|if22 5.0 By Scott Purdy
iF-22 Persian Gulf version 5.0, from Interactive Magic, represents the culmination of a wide-array of enhancements to the original iF-22—first released in the summer of 1997. Notable differences in this latest appearance include combining the Persian Gulf campaign with the Bosnian and Ukrainian theatres onto one disk, a virtual cockpit similar to those seen in the latest fighter-sims, and a bevy of solutions to problems addressed in the intervening months by numerous patches. These far-ranging improvements combine to make a strong simulation worthy of our attention, though still with flaws.
Most of us remember the original iF-22 as a game that drove virtual pilots everywhere to frazzled states of near-insanity: among the early teething-problems were its ungainly installation-size, its strange pixellated or blurry graphics at low altitude, and the minty-fresh quality of its missile trails. Still, there were a number of things to like about the game—such as its being the first serious F22 simulation to sport a dynamic campaign engine, a feature now considered highly valuable in any sim, along with a fairly intriguing model of stealth as an asset in air combat.
In addition, if22 had some nice graphic effects (I always felt that that floating band of Aqua Fresh was, while bizarre, kind of cool, at least by the standards of games nine months ago).
But even then these qualities seemed outnumbered by the problems the sim was facing. Among the complaints was the famous issue of the ejection sequence taking the form of.. er ..a picture of a pilot ejecting—a feature so annoying that we found ourselves longing for the "advanced" graphics-engine of, say, ATF, where you could actually observe your little pilot-dude floating to the ground by parachute. Problems did not end with the graphics, however, and extended fatally into such realms as wingmen AI and long mission load-times.
A number of these early problems are addressed in the latest release, as it comprehensively includes all the patched improvements made after its debut: the low-level terrain detail is improved by a new texture-dithering feature, the installation size has been reduced to a manageable 300 MB, and, thankfully, reaching for the ejection handle now shows a pilot pop out of the plane en route to becoming MIA.
Other notables include an effective padlock view and a virtual, panning cockpit so that one might gaze at the horizon on long flights home; unfortunately, the panning is too slow to be the kind of thing you’d use in battle—nothing like the mouse-induced virtual movement in Jane’s F-15—though it’s still a nice addition.
Installation is straightforward and takes you to a prompt for calibrating your stick and throttle. From the main screen you may enter into training, set up an instant-action scenario, head for the front lines in one of three dynamic campaigns (after loading a few files—the Gulf terrain is the default load) or create your alter-ego ticketed for the wild blue yonder. Mission preparation has received attention in the form of more zoom-levels on the briefing map and you’ll find the ever-handy flight-armament screen in this section.
Getting into the gameplay, one may choose a relaxed or realistic flight-model among a list of customizing options, and one does notice the effects of flying on the "realistic" setting: speed-bleed from heavy maneuvering, AoA and G-force modeling are all present and functional for those seeking a greater challenge.
Communications remain fairly basic, including only a few variations on the ‘Engage my target’ theme and the power to order wingmen individually to attack. There are no bracketing or even formation commands. Still, hearing your wingman say, "You looked sweet on that one," gets the old adrenaline running, and the comms sound authentic.
However, the statements following successful ground-attack can get a bit lame, including such baffling transmissions as "I nailed him but he’s not down," when you hit, for instance, an ammo bunker . . .Shades of F15 wingmen calling "Permission to engage" when a SAM is on their tail!
iF-22 models a very stealthy aircraft indeed—1/1000th the RCS of an F-15, I’ve heard—but attaining this stealth in the initial release from iMagic was something of a tightrope affair, as numerous conditions had to be satisfied before true low-visibility was achieved: namely, avoiding the use of external stores, keeping radar in a passive mode, and limiting the speed of your aircraft.
But then the first major patch of iF22 diluted the RCS from its barely stealthy class to about 1/500th the RCS of the F15, greatly increasing your ability to remain undetected at the risk of inducing boredom. But it was a good adjustment to a simulation, after all, based on a stealthy aircraft!
This stealth-issue was one aspect of the latest release I was intrigued to study, in lieu of a response to the brilliant way stealth is handled in F22:ADF, where EMCON settings help to determine your radar return and overall ‘visibility’ to bandits. iF-22 doesn’t seem to have been altered much in this department during its evolution—external stores and active radar still make you a big target in the sky, even to bandits outside a twenty mile radius, and selecting the "low RCS" option doesn’t provide an inherent advantage in battle.
But if you rely on passive radar, the F-22’s primary method of remaining stealthy in real life, and the plane’s in-flight data-link ( IFDL) which allows your own radar to show all contacts within range of the AWACS, you wil indeed achieve near invisibility. This in turn allows you to intrude significantly onto enemies and fire your AIM-120s before the enemy is aware of your presence. This is quite effective once you get the hang of it, and fun too!
CAPs are my favorite missions in iF-22—they have a nice, routine feel to them and tend not to demand the yanking and banking this sim often incurs on other missions. Air-to-air kills don’t convey the emotional charge of downing an enemy bird in F22:ADF, but you have a good tactical range of options and can achieve satisfying maneuvers. Unfortunately, knifefights in iF-22 are sullen, swirling deals that usually end in your wingmen being blasted or having them ‘form on your wing’ in the middle of battle! The AI seems quite pale here, as your flight needs constant updating in order to engage enemies, even when the bandits draw within five miles.
Wingmen and weapons AI are still subpar in the sense that wingmen do not act or react autonomously. During normal flight, instead of maintaining a nice echelon spread, your comrades whirl around you like teenagers on spring break at the beach in dune buggies rather than elite pilots at the helm of America’s latest Advanced Tactical Fighter. Meanwhile you may be flying in a perfectly straight line toward your next waypoint. Huh, whazzat?
Stranger still is the way an enemy missile tracks on your plane—you drop chaff and seem to lose the lock but then it reappears; drop more and it reappears . . Shades of the Klingon technology in EF2000!. Too often I found myself punching chaff like a crazed monkey in the cockpit trained to recognize the auditory signal for "danger"—and swiftly impending, at that. It’s an interesting, if somewhat cockeyed, challenge.
In terms of graphics, iF-22 v.5.0 does look better from the cockpit, but step outside for a passing view and you still get choppiness, particularly at low altitudes, even on a PII 300 Mhz with a Diamond Monster II 8MB. (Ed. Note: in fact, if22 v.5 appears to be slower on Voodoo 2 boards than on V1, an oddity related to code no doubt). Above the clouds I had fast frame-rates, and playing the game in 2D yielded faster frames over land, but then you’re back to Aqua Fresh. Overall not a lot of advancement has occurred in this area of the sim, and while the Bosnian satellite terrain looks sweet from angels 30, the sim never had great graphics in the first place—it’s better to come to the game for reasons other than sight-seeing.
Missions still take a long time to load—and offload. There’s simply no getting around it in this game—whatever’s going on in that TALON random-mission generator takes precious time from your flight-simming day. And staring at that ubiquitous GPS satellite transferring data at the speed of a damn snail, sometimes for almost a minute, comes as no small assurance that much progress has been made here. But hey—remember the load times for Longbow 2? The obvious tradeoff, under this method, is that you’ll always have unique missions to play and that’s better than the scripted alternative. Putting up with longer load times seems to be related to this dynamic generation of missions, and if thats the price then its worth it!
So finally, is iF-22 5.0 worth buying by those who owned the previous release; or by those entirely new to the game? Reading back over this review I realize I’ve spent the better part of your time waffling between the good points and the bad, the highs and lows.
Appropriately enough it seems to me that this sim falls somewhere in between. There are indeed many improvements in the latest version of the sim—the smaller installation size, certainly, a few cut-scenes to add to your immersion, and a cool new campaign (even though the terrain supplied isn’t too pretty). Oh... there are also mission planner improvements, the new padlock view and a virtual, panning cockpit.
But to those who disliked iF-22 the first time around for its graphics issues and long mission loads, there are very few improvements to make the game more playable. It’s a challenging sim in the good clean air combat sense, and one that in fact has already achieved a very loyal following. But if the remaining issues concern you, you may want to bypass if22 for another choice. With if18, Falcon 4 and Total Air War on the horizon there is no shortage of jet combat action coming this summer.
Owners of iF-22 can get a rebate on v.5 Persion Gulf. If you own the original only, you can send in the $20 rebate card with either your original Bosnia CD or the first page of your original manual, along with the register receipt for iF-22 v5.0. Owners of both iF-22 and the Persian Gulf campaign CD get a better deal. Send in your Persian Gulf campaign CD with a check for $9.99 and iMagic will send you a copy of iF-22 Persian Gulf v5.0.
Scott Purdy April 14, 1998
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Last Updated April 15th, 1998