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Mount C C:\Airpower

FASA Corp tentatively blowing the dust off their Crimson Skies licence? Splendid news. I can’t think of another interwar-inspired, zeppelin-crammed, fantasy flight-sim that deserves a rebirth more than Zipper’s classic. Well, apart from Rowan Software’s Air Power, obviously.

Four years before Crimson Skies dropped from the belly of the Microsoft mothership, one of flight-simulation’s most creative and consistently brilliant studios was waving off a far more ambitious take on the theme. Air Power doesn’t offer sparkling dialogue or superb scripted sorties,  but its campaign engine is a thing of ineffable joy. 

Imagine Total War’s map layer fused to a combat flight sim. Karanthia is a land without a ruler, a kingdom tearing itself apart at the seams. Various dukes, duchesses, warlords and bandits are at each others’ throats using private airforces to expand personal fiefdoms and strengthen claims on the throne. As one of these pretenders you travel around the map in a fleet of fighter-stuffed dirigibles, using air power – or the threat of it – to bring new settlements into your dominion. It’s a totally unscripted and endlessly absorbing business – a marvellous alternative to a bog-standard sortie string.

Some settlements can be talked round, others need a show of strength, or a prolonged siege to be brought to heel. Defiant outposts are far more suggestible once their granaries, water towers or glasshouses have been bombed to buggery. Naturally, you can watch recon films before climbing into the cockpit, pick your own strike force compositions, and hop between planes once in the air. Challenges from enemy aces and en-route encounters with pirates and hostile fleets add to the chaos.

And though Air Power can’t hold a candle to Crimson Skies’ glorious radio banter, its inter-mission splash screens ensure the sim has acres of charm. Damaged your faction’s popularity by accidentally bombing a civilian target? Scary extras from a forgotten Ultravox video will wag their fingers at you. Bagged a bumper haul of bogeys? The same cast of Futurist freaks will raise a glass in your honour in the mess. Lovely stuff. The perfect antidote to Maddox-ine asceticism.

Now I’ve whetted your appetite, the bad news:
1. Like all Rowan sims, Air Power features a maddeningly idiosyncratic camera system.
2. Even with DOSBox, getting it running can be a bit of a struggle. The SVGA version (pictured) regularly crashes on me, so currently I’m forced to play in jaggedy VGA.
3. Since the great Underdogs extinction of Feb 2009, this has been an extremely abandoned piece of abandonware. Good luck in finding a good free source.

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Tim Stone

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