|Falcon 4.0 Hands On
by Dan "Crash" Crenshaw
FALCON 4, the most famous "VaporWare" of the Flight Sim Community, is nearing completion. Yes, I know you have heard all this before. This time however, there is a nearly finished version in the hands of in house as well as outside bug hunters and play testers.
So everyone wants to know … will it be worth the wait? Without a doubt, the answer is YES! As with any software, there will be imperfections, design tradeoffs, budget and time constraints, but there is also a goal: a vision of what is expected of the program. This vision has really had no major changes since the first announcement of FALCON 4 some years ago. Beneath it all there is still the clear and ultimate goal that has always been there: to create the most realistic, all immersing air combat flight simulation possible. MicroProse wants you to feel like you are really experiencing a war. This vision will be realized!
The flight model has matured considerably since the demo was made available. Weight, drag, altitude variations are all being included. Stalls and other anomalies that are the direct result of poor judgments during flight are being modeled as well. I spent a bit over 10,000 feet recovering from a Deep Stall. Thanks to a quick lesson form Gilman Louie, I was successful. But I was getting ready to go for the Ejection Strap … very demanding and realistic requirements were needed to recover. Virtual pilots looking for a realistic flight model that also models realistic recovery protocols will be very pleased.
Avionics have not been overlooked either. Gone are the days of "Gods Eye ... know everything everywhere" views and information. If you leave the "Label cheat" off (little labels above the aircraft that tell you what it is. Distance that labels can be seen will vary depending on realism level settings), seeing a bandit is difficult at best. You need to manage your systems, you have to order your wingmen do sweeps. Keep an eye peeled for little dots moving about in the distance. If you see little dots, do you pull around and put your RADAR on him? What is his range, what BAR SCAN and AZIMUTH do you use? Do you lock him up and let NCTR "hopefully" identify him? This would give you away.
Would you get an accurate reading with a quick blip? Do you need to leave the lock on them for a while to confirm their ID? What if they are bandits, are you prepared to fight them? Are they disguising their numbers? Will they beam you if you lock them up and try to hide from you? Why won’t they lock up? They’re getting close, do you break and run or engage? They are turning and running, heading low over the terrain. Do you follow them? Are they baiting you into a trap, trying to drag you over AAA or SAMS? You get a much better feeling of realism and what a real pilot must consider.
So far I have experienced all of these things and more. The 209th VFS Delta Hawks radio chatter dropped drastically in games like EF2000 due to the JSTARS/AWACS views that gave way too much information. You will be talking constantly in FALCON 4, asking your wingman for sweeps, getting data. Trying to figure out why you can’t see what your wingman can see. Formation flying that allows RADAR scan overlaps will be important. Those of you that have not flown wingman formations that allow you to cover each other will get a fast lesson in just how important this is.
Aside from the flight model and avionics, tweaked to a level of realism demanded by the actual F-16C pilots that have been testing it, we have 2 primary modules in the package that give FALCON 4 an advantage over most other sims.
The TACTICAL ENGAGEMENT module allows players to set up a mission, with full direction of the ground forces, orders, routes etc. It allows the players to set up the opposition’s forces similarly. Once the mission begins, the AI takes over and the war begins. Anything you are not flying will get run by the AI. Even if you set up successive missions and don't get home in time to fly the next one, it will take off and fly the mission.
Of course you can always hop out of your current flight, and into the new one whenever you like (except during egress or landing, in all sections of the game you can not jump into a flight in egress or landing. You can leave these flights if you wish and the AI will take them over). Now you and your AI or human cooperative multi-player pilots must perform your tasks to help insure victory. If you are very bold, you can fly low and watch what the forces are doing and even witness a land battle. And, as is becoming an industry standard, you will be able to make your mission and send it to your friends to see how well they do.
The flexibility of this module will allow you to create quick and easy training missions or short sorties, to developing a whole campaign setting. The AI will work with or against you in a pretty intelligent manner.
A feature that I particularly enjoy is the AI making the decision whether or not to attack encountered units. In many mission building systems, ground forces will pass right by, or even through, each other unless they were given a command to attack at a certain waypoint. In FALCON 4, even if the command was to just move to the next position, an encounter will require the ground forces to decide if they should attack. The AI will also prioritize situations as required.
Once you watch a campaign and start to play with the Tactical Engagement section, you will quickly realize you can create a war of the same magnitude as the campaign if you were so inclined. You can use TE to set up competitions with Win Conditions. You can use it to train, or just learn or test tactics (both air and ground). You can make the missions as easy or as difficult as you like, as cut and dried or complex as you want. Solo or multi-player, cooperative or H2H, the possibilities are virtually endless.
The DYNAMIC CAMPAIGN module takes this a step further and gives us a Real Time war. In addition to all of the goodies found in Tactical Engagement, the Dynamic Campaign will create missions to select from. While you can not create your own missions in the campaign or command the ground forces, (what real pilots actually get this luxury anyway), the amount and wide variety of missions is impressive. You will be able to prioritize different areas (between 26 to 28 areas are planned) for certain mission types.
You may wish to clear a center corridor of EWR sites so you can more easily move about with less chance of detection. Once you have cleared enough of the EWR sites to satisfy your tactical operation plans, you can change the priority of these areas to your next planned tasks, such as SAM suppression, etc. If you have an area that requires heavy CAS to assist in a push by ground forces, you can make that the priority. What and where you make your decisions will have a marked effect on the outcome of the campaign. You are not just flying in the campaign; you are managing a war.
Reinforcements will enter the war if available. Pilot and aircraft management for your squadron will be important as well. Scramble Missions will become available as required dependent on where your squadron is stationed. Squadrons will have primary missions, and what squadron you pick to fly in will dictate the primary type of flights available to you.
If you are an Air to Air junkie like I am, you can spend most of your time in these rolls. If you like to "move mud" (which has a very strong role since supply line effects are modeled as well, take out the supply lines to the enemy troops and lower their effective fighting abilities); you can pick a squadron that does that. Another feature "fog of war," campaign data is not always one 100% accurate. You may "think" there are no SAMS around a certain target, only to find out much differently once you arrive. The depth of the campaign is as yet, unparalleled.
During a debriefing/Q & A session after a beta session at MicroProse, we talked while a campaign (NATO forces on the offensive) ran on a machine in the background at accelerated speed. Beta testers and MPS staff alike would stop mid-sentence to watch or comment on the situation going on. During the few hours of real time we watched, we saw the NATO forces create a corridor of space up through the middle of North Korea by first taking out EWR sites and then going after SAM sites. All North Korean high altitude RADAR was eliminated. NATO bombers were pretty much having their way with the northern targets. Occasionally a scrambled group of MIGs would take out a bomber flight.
Then we got footage that China had entered the war on the North Korean side. Reinforcements were seen coming south to bolster the front, a few EWR sites came back on line, the hard won corridor became a bit more treacherous for the NATO flights to go into. Air to Air battles became more prevalent, bombing runs reduced. Again, NATO held it’s own, and started to make progress, much slower, but progress into northern territory again.
After a while, we got another bit of footage … we were doing too good, the Russians decided they would join the fray on the North Korean side as well. (Remember, this is all happening while no HUMANS are flying. All of this is AI generated. An entire war raged on.) The Russian reinforcements moved to help shore up the hole NATO had been pushing up into the middle of Korea.
Go to Part II
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Last Updated June 26th, 1998