The Ancient Art of War in the Skies is the last game in a series of games dubbed The Ancient Art of War series of games. Originally created by brothers Dave Murry and Barry Murry, the two started the series way back in 1984 with the original The Ancient Art of War. Taken directly as a game to complement the great work of text by Sun Tzu, The Art of War, the original Ancient Art of War was heralded for its great AI, it's multiple challenging opponents (from Napoleon to Sun Tzu himself), and ease of use. The Murry brothers followed the original with the next game in the series, The Ancient Art of War at Sea. This naval derivative of the game shared the same great playability and depth of the original, only now we were fighting at sea with such heavyweights as Horatio Nelson or John Paul Jones.
This being the final game in the series, The Ancient Art of War in the Skies focuses on the birth of aerial combat in World War I. This game also introduces some arcade-like fight sequences to most likely appeal to a wider audience. Let's start with the good stuff about the game. The game comes packed with a plethora of scenarios to choose from, from purely factual to fictional battlefields. The variety of the battlefields ensures a lot of gameplay here. The AI is also pretty good, as the different opponents will react to situations differently, so that if you go up against one map twice, each time using a different opponent, your scenario might turn out quite differently. The game is also very easy to use, comes with a nice campaign editor, and has a lot of gameplay for the casual strategist.
We now come to the bad parts of the game, of which there are a few. Firstly, we have the arcade-like sequences involving dogfights and bombing runs. This might have been a nice attempt to either pull the player into the conflicts or to appeal to a wider audience, but its execution is flawed. The controls are somewhat reversed, with the down key actually making you go down, in contrast to every flight simulation ever made (where pushing down would make you climb). They're also very sluggish, because it takes a moment or two for your plane to go where you want it, generally making you a sitting duck. This is also true of the bombing and gunnery sections, as they too exhibit lousy controls. It makes you wonder why this arcade stuff was put here in the first place, but it can offer a nice diversion if you choose to use it. You honestly don't have to go into either mode from the battle map, allowing the computer to do the fighting and bombing for you, which is probably the wiser choice to make.
The second bad part is the AI. While some opponents are downright ruthless, others are just plain stupid. I'm not sure if this is a scalable difficulty thing or just a flaw in the AI, but watching an opponent's planes just sit there on the tarmac while you bomb a city in the adjacent square in just plain silly. The final gripe I have with the game is the lack in variety when it comes to aircraft. One would think that, being a wargame about air combat, one would introduce the variety of planes that were present on the battlefield, from the Spad to the Sopwith Camel. Unfortunately, this isn't the case, as there are only two types of aircraft, fighters and bombers. This doesn't allow one to exploit the strengths of their aircraft's or the weaknesses of the enemy's, since every plane is essentially the same.
When one overlooks these omissions/flaws, we actually have an enjoyable game. Your mileage may vary, but I had fun planning air raids and interception missions, even if there wasn't much variety with the aircraft. I'd have to say that if you have any interest at all in this series or this era of flight, you'd be doing yourself no harm in finding this game on the web, since it's available free for download on several abandonware sites. Give it a try, because it can be worth the effort if your interest is high enough.
Graphics: Colorful and vibrant graphics really do the game justice.
Sound: Nice digitized voices and bombing effects.
Enjoyment: Weird AI and bumbling arcade sequences take away from the fun.
Replay Value: With over three-dozen campaigns and a campaign editor, you could play for years.
After naval combat, the second sequel to The Ancient Art of War is all about aircraft combat in World War I. It is a real-time strategy game in nature, and most of the time is spent on the overhead map. Here players plan their strategy and set the goals and routes for their aircraft. There are various statistics which are affected by the happenings on the battle field, e.g. destroying factories lengthen the time the enemy can get new aircraft. Overall the game features many real and fictional campaigns, as well as an editor to create more, with the winning condition to either destroy the enemy's flight force, his capital city or wearing him out.
When a flight battle or bombing occurs, the game switches to a side-scrolling combat screen. Here players actively participate in the combat; during dog fights the goal is to destroy the enemy and bombings are a matter of releasing the bomb at the right time while avoiding flak fire. Those sequences can be automatically calculated by the computer; then the pilot's skills affect his changes of success.
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