B-17 Gunner: Air War Over Europe is essentially an arcade shooter in which you take the role of a gunner on a B-17 Flying Fortress bomber as it flies bombing missions over Europe in World War II. There is no flight simulation aspect to the game: You simply man the guns and shoot down enemy fighters. Each mission begins with your squadron already in the air, and the mission ends before you land. It's really just a shoot-'em-up game that gives you targets to shoot at but restricts your movement.
Gameplay in B-17 Gunner is exceedingly straightforward. Six positions in the B-17 are modeled: nose gun, top turret, ball turret, right and left waist guns, and tail guns. You can jump between gunnery positions by hitting the number keys, and each gives you an appropriate view as you're looking out of the aircraft. Your job is to man these guns and protect your plane from enemy fighters. As your squadron loses escort planes, the enemy comes to focus increasingly on you. German fighters come in waves, and the deeper your mission into Germany, the more fighters you face per wave (although the length of the missions doesn't appear to measurably increase). At the beginning of the mission, you're shown a picture of your target. When you approach it, you are automatically shifted to the bombsight view and must center and release the bombs on the target you were shown in the mission briefing. At the end of each mission, you obtain a score based on successful bombing and defense of your aircraft. The goal is to live through 25 missions and be sent home. An indicator at the lower right of the screen shows your position in the plane. When gun positions get "knocked out," they become inaccessible.
While you're in control of all your gun positions at the start of the mission, you won't find them all equally useful in practice. Some guns have very limited deflection (for example, at the nose and waist positions), and the persistent cloud layer really limits the effectiveness of the ball turret. Because the intercom sounds are mostly just oft repeated, canned phrases, it's often hard to determine where enemy attacks are coming from without constantly jumping from one control position to another. Instead of having other gunners call out locations ("Bandits at three o'clock low!"), they usually simply repeat a limited set of phrases, like "Jeez, they're all over the place." Consequently, it's usually better to simply sit in the top turret (which has the most freedom of fire) for the entire mission. Since enemy planes tend to attack from high positions, this is the most effective defensive strategy. Unfortunately, it gets fairly boring. Because guns reset their positions when you switch to a new station, flipping quickly between the waist and ball turret, for example, doesn't work because when you switch back into the ball turret, you'll find yourself facing aft (even if you were facing port when you left), and you'll have to waste time rotating the guns. Sticking to the top turret is the way to go.
The missions are essentially all the same, no matter what your target is or how deep it is inside Germany. Bombing is simply a case of squeezing the trigger while the crosshairs are over the target. While crewmembers will call out damage to the aircraft, this doesn't appear to affect its performance in any way. The aircraft is shot down only when all the gun positions have been eliminated.
As if this weren't enough, the game has fundamental technical problems that make it very frustrating to play. Despite the lack of detailed graphics and absence of any need for a flight model, B-17 Gunner stutters worse than some detailed flight sims that tax the computer far more than this simple arcade game. Even with a full installation, the game jerks, stalls, and stutters to such an extent that the graphics engine becomes a bigger obstacle to shooting down enemy planes than the planes' evasive actions. This stuttering persisted on two test systems that more than met the minimum hardware requirements, even after full hard-drive defragmentation and reinstallation. Considering the limited appeal of the gameplay in the first place, this is a crippling flaw.
Despite its simplicity, B-17 Gunner could have been an enjoyable, if mindless, arcade romp that you'd fire up for 20 minutes here and there to shoot down some planes and bomb some targets. Unfortunately, B-17 Gunner's numerous problems make it a product with little value, even at its reduced retail cost of $20.