A10 Cuba
by Neil Mouneinme


  • Gameplay: 80%
  • Graphics: 40%
  • Intelligence/AI: 90%
  • Interface: 80%
  • Learning Curve: 6 hours
  • Fun Factor: 90%
Test System:
  • P 133, 32 meg EDO and 256K cache
  • Matrox Millenium 2 meg
  • 8x Toshiba IDE CD
  • WD 1.6 GB
  • SB 16

Can anything realistic come from Activision? According to Neil, A10 Cuba has the makings of an awesome flight simulation. With the recent patch to version 1.2, adding new features and many new weapons and networking options, its even better.

A-10 Cuba is one of the most unique and amazing flight sims ever made. It completely ignores what we would normally take for granted in a sim. Almost every aspect of the game is done from a completely different perspective than what sim pilots expect. This is undoubtedly due to the fact that A-10 traces its lineage to such Mac flight sims as Hellcats Over the Pacific, F/A-18 Hornet, and even Falcon 2.0. The result is a game that satisfies in ways that PC games have yet to touch, but yet has some bitter disappointments where most of us would not expect them.

To start with, the PC version of A-10 Cuba is a native Windows 95 game. This means that there are going to be certain eccentricities that are going to stand out - which seem prevalent for A-10 in particular. It seems that the porting from the original Mac version was rushed, so it is a little finicky about how it likes to do things. It does not multitask well, in that if you switch applications during the game, A-10 cannot resume operation and must have its processes shut down manually. It relies heavily on Direct X, which can be a problem for some people. If the game crashes on startup, it certainly is an indication of a Direct X driver problem. Direct Draw speed will be crucial to the game's performance. If you are using generic Win95 drivers for your video card, switching to accelerated drivers may improve the framerate by as much as 200%. The game itself will work well on a Pentium-90 or above with 16MB RAM, 10MB permanent hard drive space, and 30MB free virtual hard drive space.

The very first thing that you will notice when you open the box is that, save for the CD itself, it is EMPTY. Sure there are a few advertising blurbs and so forth, but the game is conspicuously missing an instruction manual. Rather, it uses on-line documentation in the help files. I think that most sim pilots don't mind the convenience of on-line documentation. After all, when you're trying to remember how to activate a particular weapon and don't want to go hunting around for where you left the manual last, it can be a big help. Yet at the same time, we don't want to have to boot the computer up or perhaps exit the game to look something up. PC sim pilots have come to expect large, well-writted manuals that cover everything from how to use their aircraft to background information on the hardware in the game and on the history of the conflict they are now participating in. That a company would save a couple dollars by not printing a manual (and still charge full price) for a game was met with very strong negative reaction in the newsgroups.

Once the game gets started you will find yourself in a nicely detailed bitmapped cockpit that accurately shows each and every switch, dial, and button available to the real pilots on their forward instrument panels. Each one is labeled neatly, and almost every one actually operates in some way by use of the mouse or keyboard shortcuts. This is one of the best uses of an interactive cockpit ever, at least as good as EF2000's approach, if not better. At first, just experimenting punching buttons is a joy to find what each does - a lovely indulgence that I hope none of us attempt in a real aircraft . If you are in the air, the controls can still be accessed with the mouse even while you are paused - which helps a great deal since PC games still don't offer sufficient peripheral vision to be able to fly properly while flipping switches.

The actual game graphics are amazingly stark compared to what we're accustomed to. Everything is made up of flat non-textured polygons without so much as any discernible light sourcing or gourad shading. For those of us getting into the 3D-accelerated world, it can come as quite a shock initially. Mountains and terrain features have so few polygons that they really are not much more than glamorous pyramids. The aircraft themselves are very nicely detailed, being very true to the actual shape of their real counterparts as opposed to many textured games abstract impressionistic versions. SU-27 veterans will immediately recognize a familar graphics philosophy.

This is good in some ways and bad in others. It's good because the frame rates are very high - so much so that the game plays quite nicely on a well-equipped P200 in 1024x768 - The first sim to really be playable in such a high resolution. After playing at such high resolutions it's really hard to go back to 640x480, much less the miserable 320x200 that a few games out there seem to want to force you into. On the other hand, too many terrain features use the exact same color and shading from one facet to another, which can make NOE flight very dangerous near cliffsides, since it becomes nearly impossible to gauge your distance from them. Fortunately the game draws "rocks" on the ground as you drop low to at least give you a good feel for your distance to the ground.

More than anything else A-10 Cuba deserves mention for the physics and flight modeling. This game has the best physics model ever put into a combat sim, period. The moment you start the engines and pull out of the hangar you'll realize things are different. The landing gear your plane rests on reacts to weight shifting from accelerating, braking, and turning with unbelievably realistic damped suspension. On the takeoff roll, the main struts will compress and the nose gear will extend to its limit, followed by the main gear themselves, as the plane becomes light and leaves the ground. In flight the plane reacts well, developing lift from the huge wings, realistically modeling the control surface reactions, bobbing around in wind currents, etc. Turn off the computer flight augmentation and the plane will tip-stall violently in a stall condition if you push the limit too hard. Lose an engine or wing surface and the plane will try to roll to one side. Use the brakes or flaps if one is damaged and the 'hog will yaw in the direction of the working one. Drag a wingtip on the ground and the plane will try to cartwheel or yaw. The realism is simply incomparable, but the beauty is that it isn't difficult to fly, just very satisfying because you know that it's right.

Damage effects are very realistic as befits a game with such a good flight model. Like the real A-10, you can lose one-third of your wing surface, one engine, and a rudder and still have enough control authority to land the damaged plane, but you'll be fighting the controls and skirting the outer edge of a stall almost all the way. Engine damage may result in a fire - complete with polygon flame and black smoke. Pull the extinguisher and it might put out the fire, or it might not. If it doesn't there is a risk of a catastrophic fuel explosion - backfiring of unburnt fuel in the compressor wake will indicate the risk involved. Land too hard and the landing gear might get twisted out of shape or broken completely. Get forced to belly land and sparks trail behind you as you scrape the runway.

Sound effects are wonderful, but lacking. The whine of the twin turbofans of the A-10 is really well done, sounding authentic at all pitch levels. Not only is the A-10 realistic sounding, but each aircraft has its own unique engine sound that you can hear as you switch views from one craft to another. The cannon sounds decent, although a little anemic. Damage sounds are inconsistent though. Getting hit by missiles usually doesn't have any kind of sound effect at all. Gun hits sometimes have a realistic metallic "spang" sound - but too frequently there is no sound whatsoever.

What's really wild is that all of this applies to the computer AI as well. The computer has to deal with the same incredible flight model. It doesn't just point itself at you on some artificially determined turning radius table. The computer actually sends signals to the control surfaces of the planes, then corrects if necessary. A good example of this was my wingman on a bombing mission. Before reaching the target, a SAM hit took out a rudder and an engine, making him yaw and pitch wildly. The pilot quickly kicked in opposite rudder and aileron, and after a few moments of reacting to the situation, managed to adjust enough to keep it under control and finish making several bombing passes - rudder full left all the way - until he pushed the limit too much on one turn, spun out of control and never recovered. All simulators should behave like this.

Unfortunately, A-10 has a dark side. Going up against enemy aircraft is a virtually hopeless situation. Aim-9 Sidewinders do very little damage to enemy craft, and it is not at all uncommon to hit a MiG-29 or Su-25 with two of them and still end up getting shot down by them. Hitting these planes with shells from the 30mm GAU-8 does very little unless they are hosed with a good number of them. These depleted uranium shells are heavier than lead, harder than tungsten, peel open 60-ton tanks like grapefruit, but can't hardly dent a Soviet aircraft. Ridiculous. There are a number of laser-guided weapons, but only two missions where they can be used at all since the A-10 can't designate it's own target.

Gameplay can be a little sticky. One of the worst offenses is that there is no padlock view at all. There is a virtual cockpit, although it is clumsy at best. Maintaining situational awareness requires heavy use of the external view and switching back and forth between the internal and external view. There is no missile launch warning, just a radar lock warning. There is no master caution sound and usually no impact sound, so usually your best indication of being hit is the plane jerking around from the result of the damaged sections. Taking all these factors together the situational awareness in A-10 is unacceptably low.

There is one black mark that stands out above all others in A-10. There are only 12 missions in the whole game. This is considered pretty standard in the Mac world, where small numbers of missions dates back all the way to Falcon 2.0, but in the PC world where we're getting used to hundreds of missions or dynamic campaigns with theoretically infinite missions, this is pretty poor. If there was a mission editor at least people would be able to make their own missions, and thus extend the lifespan of the game. Unfortunately, there is not even a mission editor, and so no matter how much you enjoy the game, the play is going to wear thin really soon.

All in all, A-10 approaches being the most incredible flight sim ever. Realistic physics and fun play are great. The frame rate is wonderful due to the conservative graphics. Yet poor situational awareness, limited missions, and no mission editor conspire to make the game far less than it could have been. The worst irony is that all these glaring problems could easily have been addressed. A-10 is probably the most glaring example of how an otherwise incredible game can be undermined by a few misplaced priorities on the part of the developer.

And here is the link!! Activision

The version 1.2 patch adds some features and fixes some bugs:

•Even Faster Framerate: Assembly language optimizations provide even faster framerates and smoother drawing on all platforms. This is particularly noticeable at 1024x768 resolutions.

•More Weapons: Network games now include even more weapons! We've added two stations (F2 and F10) with Aim 9 missiles, two stations (F3 and F9) with AGM65E laser guided Maverick missiles, and two stations (F4 and F8) carrying laser guided MK82's for a total of 6 additional weapon stations. The MK82's are especially good for destroying those players that like to land and pretend to be a SAM site.

•Network Messaging: Added network chat, pre-recorded taunts, and instant messages in network play. CTRL-F1 through CTRL-F8 sends user-definable messages to other players during network play. SHIFT-F1 through SHIFT-F8 sends several pre-recorded taunt sounds to other players in network games. The "~" key opens a chat line to other players in network games. Pressing ENTER sends the message; pressing ESC cancels the message.

•Network Optimizations: Network traffic has been reduced for even better modem and Internet play.

•Easier Network Scoring: Network score screen has been changed slightly to make it easier to get into and out of in the heat of battle. Pressing the ESC key now returns you to the game. When the dialog first appears the program will make the Reload button the active button if your plane can be reloaded. If it can't, the Resume button will be the default. You can use the spacebar to select either one of these.

•Better Joystick Control: Joystick centering problems have been addressed through new polling routines and customizable joystick buffering as well as an increased center dead-zone.

•Detachable Chutes: The player can detach the parachute after ejecting. When ejecting high up it can take a long time to get to the ground in some of the scenarios. The player can get back into the game faster by cutting the cord on the chute with the DEL key.

•Advanced Settings: A special tab has been added in the preferences for modifying several internal variables. Clock timing affects how often current time messages are sent to other players. The default is once every 40 frames. Status timing is how often object status messages are sent out and defaults to once every frame. Prediction determines how many seconds Cuba will attempt to move an object in the absence of status messages and defaults to 5 seconds. For Prediction enter 15 for 1.5 seconds, 2 for 2 seconds, 3 for 3 seconds and so on up to 5 seconds. Joystick Queue controls the number of values that are averaged to figure the current input from the joystick. The default is 4 and maximum is 15. Higher values will cause the joystick to respond more slowly. If the joystick is sluggish when you first play the new version of Cuba you should change this value to 1.

Other Fixes:

•There is a check box in the Joystick Preferences dialog which will allow you to reverse the rudder settings and invert the Cooley hat settings.

•Pressing ENTER or ESC when you first enter the game no longer causes any problems.

•The backspace key is now the key that releases a weapon lock (instead of the DEL key).

•Cuba now saves the game name, pilot name and plane color between network games.

•Cuba no longer crashes when a player cannot join a game correctly. In some cases Cuba would lock up or crash if joining a game failed.

•Fixed several random misspellings.

•All original A-10 Cuba! serial numbers will now work if the game is re-installed.

What? You arent' running v.1.2 yet? Download it from Activision:

1.2 Patch

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