|Janes Israeli Air Force (IAF)
by Thomas "AV8R" Spann
Jane's Israeli Air Force (IAF) military flight sim is the topic of this review. Bubba Wolford has already given a preview of this sim, but here we will focus on the multiplayer and game play aspects specifically.
After flying online for about 3 hours, it looks like Jane's wanted to readdress the USNF/ATF/FA simming community. What hit me immediately was that the terrain, avionics and manual are not what the hard-core flight simmers expect and got with Jane's F15E. On the other hand, what is lost in depth of is gained in breadth in IAF. Its this breadth that I want to touch on in this review. In short, IAF is a strong candidate to replace Fighter's Anthology in the area of dissimilar aircraft multiplayer genre.
IAF sports 7 of the Israeli Air Force's top fighters: KFIR (1st indigenous IAF a/c), LAVI, MIRAGE, F4-E, F-4 2000, F-15, F-16. In multiplayer mode only, you can also fly the Soviet build MiG-23 and MiG 29 fighters. The MiG-23 being at par with the KLIR and F4s and the MiG-29 Fulcrum the nemesis of the modern era jets. Lets hope there's a hidden key command to allow off-line flying of these wonderful birds as there was in the ATF series.
As you can see, from high altitude, the stereoscopic satellite terrain looks splendid. At low levels you get a very pixelated terrain at something like one pixel for each square meter. Also there is a shimmering affect by the terrain that is bothersome. But once you're a few thousand feet or when you're up to your goggles in a dogfight, these things are not a big deal. Both the internal cockpit art and the external aircraft graphics are excellent. You gotta love watching the gear fold up as it does correctly. Gone are the days of instant wheels in the wells.
I am running a P2 300 with 128mb RAM and a Voodoo2 3D graphics accelerator. With all the trimmings turn all the way up, the frame rate was smooth. The only annoyance was the shimmering effect of the pixelation as mentioned before. Ground objects are highly detailed and help improve the low level gameplay for target recognition.
In retrospect, when I consider photo realistic terrain sims like iF18 CSF and now IAF, there seems to be that trade off that has to be dealt with: terrain accuracy versus terrain smoothness at low altitudes. Due to the high demands of memory and hard disk space, I think we will have to wait for technology to catch up so that this resolution and hardware issue cease to be a problem. Jane's F15E has a much smoother low level terrain, but the accuracy isn't there. Its probably a good design trade off being that the Mud Eagle does get real low at times.
The accurate terrain gives IAF its unique flavor. Its a flight sim with its planes and terrain modeled accurately in its proper context. So again, Jane's had to make those tough design trade off decisions. As it stands, the recommended hardware ante is upped to a P 266 with MMX technology. Maybe when we have PIII 700 mhz CPUs we can have our cake and eat it too.
Now lets take a look at the cockpit art and avionics. Each plane has its own avionics and not the pop up windows of the ATF/FA era of sims. Personally I think this is the right direction for Jane's to take because this is what helps with the immersion factor and allows you to enjoy the uniqueness of each aircraft. All the gauges and MFDs are functional, but not all of the buttons, knobs and levers are however. Gone too are the mirrors that I did like from ATF/FA.
Perhaps the frame rate hit is just too much, and the automatic head swiveling padlocks are a good compromise - unlike WARBIRDS that has no padlocking or mirrors. The MFDs do have functional buttons like F15E does, but the depth of the instrument modeling and number of functions are greatly reduced. I was pleased to see the realism that the avionics did show, like the radar breaking lock when the target is out of its scan cone or during terrain masking.
Whether dogfighting or in BVR engagements, a good padlock, HUD and targeting avionics are indispensable. IAF delivers adequately on all these points. You can bug up bogies either from the keyboard commands or you can click on the radar scope with your mouse. The HUDs are crisp and give the right information such that you don't have to fumble by looking down at the instruments. In fact the more modern IAF planes are equipped with the "DASH" helmet mounted targeting system, much like the Su27 Flanker's SHELM mode.
The short range missiles (SRMs) can acquire and launch with as much as 80 degrees off the nose with the Python-4 SRM. The DASH display utilizes a directional arrow which aids in orientation when the pilot's head loses its bearings with respect to the target. Just fly the plane in the direction that the arrow points. What is also very well done is the oncoming and fading of the redout/blackout effects. This keeps the yank and back crowds in check. The heavy breathing and G reducing pilot grunts do get old real fast, hopefully ill find an option to turn them off.
Flight model (FM) is another very important aspect of game play. One of my first tests is to induce stalls and spins and to see if the different planes handle in accordance to their relative sophistication and loading. What I experienced was believable FMs but not as highly tuned as with Jane's F15E or iF-18 CSF.
This once again makes for a good trade off of playability and yet not at all arcadish in feel. What I look for, is enough differences in the FM so that you have to be aware of the strengths and weaknesses of the aircraft in battle. IAF delivers well here. But be forewarned, landing and dogfighting in a F15 in Jane's F15E still much more challenging than in IAF.
On to my favorite topic, multiplayer (MP). Jane's has become one of the top supporters of multiplayer boxed flight sims along other greats like DiD, SSI, Microprose/Hasbro and GSC. You can almost always expect >2 players in the same game over internet ,sometimes up to 6 or 8 (depending on a lot of factors).
While we are told that the MP simming community is a much smaller slice of the pie when compared to the solo players, Jane's continues to build their sims with MP in mind, and it shows! Whether we are talking about the really creative graphical user interfaces (GUIs), the in game chat/taunt or the dissimilar a/c, the stable internet MP code or the spell bounding graphics and fight models - Jane's continues to get my vote for a great MP sims (and dollars too!).
Multiplayer is supported in three ways: internet TCP/IP, IPX/SPX, and over Jane's own COMBAT NET (JCN) gaming arena hosted on their own website. Within the multiplayer GUIs you can choose head to head, cooperative, campaigning and user created missions with the editor. As my co-editor Dan Crenshaw has pointed out, COOP is really where its at, and he is right. A great multiplayer sim is not just head2head, but is also enables cooperative gameplay.
This means some may choose to be STRIKE, others CAP where you actually CARE that your teammates make it home. Hopefully JCN and fast connections will allow for many versus many over internet. Over LANs, IAF should make for a very fun sim. At the time of my testing, 4 player over TCP/IP was no problem. Being that those I flew with had ISDN or better connections, there was almost no warping. I expect IAF to behave online much as F15E does being that they are so released so close together.
What's really unique about IAF, is that there are multiplayer missions and campaigns designed by actual IAF pilots based upon real events and tactics. When flying missions versus just dogfighting, your team can have the most kills, but still lose the battle due to not fulfilling the strike target requirements. This is what makes cooperative multiplay a whole order magnitude more challenging and interesting. At the end of your missions there is a full debrief and stats GUI so that you can learn from your experiences. Pilot's performance is logged which adds again to the immersion.
In summary, IAF does a good balancing act between usability, playability, graphics, avionics, and flight model targeting the larger mid range military flight sim genre. IAF is a good platform for the Jane's USNF/ATF/FA followers to move on to and enjoy the 3D world and frame rates. IAF is more focused than is Fighter Anthology in that its far fewer but better modeled aircraft. To the hard core flight sim junkies (it takes one to know one), IAF will feel like a sim-lite, but for the many weekend warrior fighter jocks this is not a bad thing.
With solid MP support, mission editor, and dissimilar planes; IAF is positioned to succeed as did its predecessors it hopes to replace. Virtual squadrons should be pleased. Personally I still await that day when we can have full blown sims with FM and avionics and with all these other qualities that IAF possesses. IAF has earned a place on my hard disk (680mb worth). The score I give Jane's IAF is a enthusiastic 90%.
Till we meet in the skies, Check Six.
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Last Updated September 12th, 1998