|E3 1998: Best of Show
by Leonard "Viking1" Hjalmarson with Maurice Fitzgerald
Its a tough choice this year for most promising prop sim, with Fighter Legends looking great and Microsoft coming out with a surprise in Combat Flight Simulator, but I chose EAW for a number of reasons. First, its the only one of the batch with a fully dynamic campaign. Second, it is drop dead gorgeous, even at 640x480. It would be great to see anti-aliasing and TK told me that they will have something in place.
Third, EAW was the furthest along in development, possibly excepting Janes Fighter Legends (the name has now been changed to Janes WWII Fighters). But although Fighters runs at much higher resolutions and sports two distinct campaigns, the focus is less on continuity and immersion than on dog-fighting.
However, Fighters gets the nod from Eric "Snacko" Marlow, with cockpits that are drop dead gorgeous and typical Janes obsessiveness with detail. Fighter Legends has all the great hardware generated effects we've come to expect: smoke, flames, glare, dynamic lighting, shadows etc. The flight modeling is far beyond the USNF series, with a full six degrees of freedom.
Damage modelling is also as good as anything else ever produced by Janes, so the graphics are not merely eye candy, they do represent where you have hit an opponent or been hit yourself. Clip the wing off an opponent and you will see it spin to the ground, exactly as it should it if is a real object.
What surprised me were the radio calls. Yes, much as in F15, you will find a LOT of radio dialogue modelled, but this time in multiple languages! Rather cool, and helps much with the immersion factor.
I've chosen Flanker 2.0 as the most promising new simulation for a number of reasons: first, as a follow on to an excellent simulation, SSI/Mindscape are determined to exceed version 1.5 in every respect. Second, Flanker 2.0 is the first instalment in a digital battlefield series that will incorporate a MiG 29 add on as well as other aircraft and possibly ships.
Third, the mission planning, AWACS and dynamic campaign look to be as good or beyond anything we have yet seen. The AWACS module in 2.0 will take on a dimension of tactical control, mirroring the ability of the real world platform. We will also see expanded wingman control in 2.0. Finally, the graphics engine and physics are state of the art, including resolutions beyond 1024x768 and even incorporating wind and weather.
Choice of Fighting Steel for best naval sim isn't too difficult. After talking with the producer one gains respect for issues which are often transparent to the average player.
It seems a common perception that wargaming principles have been simplified or lost in the new titles that SSI offers. In reality, there are more calculations than ever being performed in the background, and rule systems become more sophisticated over time rather than less so. Fighting Steel is an authentic simulation of the weapons and systems of its time, easy to miss when the user interface seems so clear and friendly.
But better still, Fighting Steel is likely to be the first in a series for SSI's electronic battlefield, with a destroyer addition to follow, and perhaps others after that. One could wish for higher resolution; maybe it will happen.
Hardware best was another tough choice, and it's between Logitech's new stick and a new video implementation. I give the toss to the nVidia TNT and the new Matrox Millenium G200. Yep, I plan to sit squarely on the fence.
I love innovation in the hardware arena, and both these chips reach deftly at the fourth generation, with fantastic image quality and excellent speed. The Millenium may take the lead in 2d, the TNT will take it for 3d, but they should be close.
If the image pleases the eye, pricing for both these new gadgets will please the pocketbook. nVidia claims close to double the performance of the second generation of Voodoo chips but with even better image quality; time will tell if that estimate is accurate. The new Millenium and Mystique find Matrox back in the race for the 3d gaming prize. They may not take the lead, but they deserve recognition for innovation and competitive pricing. As complete 2d/3d solutions, chips from both companies should be appearing like sand on the seashore by Christmas of '98.
Strategy and First Person Picks:
Eidos throws us a curve ball by taking some time away from Lara Croft and bringing us what looks to be an excellent real-time strat sim called "Commandos". Set in World War II, this games' strengths lie not only in its pristine graphics but its need for a tactical approach from the gamers standpoint.
The commandos you are in charge of can do everything from scuba, climb walls, and set explosives as real world commandos would do. One of the coolest little things I love about this game is the way you can "take out" a sentry quietly with a knife and then pick him up and hide him behind a building so as to not alert any of the other guards. Nice attention to detail.
The first person pick is Rainbow Six, from Redstorm Entertainment. Founded by the master of military fiction Tom Clancy, this game will be released to coincide with the novel of the same name. Fans of Clancy's work will be pleased to see some familiar faces (and not the faces from the movie Clear and Present Danger) as John Clark will be the leader of this multinational counter-terrorist group and even Ding Chavez will be along for the shootin' and lootin'. You can play this game from either a first person or third person perspective and will have complete control over your units composition, gear, weaponry and total tactical planning.
The tactical planning approach to this game is really nice as you are given "blueprints" of your take-down objective and use this to set waypoints and movement methods for each of your teams. In this game there are no magic health packs, just your wits, tactics and strategy to keep you alive to accomplish your mission. If you are shot, you die no second chances. It's about as real as it can get which really turned me on to this one.
The graphics are excellent 3Dfx, motion captured characters and objects. The characters move ultra realisticly and the immersion factor looks to be close to perfect. I'll be able to judge better in a few weeks when I get a beta in my hands but from the demo I was left speechless. The best part is that this game (as are all the others as well) is multiplayer in either co-op or head to head mode. There is even real-time voice communication!
The other multiplayer game I found addictive and extremely easy (learning curve is like 5 minutes) to learn was Multitude's Fireteam. This game is for teams of four to go head to head in several different fashions. The standard deathmatch and capture the flag as well as a CTF variant "base tag" are in there as would be expected but there is another flavor in this title that is both entertaining and amusing. "Gunball" is the variant where both teams attempt to carry the football across into their enemy's end-zone without "fumbling" (getting fragged). All the games are on a ten minute time limit so teamwork is essential.
To aid in teamworking ability Multitude is including an Andrea Electronic GameWare headset in each box from which you can speak real-time voice. I played this at the Multitude booth on a dial-up line at 28.8 with NO lag at all.
Being the skeptic I
am, I wanted to try from home as well and once I fired up my beta copy
and connected I couldn't believe NO LAG! With voice and all there was no
lag, the reason I truly appreciated this is I have had a horrible time
getting consistent connect speeds above 26.4k, which can kill gameplay.
But when I played this game there was still no lag at 26.4!
Our choice of Falcon 4.0 for best modern combat flight sim is almost a given. Flanker 2.0 would certainly compete, but it's too early in development to assess very easily. Total Air War is a close second, but lacks the breadth of features and its still not clear whether or not TAW will release with multiplayer available in campaign mode.
It's a toss up between F4 and EAW, but I give F4 the nod for its greater complexity. Offering everything one can imagine in the simulation universe, F4 is also the first instalment in an electronic battlefield. F4 is looking great, and playing well. The padlock, while technically more detailed than almost anything except DIs F16, works beautifully and is easy to learn. Just about to finally go beta, we should see this one sometime late summer or early in the fall.
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Last Updated June 12th, 1998