- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Here’s a look at some software based on world wars currently available:

A great simulation brings all of the nuances of naval warfare to the Xbox 360 entertainment console and reminds me why I could never have been a commander in the Pacific campaign during World War II.

The action demands a player become leader and soldier as he plots out the strategic moves of war machines and also jumps into planes, aboard massive ships and in submarines to deliver lethal damage.

Once past a daunting 75 minutes of tutorials, the opening mission introduces Lt. Henry Walker, a recruit fresh out of Annapolis, who is assigned to a PT boat on the day of Infamy, December 7, 1941.

The player assumes the role of Walker and is immediately tasked with trying to repel the Japanese attack as he whizzes around the waters and fires an anti-aircraft gun at the overwhelming amount of enemy planes.

He then must take out a Japanese mini-sub in the harbor by dropping depth charges. A final piece to the first mission takes the player to the air as he becomes Walker’s pal Maj. Donald Locklear in a great looking P-40 Warhawk as he shoots at more enemy planes and strafes some of the Japanese fleet.

This type of chaotic action continues through 10 more scenarios that move Walker up in rank and vessel type and take him from the Philippines to Australia and ultimately, the mother of sea battles, at Midway.

Further interactivity is found in 10 other challenges as the player becomes a Japanese commander or pilot and attempts to survive a series of almost “impossible to win” engagements.

Features to the game include a map interface to select fleet elements, assign formations and execute attacks; the ability to assemble and issue commands to air squadrons aboard carriers; and the use of more than 60 detailed ships and planes that include the famed Japanese battleship Yamato.

The level of micromanagement even requires a damaged ship be repaired in a menu interface that allows the player to assign men to put out fires, contain hull breaches, and fix the engine and artillery guns.

However, the solo action is just a warm-up to an online multiplayer mode that allows two teams of four commanders each to divvy up fleets and extend their tours of duty in the Pacific through an intense assortment of nine, objective-based scenarios.

It is too much to believe that these types of events actually happened in history and, although Eidos offers an intense game, it only does an average job to remind players (through text introductions and unlockable entries) of the actual warfare and the key ships, planes and armaments that helped define the conflict.

Flyboys, Warner Home Video from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment for DVD-enabled computers and home-entertainment centers, rated PG-13, $39.98.

Thank goodness for the extended capabilities of the digital-video medium or owners of this film would feel pretty empty if all they got on its two-disk set was a copy of this mediocre, World War I melodrama.

The story of the American pilots of the Lafayette Escadrille who volunteered to fight in the French Air Service against Germany is certainly brought to life through some fantastic special effects but the plodding, cliche-filled plot almost makes Michael Bay’s “Pearl Harbor” look like the “Citizen Kane” of war flicks.

The dogfights and history are truly the stars of the movie, and viewers have a couple of ways to enjoy them after digesting the 140-minute effort.

Either watch the almost 30-minute featurette on the real Lafayette Escadrille and “behind the scenes” content on the aircraft effects found on the second disk.

Or, viewers can pop that disk into a PC to be rewarded with a demo version of the air-combat simulator, Flyboys Squadron, based on the movie, that offers five missions out of the possible 13 offered in the full version of the separately sold game (iEntertainment Network, $29.95).

Players control biplanes and first survive an introductory flight that functions as the tutorial. They can then act as a rear gunner, shoot down aircraft, and test the online multiplayer mode for one month in both World War arenas.

Additionally the software has an encyclopedic look at many of the planes from the era such as the Nieuport 17, Folker DVII and Sopwith F.1 Camel with three-dimensional, computer-designed views of each aircraft.

Write to Joseph Szadkowski at The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send an e-mail message (jszadkowskiwashingtontimes.com).

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