II, Korean or Vietnam era fighter planes against any of 17 opponents. You can fly historic missions, make up your own dogfights or take test flights that don’t include any combat. Even if you never score a kill, there can be plenty of satisfaction in just successfully taking off and landing an F-4E Phantom.

“Air Combat” is based loosely on the wartime adventures of America’s best-known pilot, the real-life hero who personified Tom Wolfe’s “right stuff.” There is no narrative to the simulation, but it does appear to offer reasonably authentic experiences inside the cockpits of the various historic fighters.

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Although very well done, “Air Combat” is probably not going to appeal to a lot of players. For one thing, the game is all tactics, no strategy, so on one level it is just a glorified arcade game.

But it is also a very complicated game--to get into, to play and, certainly, to master. The manual is long, detailed and, though overall rather good, it probably contains far more about war hardware and the history of air combat than a general interest player is going to want or need to know.

But for the rest of you fighter jocks, remember this little bit of advice from the man himself: “It’s always better to be the hammer than the nail.”

Chuck Yeager’s Air Combat

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Rating: ***

IBM, Tandy or compatible; 640K, DOS 2.1 or higher; VGA; Ad Lib, Sound Blaster etc. List: $59.95.

Computer games are rated on a five-star system, from one star for poor to five for excellent.


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