At the tail end of the Cold War, and with films like Top Gun and Iron Eagle enjoying enormous popularity, it only made sense to make the thrill of air combat available at the local arcade. Perhaps one of the most technologically advanced of these games was Sega’s Afterburner, released in 1987. Offering thrills like no other in its class, there were actually versions of the game that required the player to strap in for safety purposes. Now, that’s some serious gaming!
Players took the controls of the formidable F-14 fighter jet and proceeded to follow the cardinal rule of all air combat games, shoot everything in sight and avoid being shot down. And there was plenty to shoot at, from enemy fighters to ground bases, complete with anti-aircraft artillery. From your controls, you had the option of firing a supply of machine gun rounds or, when that extra firepower was needed, locking on to a target with a heat-seeking missile sure to send your enemy plummeting towards the earth. The only small problem was that your enemy also had the ability to use this technology and could lock on to you as well. This called for swift evasive maneuvers, such as a barrel-roll to escape the destructive power of a missile in determined pursuit. But if you could accomplish that feat and position yourself behind the enemy craft, you could then proceed to blast them out of the sky.
Each mission used up a substantial portion (if not all) of your munitions and fuel. Luckily, this could all be replenished via a mid-air refueling or, if you were lucky enough, by landing your fighter jet, giving you a well deserved breather to gather your wits. All in all, there were a total of 23 missions which pitted fighter pilots against enemy aircraft, bombing raids on ground targets or through treacherous narrow canyons. Players were given three lives initially but it was possible to earn additional ones throughout the course of the game.
What made Afterburner so memorable was its advanced game controls. Each game was equipped with a vibrating joystick, which rumbled with every maneuver and collision, and stereophonic sound, which served to put players in the middle of the action. Some consoles were even designed to look like a real cockpit, adding to the realism as players strapped themselves in and hold on for dear life as they were tossed in every direction during the course of the game.
And in some special locales such as Las Vegas, the cockpit was placed in a spherical machine that allowed an unprecedented freedom of movement. Sure, you can shoot an enemy aircraft with ease while standing in front of a stationary machine; now try doing it while hanging upside down. Players certainly didn’t mind the additional cost to enjoy this enhanced air combat experience. But no matter which version of the game you had access to, there was plenty of fun to be had while in control of your very own F-14 and plenty of gamers earned their wings over the years, thanks to Afterburner.
If you have fond memories of playing Afterburner at your local arcade, we hope you’ll share a memory or two with us in our comments section.