This ambitious game actually isn't so much a flight simulation as it is a role-playing game that takes place aboard a bomber.
You wouldn't know it from the title, but B-17 Flying Fortress: The Mighty 8th is a sequel. More than eight years ago, MicroProse released one of the all-time greatest flight simulations, which was about the legendary Flying Fortress bomber. Fans have eagerly anticipated a sequel ever since, and, needless to say, it's been a long time in the making. Unfortunately, the single most-desired feature in the new edition of the game - a cooperative multiplayer mode - was dropped when B-17 II became a single-player-only game in order to meet its production deadlines. The "II" in the title was dropped as well, but the spirit of the original lives on - even after all these years, the sequel is still every bit as ambitious as its predecessor.
B-17 is a simulation of the same four-engine workhorse from the original game. Ten crew positions are re-created in lavish detail, including the pilot, copilot, navigator, bombardier, engineer, ball gunner, radio operator, waist gunner, and tail gunner stations. Each crewmember has different skills and proficiencies; you'll soon find that a good bombardier or navigator isn't easily replaceable. You'll learn to cherish each crewmember's individual contributions as you play through the missions in the game.
B-17 has gorgeous graphics, and it is certainly one of the best-looking World War II sims to date, along with Microsoft's recent Combat Flight Simulator 2. The terrain is excellent (although you might notice some seams between the ground-texture maps), and the cloud effects look outstanding. The aircraft look great, too. Unfortunately, running the game at maximum detail requires powerful hardware, so you might experience sluggish frame rates even if you exceed the game's recommended system requirements. Otherwise, though the sounds in the game can occasionally get repetitive, they generally help establish a realistic atmosphere, from the roar of the B-17's engines to the voices of your crew. You might find that they even get a little too real when you hear the cries of your injured crewmembers.
In addition to the B-17 itself, the game features six fighter aircraft: the American P-38, P-47, and P-51, as well as the German Me-109, Me-262, and F-190. The fighters look quite good, and the cockpits are especially impressive. However, the thing that's most important about simulating a fighter is in getting its flight model just right - but unfortunately, the flight models in B-17 are consistently lacking.
For a game that's ostensibly a flight simulator, the actual simulation of flight turns out to be one of the weakest points of B-17. The flight models for all the aircraft seem far more relaxed and forgiving than in a good fighter sim. For instance, the B-17 itself can perform some surprisingly deft maneuvers, like loops, without much trouble. Real B-17s had a difficult time just getting airborne with a full payload of bombs; it took a skilled pilot to avoid crashing such a bomber on takeoff. But pilots in B-17 Flying Fortress will encounter no such problems. Also, the fighters on both sides are generally overpowered, and they don't seem realistic as a result of the same overly forgiving physics model that also makes the bombers seem less difficult to maneuver than they should be.
In a fighter-oriented game, this lack of realism in the flight models would be a huge problem. Luckily, it's not as big of a deal in B-17 since this ambitious game actually isn't so much a flight simulation as it is a role-playing game that takes place aboard a bomber. The bomber isn't just a plane you control, but rather a setting for your crew to carry out its individual tasks and for you to join them as you try to survive 25 scripted missions over occupied Europe. There really isn't much actual aerial maneuvering to do in the game, since most of the flying is in formation or is done in conjunction with a computer-controlled navigator. B-17 actually lets you take control of any crew position in the plane at any time; you're not strictly responsible for steering the plane along its course. So, while you can perform loops in the bomber (thanks to problems with the flight model) or even shoot down your wingmen without any real consequence (they'll start shouting that there are enemy fighters around, even if there aren't any), there's no point in actually doing so because it's contrary to the nature of the role-playing experience. The realism problems in B-17 don't have nearly the detrimental effect on the game that you might expect, since the game's convincing and authentic atmosphere inspires you to try to suspend your disbelief despite these things.
B-17 succeeds in suspending your disbelief not only because of its graphics and sound, but also because of its depth, which is obvious from the detail at each crew position. Simply starting the B-17's four engines is an incredible 30-step process. There are three different brakes you have to release in order to taxi your bomber down the runway. As the bombardier, using the Norden bombsight properly is an arcane skill that you'll learn only through repeated trial and error. You also have to calculate the wind drift, which is similarly challenging. Fortunately, the computer can handle all this if you're not up to it.