Who knew that a fortuitous meeting by two men in Las Vegas (arranged by mutual friends), would lead to the formation of one of the most hallowed game companies in the world. MicroProse was formed in 1982, by retired Air Force pilot, Bill Stealey, and computer programmer, Sid Meier. From there, they went on a tear throughout the computer gaming industry, creating such classics as Silent Service, Pilrates!, Civilization, X-COM: UFO Defense, Gunship, Project Stealth Fighter, Red Storm Rising, and one of my personal all-time favorites, the original Master of Orion.
But after some financial bungling, the company was eventually forced into servitude under a number of companies, including Spectrum HoloByte, Hasbro Interactive, and Infogrames. Then, they suddenly winked out of existence altogether. However, they’ve since reinvented themselves under new leadership and are back to making unique titles that forge new paths within the computer gaming industry.
HighFleet is one of their new flagship titles and is reminiscent of the spark of genius that the company used to be known for. Its main user interface—actually many of its interfaces—are rather arcane and remind me of Dune. The core gameplay loop involves managing a fleet of giant ships (get it…fleet…HighFleet?) in a titanic struggle against a seemingly overwhelmingly powerful enemy.
The vaguely Russian-sounding names of everyone in your charge (all with epic beards) and the fact that your enemies have Middle-Eastern sounding ones, make the game feel like a retro-futuristic analog of the Russo-Turkish War.
There’s a prologue in place and it is highly recommended that you play it since it acts as the game’s tutorial—if you can call it that. HighFleet is a very non-hand-holdy affair that begs you to be patient with its obscure world-building, terminologies, and mechanics. From there, you’re thrown to the wolves and will have to tinker with your burgeoning fleet—outfitting your ship’s bulky fuselages with all sorts of gadgets, gizmos, armaments, and defensive items. You also have to manage your fleet’s all-important fuel reserves in order to reach different points of interest on the map.
After you figure out what types of ships do what, you’ll have to come to grips with the under-explained mechanics. I simply experimented around a lot of found out what works and what didn’t. One thing that kept me coming back for more is HighFleet’s gorgeous dieselpunk aesthetic and equally impressive-looking battle scenes, where you’re flying around in the skies and facing down other fleets in high stakes aerial duels. These side-scrolling battles remind me of the old arcade game, Thrust, mixed with Space Invaders, but of course with updated graphics.
In the end, HighFleet demands a high degree of patience—this is not a “load-up-and-fire-away” type of operation. But once you learn the game’s various jammed, crammed, and heaped systems, it’s an overall brilliant strategy title that should go a big way on putting MicroProse back on the map.
For HighFleet to play at a decent framerate, you may just want to invest in a superior gaming rig:
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