Everyone goes through different phases in their gaming careers, and for a period in the early 90s, I was fairly heavily into jet fighter simulators. To be honest, they were incredibly hard to ignore — like adventure games, they were Hot Stuff and big sellers in the PC market. Computers were finally getting powerful enough to thrust us into 3D (and simulated 3D) gaming, and there was nothing quite like flight to show that off.
The earliest plane simulator I recall trying was Microsoft Flight Simulator. This had to be one of the very earliest versions, because it was just black-and-white with few (if any) graphics to speak of. We only had a copy of it and no manual, so I could never quite figure out how to operate it. Oh, I could take off and crash spectacularly, and sometimes make little dots come out of my plane which I think were bullets, but that’s about it.
But when we started getting our hands on 386 machines, gaming got a lot better. By far, my absolute favorite flight simulator was Chuck Yeager’s Air Combat. It wasn’t a strict simulator, per se (in this field, you had the spectrum from arcade to by-the-book technical flight, and this was more the former), but it was hecka fun. What really made this game pop is that you had four eras to fight in, from World War II to Vietnam, and could set up all sorts of crazy fights. I loved taking on scads of bombers with a fighter jet to see how many I could down before getting pulverized.
A lot of the appeal of these games was the combination of fluid motion and wanton destruction. Plus, I could totally zone out and just relax as my then-tight reflexes took over.
Next up on my favorites list was F-15 Strike Eagle II, which took me into the (then) modern era. Once again, this skewed more heavily toward the arcade side, but I wasn’t complaining — give me missiles galore and targets to hit, and I was in heaven.
Similar to that was A-10 Warthog, which let us fly those unusual bunker-buster planes. I loved it because the gun on that thing could rip through tanks. I spent most of my time in the game trying to figure out what I could destroy using that alone.
Probably the last of this genre that I gave serious time to was Falcon 4.0. Now this was far, far more on the realism side of the spectrum, and there was a hefty manual that you had to study before attempting take-off. Unfortunately, the specs were a little too demanding on my computer, and while it looked great, it played like a slideshow.
I’m not even sure if these types of games are around today, although I assume that there’s always a few niche developers.