by Aaron "Spectre" Watson
Article Type: Preview
Article Date: July 23, 2003
Product Name: Lock On: Modern Air Combat (LO: MAC)
Category: Jet Air Combat Simulation
Developer: Eagle Dynamics
Publisher: Ubi Soft
Release Date: Summer 2003
Sys. Spec: Click Here
Files & Links: Click Here
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Fortune has smiled upon me recently as I have been a part of some notable combat flight simulation projects. From Strike Fighters: Project 1 and IL-2: Forgotten Battles up to the current highly anticipated offering Lock On: Modern Air Combat, aka LO:MAC. Both SF:P1 and IL-2:FB were impressive air combat simulations and I enjoyed beta testing them to help, in my own small way, to make them better.
|Coming soon... |
Naturally, I was very pleased when a top-notch simulation for a jet I really love (and used to maintain while on active duty in the USAF) was announced and I was invited to join-on as a beta tester. The A-10 Warthog is the highlight for me, and many people it seems.
In addition to the A-10, there is also the air superiority F-15C Eagle for the Western forces. The remaining flyable jets are reminiscent of an earlier title, Flanker 2.X for good reason since it too was developed by the folks at Eagle Dynamics. The Su-27 "Flanker B", Su-33 "Flanker D", MiG-29 "Fulcrum A", MiG-29 "Fulcrum C", and the Su-25 "Frogfoot", round out the Russian flyables. The A model Fulcrum also graces the German side of the fence, as happened in real life during the German re-unification.
So, Okay, with the preliminaries out of the way, let us look at some of the high points of what is to be.
The beta may be a bit fluffy and will most likely be pared down before release as it currently lays down a little over a Gigabyte of information into your chosen directory. Docs are still in the works, but a MS Word doc with default keyboard commands was in the root directory.
Upon firing it up, a look through the setup area shows a great variety of items that can be manipulated.
|Multiple settings abound! |
As you can see, many areas are covered, and each has many subsets. This is not unprecedented in the control of the gaming environment, but this is exceedingly thorough. Graphics, to up framerates or quality, from terrain to aircraft and even explosions. Controllers and subsets for each area—sound, difficulty, and cockpit—are all covered. Once setup and saved, you can fly right from the main menu with a pre-scripted engagement in any of the pictured aircraft.
|Choose a combatant |
But to learn the skills needed to fight and survive, it is always recommended that you take a look at the training.
Don’t want to get hands on just yet? This is the place to check out how the weapons systems work on each of the jets, either to exploit a weakness, or to arm and operate it yourself. This area is presented as videos with all aircraft having their own in case you want to concentrate on just one. They are very well done by Mark “Shepski” Shepheard with internal and external views, test instructions and asides in the upper right corner of the screen. The tracks start with basic fighter maneuvers and build to advanced weapon delivery.
|Su-33 taxis while Eagle unloads |
On tough assignments like the F-15C’s radar suite, step-by-step instructions are presented and shown in action. All I’ve seen are very well done, and watching them gives you a taste of one area where this simulation really shines.
These are some of the most phenomenal looking jets, landscapes and assorted buildings and objects to ever grace a game, let alone a flight sim. There are minute details in the aircraft, fluffy and dark clouds, crunchy explosions, and water shimmering like no other.
|Sunshine through deep clouds. |
Some civilian sims are nice to jump into just to look around in, but this environment is the closest gaming has come to photo-real thus far. I have set up more than one mission just to go sight-seeing.
Amazingly, the hit to frame rates is lower than anticipated. Setting a few graphics options down does help for when the screen enviroment gets really busy, but a smooth ride is encountered during most situations—even on my decidedly mediocre test machine. In this respect, the sense of immersion is so very good and still screenshots don't do it justice. Seeing it in its smooth full-motion glory is an incredible experience.
Along with the graphics to get you in the game there are very adequate sounds.
Each aircraft has a very distinct sound and can be heard in different variations of pitch when rotating your external view around the aircraft. The cannon sounds vary by rate of fire and calibre. I have heard the A-10's Gau-8 and the F-15's M61A1 in real life, and the ones used in the simulation are very convincing. Detonations of ordnance and their targets as you fly by are excellent. Did you create some secondaries? You will know it! Hearing things like thunder in stormy weather brings up the subject of environmental effects.
Another stunning looking aspect is the different weather conditions available. In the mission builder, (see below) there are settings for every conceivable weather situation. Night, cloudy, stormy with lightening, snow, wind direction and speed, the gamut. A stormy day is not much more of a hit than a full clear, no wind day in the frames department. And as previously stated, are looking more like the real deal than has been seen in previous titles.
|A-10 makes low light hit |
Speaking of the mission builder…
Those familiar with Flanker 2.x should be right up to speed quickly in this mission builder, as it looks very similar to the one included in that simulation. I must admit that I was not terribly taken with the whole Flanker 2.x experience, and only dabbled in that editor. How it compares cannot be discussed, but the current iteration is very functional, and users can create in-depth missions. I am not fond of the way it is setup, but it didn’t take long to get used to its features, and I have created a few good missions from it. Of course, as with all good combat sims, you can set the skill levels of the computer AI. This is a subject I wish to expand upon as it is one of LO:MAC's high points.
Seeing as I am a more frequent off-line flyer this is one of the items I look into with a keen eye. Good AI also helps in coops missions for multiplayer, but a good set of off-line missions or a campaign with top-notch AI can really make or break a combat simulation.
There is a definite difference in the rank settings for how the AI acts and reacts. At the highest levels, the computer driven aircraft can be tough. Very tough. They will beam missiles shot their way and get aggressive and use appropriate maneuvers to get you off their case.
|AI is tough, but not impossible. |
Wingmen will prioritize known threats and act accordingly. If you request a run-in on ground targets, for example, but a flight of interceptors are in the area, self-preservation takes precedence and they will engage the higher threat. They will not go blindly off and do as requested with no thought of their own safety. I know some tweaks will be made before the title goes gold but it is already very well done. Do you want to team up with a wingman or a human driven cover? Then you will want to check out multiplayer.
I have not utilized this feature for some time since earlier in the alpha testing. Making a connection was not terribly easy or straightforward. Interesting anomalies cropped up but connections stayed solid. I have heard from the dedicated MP testers that a lot has improved recently, and more attention has been given to this aspect as of late. The off-line and on-line have been coming together in the single missions and campaign.
This area has only recently become available and was much of the reason for the extended Alpha status. There was a need to get all the other aspects of the sim's code as bug-free as possible so a solid foundation for the missions could be achieved. Many missions for testing and possible inclusion in the final build are available, and each shows off one of the many areas available in the Crimean region—a region chosen for its variety of terrain (from mountains to flatlands to coastlines) and strategic importance. The single missions will find you all over the region accomplishing various tasks.
|Penninsula port strike |
The campaign has some placeholder missions that were created a while back, but are still good indicators of where things are going. As stated previously, I never got into the original Flanker series, and do not know if the current campaign has similarities. They may, but all I know is that the first few for the A-10A and F-15C are a lot of fun, and really set the stage for operations in the theater. Your entity is always the lead, no matter what your rank. But as your rank goes up, so can those of your wingman, along with the all important experience.
You can create your own persona, or fly one of the pre-packaged people, for a little less risk. Your record of missions flown, awards, and success or failure is all tracked, giving a more complete sense of attachment to the game as a whole.
Well, it has been a long time coming, but it looks as if this highly anticipated modern jet simulation is finally going to arrive in the near future. Was it worth the wait? I can honestly say yes, it will have been. The numbers of changes that have gone on are incredible and should make this one of the best sims ever. Add-ons and expansions are already being discussed, and the things wanted by many are going to be in here.
Will it be bug-free? not likely, as a game of this complexity is bound to have a few. But there are a lot of good people looking from multiple angles to catch as many as possible. Time will tell, but indications are very good!
Preview System Specs
- AMD Athlon XP2200
- 512 MB DDR RAM
- GeForce 4 Ti4400
- C-media Sound on Asus A7S33 MoBo
- MS Windows XP Professional, SP 1
- Microsoft Sidewinder Precision Pro Joystick
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