F117a for DOS

Title screen

Title screen

Quite some time ago as kids we got a microprose simulation pack. There were four different games, one of which was a flight simulator called F117a, it quickly became one of our favourite games. You fly the F117 nighthawk aircraft in any one of a number of realistic locations and circumstances. There are several different types of scenarios and locations ranging from cold war missions over Siberia, to full conventional war in the Persian gulf. You can deploy a variety of different weapons including smart bombs, missiles, dumb bombs and bunker busters. The game is actually an improved version of another one called f-19 stealth fighter, it features an improved engine with VGA graphics. This was partly because the nighthawk was kept a secret for quite a long time. When the original game was made it was known to exist, but no-one knew what it’s capabilities were or what it looked like. When some of the details were declassified and images made available to the public, microprose released this update to the original game. Of course as a kid I didn’t know or really care about the details of the original plane, I would have played it and enjoyed it regardless.


End of mission

End of mission

The graphics for this game are impressive for a DOS game of it’s vintage. The graphics are VGA and polygon based with some simple shading employed. The speed of the engine even on a old 386sx 20Mhz was still quite reasonable and playable. It is also scalable in that it works quite well on faster machines such as the 486 and Pentium even though they were not available at the time. As a kid I was pretty amazed by the quality of the graphics, I had never seen anything quite as cool.


Mission Briefing

Mission Briefing

The game supports the Adlib sound card, Roland sound devices, and the basic PC speaker. Not having a Roland I can’t attest to the sound quality, but both the other devices sound good. I often use the PC speaker out of nostalgia for my old 386 which we didn’t have a sound card installed. There is one terribly annoying sound that you can fortunately turn off. The engine sound of the aircraft is a high pitched squeal that gets very tiring very quickly. You can turn it off (and toggle all sound) using Alt+V.


The Cockpit

The Cockpit

The game play varies a lot depending on the parameters that you set up. Being a stealth fighter there is usually very little in the way of dog fighting. Your approach to the mission will depend on the scenario. In a conventional war you can approach the targets pretty much directly and if you happen to be detected you can deal with the threat as you see fit. If you play under cold war rules, even being detected is enough for you to lose. Stealth is everything in these circumstances. You need to plan your path around SAM radar installations and try to avoid enemy aircraft. I usually played on the conventional war setting as a kid as the cold war setting was quite hard. Flying around is generally pretty straight forward. Landing on the other hand can be quite tricky, especially if you have to land on a carrier. Learning to read the instruments is a must for landing on carriers, unfortunately I’ve never mastered it and crash nearly every time.


End of mission - watercooler talk

End of mission – watercooler talk

F117a has stood the test of time for me. I  still fire it up every now and then to sneak in blow up a bunch of stuff and get out. The variable game play means you can make it as easy or difficult as you like. It gives you an idea of what flying a stealth fighter may be like. After a few flights you may feel the need to change things up, as the auto generated missions for a area can become similar after a while. Changing theatre, rules of combat, or the skill level of the enemy usually changes things up enough. You may also find it challenging to turn on the full simulation for landings, especially in the case of carrier landings.

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