by Gavin Bennett
What is a consumer military flight simulation? It's an important question.
Many assume that military flight simulations are stripped down civilian versions of the multi-million dollar military rigs. Others think that military flight sims are hi-tech fantasy games.
I think a suitable definition would be this: a military flight simulation is a game which attempts to simulate, to a degree, the experience of a pilot flying in a war. This means that the war is as important as the aircraft and the experience must be believable, and it raises many questions about the subject matter at hand, F-16 Aggressor by Virgin Interactive.
I have had a strange whirlwind affair with F-16 Aggressor and my feelings about it have waxed and waned. I feel I must share them with you because they are closely related to the game's performance.
Friday: 19:30. Test Machine:
I wanted to buy a new joystick today, so why, instead of a brand new HOTAS or parts thereof, do I have a new game instead? I mean, I don't need a new game; I cannot afford a new game; I don't have the disk space for a new game. But here, in my sweaty hands, is Virgin Interactive's latest addition to the flight-sim genre: F-16 Aggressor.
As of this moment, 20:21 GMT, I have tried to test it on the following system: AMD 2 333, 32 megs of RAM, a 4 meg SiS (so they claim) D3D card. It crashed, but this system may be garbage. So here I am, in Isaac's Hostel on Gardiner Street in Dublin, contenting myself watching the guys in here chatting up cute chicks. The offending and crashed computer is being formatted.
The CD-jukebox in the corner is playing The Doors, Bob Marley and the Beach boys. The atmosphere in the Interpoint Cyber Cafe here in Isaac's Hostel is relaxed and pleasant and all is right with the world.
Or.. it WAS relaxed and pleasant. Some tosser has put Wham! on the stereo singing, "Last Christmas" So, with a heavy heart, I turn back to this discussion of the game.
Opening the game box, I had the first positive experience of the day. The smells from the box trigger memories, and this smell was from the printed paper of the manual. It reminded me of opening new Star Wars toys when I was a kid.
The manual for Aggressor is thin, and in presentation is like the manual presented to us by Innerloop's Joint Strike Fighter. In many ways it's a slightly plainer version, but in other ways it's very similar.
Oasis is on the stereo now, somewhat of an improvement. But only somewhat. The F-16 Aggressor box has one glaring omission: no key command card. This is a very odd thing NOT to have.
This may actually aggravate discussions on USENET: "I don't have a keycard." "Pirating scumbag," comes the cry from certain self-righteous persons. Well, F-15's first British edition didn't have a keycard either, and some copies of F-22 ADF similarly lacked a manual (hint: look at the help file).
Well, okay, this is the first British edition, and there will obviously be things to work out, but no key card is annoying. Granted, there aren't many keys to learn here, about three pages worth. But the binding on the manual means you cannot keep it open on your lap while you navigate around the training missions, something you can do with a manual like that supplied with Falcon 4.
The offending computer has been re-formatted and is now net-worthy. Let us proceed. It is very cool having any of 8 computers to play with here. Now all they need is a better IPX inter-connection and maybe a Voodoo card each and a decent joystick and.... you get the picture.
Back to the manual. It has a wee story in it. Now wee stories and flight sim manuals are the sort of thing that should be kept apart, I fear, unless written by someone with the abilities of Larry Bond. When such stories do appear in manuals, they should have Jane's understanding of a warzone. In those circumstances, prose stories can be used to put a human face on the conflict.
But something leaps out at even an Irish twerp like me. The first line in one of these prose stories starts thus: "The F-16 took off from the USS Kitty Hawk." F-16? Helllooooo? F16's do NOT sortie from aircraft carriers. Virgin Interactive? Right now, before the US manual goes to the printer, it's an F/A-18E, okay? Use find and replace, sort it out.
The storyline concerns a pilot (your alterego named "Reyas"), a former USAF colonel who bombed a nasty drug-lord's house, on orders from the United Nation's replacement organization, the GUD. GUD stands for the Global Union of Democracies. This is the UN, most likely, purged of such annoyances as China and Russia. We assume the UN had to be replaced by - let's call it the United Something. Short form: U.S.
This business with the Falcon (soon to be F18) taking off from the carrier is to establish continuity. It would also explain why a USAF colonel needs to fly training missions? Think about it.
The game is up and running now, but it's like a slideshow. And I don't mean the USENET definition of a slide show (less than 15 FPS on 1024x768 with all details turned up), but literally less than 1 FPS. Reducing the detail gives you - maybe 2, or 3 FPS. It might have been the Isaac's Hostel generic computer, though.
Time to go home.
Saturday Morning, 3 AM.
Home again, jiggety jig. My old 14" monitor is crap, my hard disk space is waaay too low, so F-16 is giving Israeli Air Force the boot for the time being. I install F-16 Aggressor in D3D mode, at 800x600, with all options turned up and details turned on. It only allows D3D mode. My crappy monitor will not go any higher than 800x600, so bear this in mind.
Right, into a single mission. Hmm. This looks... okay. Pull a few loops and fling my aircraft around the place, and it flies smoothly, but uninspiring, and not very convincing. I play the training missions. I try landing. I am now fairly good at landing in Falcon 4, but landing in general is my main weakness in sims. I approach the runway, I do everything right. I land, safe and intact.
Something odd there. As I said, landing is my weakness and this is my first attempt. I try again, put the gear down, aim in the direction of the runway, and I land. It's like that. It's easier to land in F-16 Aggressor than in IAF, and it's a lot easier than in Fighter's Anthology, or Total Air War.
I run all the training missions, then run the intercept mission. The idea is to learn the "complex" radar modes and shoot down a nasty enemy MiG-19.
Complex radar modes? There are only three, compared to the fourteen or so in Falcon 4. First, a JTIDS scope, which is modeled like a 360 degree radar. Forgive me, but doesn't JTIDS need something cool like an AWACS and friendly aircraft and Patriot batteries in the region to complement the picture? Modes two and three are an air-to-air radar and an air-to-ground radar, respectively. When I call up air-to-air I have great difficulty locking on, but that's because I am tired and the bastard MiG-19 won't stay still. And nowhere can I find a padlock mode.
Let's talk about the cockpit. If you are familiar with the 3d cockpit in Falcon 4, this is like that, only brighter, and more pleasing to the eye. Using your coolie hat, (on this test machine, overly responsive, it takes a lot of practice to point your view where you want it) you can look around your cockpit and see the radar working, etc., just like the Falcon 4 cockpit. Oh, and the joystick and throttle move in the cockpit when you move your HOTAS, which I thought was cool. Your feet, however, don't move when you play with the rudder.
The HUD is green by default. I found myself aiming the jet at the ground to provide a contrast to reading the data in the HUD. Then I discovered that you can indeed change the color.
The sounds are interesting. There are two noticeable sounds when you are flying: a weird whistle, and another sound like someone drunkenly whacking a tambourine every so often. No, I don't know why. If I find out, you will be the first to know. Interestingly, there is little external sound transmitted to the cockpit, and from outside the engine makes a noise not unlike Novalogic's F-16 engine. Could this be a realistic feature, I wonder?
Firing weapons is a bit hairy. The weapons only launch in certain constraints: your sidewinder will only fire if there is a welcoming baddie tailpipe nearby, and the bombs only seem to drop if there is something to drop them on. At least the missiles curve nicely when arcing towards a target.
Before going to bed, in a fit of pique, I post the following on USENET:
I wanted to like this game. I really did. I was going to buy a HOTAS, or a part thereof this afternoon with my ill-gotten gains... After traipsing through every stinking computer game shop in Dublin, the best I could find was a CH Products "Janes" Fighter Stick for roughly $90 dollars. But I digress...
Go to Part II
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Last Updated February 28th, 1999