One of my favorite computer game series of all time was the original MicroProse Software’s F-15 Strike Eagle trilogy (1984-1992). I was introduced to the original game – designed by the legendary Sid Meier – in 1987 when I bought the Apple II port a few months after I was given an Apple IIe by my paternal uncle, Sixto Diaz-Granados.
Even though F-15 Strike Eagle had rudimentary graphics – even in 1987, when the game was selling like hotcakes, they looked rather primitive and not realistic at all – it was still a fun and exciting flight simulator that allowed you to “fly” an F-15 Strike Eagle (the ground-attack version of the McDonnell-Douglas F-15 air superiority fighter) in combat missions over Libya, the Middle East, the Persian Gulf, and Vietnam.
Due to the limitations of late 1980s personal computers, neither F-15 Strike Eagle nor its 1989 sequel, F-15 Strike Eagle II could claim they were accurate simulations of the U.S. Air Force’s then-untried in-combat fighter-bomber. For one thing, both of these versions tended to be full of anachronisms and strange fiction, e.g. setting some missions in historical periods such as the Vietnam War and Operation El Dorado Canyon (the April 1986 bombing raid on Libya by U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy strike aircraft) in which the F-15E Strike Eagle was not present, or depicting the F-15E as a carrier-borne aircraft.
Another issue I had with the first two iterations of F-15 Strike Eagle is that the weapon loadout was limited to a fixed selection of air-to-ground and air-to-air weapons.
For instance, in F-15 Strike Eagle, a player was limited to:
- Four AIM-7M Sparrow medium-range semi-active radar homing (SARH) air-to-air missiles
- Four AIM-9L Sidewinder short-range infrared homing (IRH) heat-seeking air-to-air missiles
- Six three-bomb “sticks” of Mk-82 500-lb unguided bombs
- Vulcan 20mm multi-barrel cannon
In the 1989 sequel, which had somewhat better graphics but still had to skimp on realism due to the limitations of computer processors of the period, the loadout was somewhat better but still fixed.
In F-15 Strike Eagle II, the player’s F-15E Strike Eagle was armed with:
- Six AGM-65 Maverick air-to-ground tactical missiles
- Four AIM-120A Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAMs)
- Four AIM-9L Sidewinder short-range heat-seeking missiles
- Vulcan 20mm multi-barrel cannon
That was it. No more. No Less.
I liked F-15 Strike Eagle II more than I liked F-15 Strike Eagle, mainly because it had, by 1989 standards, better graphics, and at least the enemy planes looked like planes rather than just wireframe geometric shapes. It still had those weird bits of unrealistic stuff, such as depicting F-15Es over Libya and Vietnam (the Libyan missions could be explained away as being “present-day” in 1989, but the Vietnam missions were not depicted in the game as being “near-future” missions but rather as Vietnam War-era ones – a time in which the Air Force was flight-testing the interceptor model of the F-15A but had not even dreamed of fielding the two-seat E model), but at least the game looked a little better.
Both versions of the game slowly eased players from the easiest skill level (Rookie)to the hardest (Ace). I never reached Ace on either one; the farthest I could advance on the original F-15 Strike Eagle was Veteran, and on F-15 Strike Eagle II the best skill level I managed to complete was Pilot. I don’t recall now if on the original game you chose to advance from one skill level to the next if you did not start playing the game as a Rookie, or if the game simply advanced you to the next hardest level once you had flown one mission in each Theater of Operations.
Because my first MS-DOS computer was homebuilt for me by a guy who made and sold PCs from components, F-15 Strike Eagle II tended to freeze a lot on it, so even though I liked the game despite its odd quirks, I didn’t play it as much as I did the by then badly-dated F-15 Strike Eagle on my Apple IIe.
Of course, when I finally bought a Pentium I PC – again, home built by another “computer guy” I knew at the time, the new game in town was F-15 Strike Eagle III. But, that, Dear Reader, is a tale for another day.