Top Gun: Hornet's Nest
Windows - 1998
Description of Top Gun: Hornet's Nest
There are few movies that pump out as much testosterone as Top Gun, and most of that pumping came from Tom Cruise. The movie pretty much put his career into afterburner mode. So you'd expect a game based on Top Gun to be pretty hot stuff. Well, this is in fact the second game to use the license, the first being Top Gun: Fire at Will, and the format is pretty similar to that original. That means it's an action-oriented game with emphasis on an arcade style and with missions more in keeping with a movie script than with reality. That of course need not be a bad thing in itself, if that's what you're looking for. So, if you're a hardcore sim-pilot wanting an authentic F/A-18 experience you'll likely be disappointed, but if it's just seat-of-your-pants arcade mayhem you're into, well, Top Gun: Hornet's Nest makes an acceptable stab at providing it.
It doesn't take a genius to work out that it's very unlikely that Microprose could ever afford Tom Cruise ('Maverick') to make even a ten-second appearance in the game and still have money left over to pay anyone to write some code. OK, so how about 'Iceman'? Well, no Val Kilmer either. In fact, none of the movie's pilots make an appearance (as far as I saw) and the only character you'll recognise is the bald guy - you know, the one who was in Back To The Future III and probably a whole string of other movies I've since forgotten. Sadly it's not just the faces that are absent, but the music too. I bought the soundtrack album when the movie came out, but not a sniff of any of the tracks in the game. So, in what way is this a Top Gun game? Well, none really, bar the far-fetched style of the campaign missions.
The game has the choice of either instant action mode or a long campaign. Either way the premise is that you're part of a special response team known as the Hornet's Nest, sent to trouble spots around the world to smite the bad guys. In Hornet's Nest there are plenty of them - first up a breakaway general with a splinter army in Siberia, then some religous zealot looking to grab power after Saddam Hussein disappears in Iraq, and finally a madman in Colombia who's blown up the Panama Canal. The choice of setting offers the 3D-accelerated game engine a chance to show itself off in icy mountains, over desert and in tropical climes, and it does a fine job of it too. Nothing spectacular, but pretty to look at.
The movie feel of the game is soon in evidence. The first mission sees you sent off to take out enemy cruisers, dealing with any air threat en route. Not too hard. Mission two is like something from Star Wars; in icy Siberia you have to fly down a twisting canyon, blowing up a couple of nuclear towers along the way, before popping up over a ridge to take out a huge missile launcher. You don't have to fly down the trench, but if you do it prevents SAM sites getting a lock on you. If you turn quick enough after takeoff you can also fly under a high suspension bridge too. I'm sure 'Maverick' would be proud. If you do take out the launcher you'll get a "mission complete" victory message, even if you're about to be blown to smithereens by five inbound SAMs - missions in Hornet's Nest end when the goals are met, no need to fly back to base. Another clue to where the game's ethos lies. The mission variety itself is good, with targets ranging from other jets and helos through cruisers to ground installations, tanks and supply trucks. This isn't your regular sim tour of duty, but for those after diverse thrills there's much fun to be had in both day and night sorties.
The arcade feel is also thrust in your face with the choice of viewing modes. You can fly in a virtual cockpit, using your joystick hat to look around, or you can play in a more X-Wing style mode with a full screen view, or you can play from a chase view where sub-windows are superimposed to let you see your MFD's. I found the conventional in-cockpit mode to be the best, but then I also play racing games from in-seat rather than chase views. The MFD's are what you'd expect - showing damage, radar, weapon loadouts and maps of the area. Toggling weapons and weapons modes is very easy, the only reason to visit your keyboard in a hurry is to hit chaff and flares. With a tight maneuver and judicious use of the counter-measures key it's quite easy, perhaps too easy, to evade inbound missiles. One game option even allows chaff and flares to be automatically launched for you.
There's options to choose the ability of enemies, as well as your own fuel, damage and weapon limitations. If you want to play with an itchy trigger finger, you can use unlimited ammo in the campaign games and squeeze off as many missiles as you want, but the game does appear to compensate by adding more enemies if you play that way. Picking your loadouts is important all the same - you get a visual loading screen in which you have to pick what types of weapons to take. For air-to-ground there are Mavericks, Napalm bombs, GBU-15's, Cluster bombs and Paveways, and around ten air-to-air missile variants and four cannon shell types.
The in-flight experience is OK, but having just come from WWII Fighters boy is it a change. The super flight experience of WWII Fighters, with its more visceral combat, superb aircraft models and amazing feeling of speed as you plough through wispy clouds is rather lost in comparison here. Other jets and ground vehicles have rather smooth "skins" lacking any convincing texture detail. The sense of speed in Hornet's Nest is also woefully absent - ironic given 'Maverick's slogan `I feel the need, the need for speed!' - I certainly feel like I'm moving faster in WWII Fighters than Hornet's Nest, which is obviously rather wrong. Even when very low, the ground just seems to drift by, at airspeeds of 400+, and this does spoil the experience somewhat. If I've got a big macho jet between my thighs, I want to feel like I'm riding one, especially when the game is action-oriented.
Hornet's Nest does offer wingmen, and some very simple wingmen orders, and there's also a multiplayer mode for up to eight players (which I have been unable to test). To get the best out of the game you really need 3D-acceleration. My P2/233 with Voodoo 1 card did hit a couple of occasions in solo play where there was a little chugginess, and I can't imagine multiplayer being smoother than solo. The thing Hornet's Nest has going for it is its accessibility - you don't need to be knowledgeable to get in and fly, the flight model being quite forgiving. Stalls, when they occur, are pretty easy to get out of. Keeping an eye on altitude is the only thing novices have to be particularly careful of.
I must admit that my personal preference for dog-fighting does lie back in WWII, and WWII Fighters is currently the sim that has my undivided attention. The thing that turns me off modern sims is the missile element, where I'm more into gun duels than long-range maneuvering for good missile shots. In Hornet's Nest the emphasis is on action, and plenty of it. The missions are geared to offering an almost 007-like feel to them. Everything has the feeling of being simplified to offer the maximum arcade-style enjoyment, though oddly the one thing that would add to the "rush" would be the feeling of speed, and that's unfortunately absent. Some cloud or more ground detail would probably help there.
In offering an accessible and simple arcade game, Hornet's Nest succeeds, but it's neither innovative nor distinctive. Offer me visuals to match WWII Fighters or a modern re-working of Strike Commander (with its interesting characters and strategic supply wrapper) and I'd be far more likely to get engrossed. As it is, Hornet's Nest 's only distinction is that it's distinctly average.
Review By GamesDomain
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