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Total Air War : First Look
by Leonard "Viking1" Hjalmarson
 

This past week the GOLD master of Total Air War arrived in my hands, so I want to give you a quick hands on report and also dispel some rumors related to WIN98.

For some reason tech support at DiD had told some users that TAW would not be supported under WIN98. This didn't mean that they didn't think it would run, but that they were not sure how stable it would be...

This morning I phoned Carl Jackson at DiD to inquire about WIN98 support. He told me that they have three systems running TAW under WIN98 without problems. I can also report from my own experience that I have had no crashes under WIN98, DX6 and TAW for weeks. Similar reports have come from other beta testers. The bottom line is that there are no apparent issues and if you happen to have a problem it will more likely be due to some other issue.

A10 on the Tarmac

After numerous previews and months of testing I can report that TAW is essentially the same as my last few reports. There were no structural or interface changes since my last tactical briefing. (You can check these out by going to the INDEX). So, in case you haven't followed the previews, what is TAW about?

The genius of Total Air War is the sum of four factors: 1) a relatively light learning curve, 2) a fully dynamic campaign system; 3) the integration of the Theatre Command and AWACS modes; 4) real time gods-eye view of the action.

Operation Highland
Operation Highland. Click for larger image.

For those of you familiar with F22 ADF the learning curve will be especially light. However, you are probably accustomed by ADF to taking the Theatre Command role quite lightly. If you are an especially capable pilot, you can get away with this, particularly in the less difficult campaign scenarios. But if you want to win the level TWO and higher campaigns or if you are not a very hot pilot, you are going to be spending some time directing traffic and flying from the AWACS module.

As noted in my tactical briefings (see Tactical I and Tactical II), the strategic dimension of TAW was missing in ADF. You can now stay informed as to the progress of the war and make choices via the AWACS interface as to how best to do this.

What this means is a great deal of fun, and much greater sense of involvement that ADF could offer. At the same time, TAW looks as good as ADF under Glide. If you don't have a 3dfx board and intend to make TAW a major venue, you really ought to invest in a 3dfx board.

AWACS MAP
Click for full size MAP

In Total Air War the AWACS module is a game in itself. I find myself spending most of my time here, directing traffic and jumping in to fly when I need a change of pace or when the situation is critical. If DiD had allowed us to transfer this interface to two separate monitors I might never have wanted another sim!

Ok, thats a bit overstated, but it indicates how well done this portion of the sim really is. It integrates first person and third person perspectives very well. If you have no experience with ADF you won't know what you have missed until you pick up TAW for the first time.

Having said that the AWACS module has some quirky feedback aspects that makes moving between modules frustrating at times. For example, when you choose FLY from the Theatre Command interface and then PATROL from the MISSION list, you are launched into the AWACS module. All is well until you exit this module. Instead of seeing this as a visit to the THEATRE COMMAND chair, the designers maintain that you have chosen an AWACS mission. Whatever you do or don't do is now rated on that basis. If you jump into AWACS to just vector a couple of aircraft on an intercept and then jump out again, you will be rewarded with a MISSION FAILED message because you haven't racked up enough points in your mission.

Rather, this should have been conceptualized as a seamless part of a dynamic and strategic system. The single mission structure was part of ADF but needed rethinking for TAW. Instead, this kind of feedback mars the otherwise great simulation and the integration of Theatre Command modes.

You can get around this by not jumping into the AWACS chair unless you intend to spend some time there. If you vector enough flights and jump in to fly and make a few kills, you will likely end your time in this module with an improved rating. Really, this part of the sim is so much fun that you may only rarely face the FAILED message. Click to continue . . .

 

Score

There is so much good stuff here that I could rehearse pages of preview material talking about what I enjoy in Total Air War. Avionics are nicely done, and wingman and AWACS interaction and ATC are all in here. If you are busy at the Theatre Map interface but don't want to miss the action, you can watch the frag order at top of screen and select SCRAMBLE to get in on the action. While some have complained about the ACMI features, they are usable and you can even create your own files to share.

Cloud Layers
Cloud Layers. Click for a no cockpit view.

There are, naturally, some nagging AI issues, and I'll list them briefly. Occasionally you will click on a friendly flight to vector it to an INTERCEPT, and you will get very odd intercept lines that run across your screen to the west or east and even off your map. Yet the intercept is only 75 miles to the north. An odd bug, but at least the aircraft will be heading for an intercept.

Occasionally you will zoom in on a SEAD package and notice that the strike flight is ahead of the escort and wild weasel flight. Not a good practice, but it doesn't happen every time. You may also occasionally notice F15Es flying CAP or escort, where they should be F15Cs.

As in ADF, ordering your wingmen to engage usually results in all three wingmen breaking formation to take on that lone MiG 27. Some serious overkill in there! They will also occasionally be reluctant to engage with AMRAAM at appropriate distances, waiting until they are under ten miles or even closing to use AIM 9x.

The fuel indicator on the INFO screen in the AWACS module doesn't seem entirely trustworthy. Yesterday I jumped into a returning SEAD flight to take on a couple of MiG 21s, noting that flight fuel was almost nil. However, the internal guage on my F22 read 60%.

Another A2G issue for F22s, you will sometimes find a flight returning from a target without having fired a single shot. In this case there are two AI errors: first, not launching at their designated targets, and second, not jettisoning unused ordnance. I monitored this on one occasion and saw the flight pass over the target and then return home, so I know that they did not abort on the ingress.

These are niggling things that many people will never notice, and its only because we have the third person view that I am able to discover them. These kinds of flaws in other sim engines could easily be missed because the information isn't available to the player. Still, they are directions for improvement and do affect your ability to successful complete a campaign.

Oddly, TAW has lost the distance scale that appeared on the AWACS map in ADF. It seems that the SCALE button was needed for a TARGET button, but the scale should have been left on the map by default, since its now very difficult to guage the distance to an intercept. When you are Theatre Commander you really do want to know how far that Su27 is from your AWACS, or how far you will have to vector your F18s to intercept him!

Finally, while you are learning the ropes you will find some eccentricities. For example, Total Air War does not allow you to order a flight in the process of Landing to Intercept. However, you can order an ESCORT, so playing with this option can allow you to make use of aircraft still in the air in a demanding situation.

WarRoom
Click for 800x600 -260K.

Similarly, if you jump in to fly an F22 in the AWACS module and call for Recovery, you expect that your aircraft will head for home plate. However, this isn't the case, and you must click and drag the F22 to the nearest base after you jump out, or you may find an unarmed F22 attempting to engage an enemy flight.

Its interesting to think how the AWACS module could be expanded to make a bigger, deeper game. We may see a move in this direction in SSI's coming Flanker 2, or even in Janes Fleet Command. Meantime, watch for a longer hands on report on TAW next week. I plan to fly some anti-AWACS missions to observe the impact on flow of the campaign. I'll also let my own AWACS fall to enemy fighters and report on the impact on my own campaign effort.

TAW, like ADF, comes with a full online HELP system that also has interactive components. For an overview on the structure of Total Air War, Custom Combat module etc. see our first two previews: Total Air War. TAW will hit the streets in mid October.

"Infogrames will offer a $15 rebate to existing ADF owners. To receive the rebate, theyll need to mail to Infogrames the back cover of their ADF manual, the UPC code from the back of the TAW box, the original purchase receipt, and the TAW upgrade coupon. The upgrade offer has an expiration date of Jan. 31, 1999."

Go to Part II

 

 

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