Flight of the Intruder is an interesting entry in this series. Not for being a licensed title, but rather for the story of how and when it came to be released. In the early days of video game licenses, developers generally took one of two tactics: wait and see if the film/novel became a hit before optioning it (see: Independence Day), or pick something that was already popular and create a new game based on that property (see: Friday the 13th). But in this case, developer Mirrorsoft found itself working on a Vietnam-era combat flight simulator at the same time as real-life Vietnam veteran Stephen Coonts was writing a novel based on the exploits of Navy carrier pilots like himself in the 1972 Linebacker campaign. Unwilling to let such development synchronicity slip through its fingers, Mirrorsoft reached out to Coonts and asked if he’d be willing to lend his name (and a copy of his book) to their game. Coonts agreed and the end result was impressive as all hell for a flight sim released in 1990. Screenshots are taken from the Amiga version programmed by Rowan Sofrware, but the game appeared in DOS, Atari ST, and NES incarnations as well.
Another day, another dawn mission. Rise and shine pilot, you’re on deck. Flight of the Intruder tasks you with flying not just one plane but an entire squadron as you launch from your home carrier in the Gulf of Tonkin. Your mission: mischief, mayhem, and destruction as you pilot your F-4 Phantoms or A-6 Intruders (hence the ‘Intruder’ part of the title) into Vietnam.
Missions vary in size and scope, with a variety of sorties that include bombing raids, air-to-air combat, and air-to-ground engagements, but it’s rare to find a mission that includes just one type once you get out of your rookie phase. It’s not uncommon to start off in control of a Phantom, engage a couple of enemy MiG-28s, then jump into the cockpit of the Intruder you’ve been escorting to blow up a supply convoy, slip back to the Phantom to deal with the fresh air support that has arrived on the scene, then leave the air battle to your AI teammates as you re-take control of an Intruder just in time to blast a bridge to splinters. And of course, no mission is complete until you’ve returned to the carrier you call home and made a successful landing. That was everybody’s favorite part of Top Gun on the NES, right?
Flight of the Intruder may not look like much today, but when it was released it completely eclipsed the best combat flight sim of the day, Falcon. Reviewers and combat sim enthusiasts alike raved at the game’s complexity, the well-executed AI of your team mates, the ability to switch between planes at a moment’s notice, and the excellent air physics. Newbies to the flight sim genre or those who preferred to fly more for fun than for realism also lauded the game’s customization options, which allowed trainee pilots to ignore some of the more complicated sides to flying and focus instead of the gaming elements by easing restrictions on carrier landings and fast-forwarding to where the action was.
The whole game revolves around a waypoint system, where missions are split into various objectives, but the game offers an enormous range of customization options for pilots to set their own waypoints, decide how competent their AI wingmen are, and expand or contract missions to create whole new campaigns. Hardcore flight fanatics can obsess over every single detail of loadout and take-off, and it’s even possible to fly for the enemy if you’re more interested in winning the day for Communism at the flight stick of a MiG.
But perhaps the best aspect of Flight of the Intruder has nothing to do with its gameplay mechanics or graphics. In order for would-be pilots to get the full experience from Stephen Coonts’s perspective, the game shipped with a paperback copy of the novel upon which it was based. So on your downtime, while lounging in your rack, you could read up on the adventures of “Tiger” and “Cool Hands” both in and out of the air. Sure it might seem like shameless cross-promotion, but chances are if you were into military simulations, you also enjoyed reading a good adventure story, and Coonts’s tale of a pair of Naval aviators tired of the political nonsense tying their hands and decide to strike one last mission that might actually make a difference is thrilling reading.
And, as always, enjoy your retro ad goodie: