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Eurofighter Typhoon: Hands On - Part II

by Len "Viking1" Hjalmarson

Article Type: Preview
Article Date: May 1, 2001
Version: "Release" (This is the version of the sim we used in this preview. Rage called it the "Release" version. We assume this means the same thing as Gold Master).

Comparing Apples and Oranges?

Eurofighter Typhoon takes me back to the grand old days of EF2000 and Total Air War. Both of these were landmark simulations from Digital Image Design, and both won many awards, breaking new ground in the simulation industry.

Total Air War remains on my hard drive to this day, one of the most memorable simulations of the last ten years. The genius of the game was that it allowed you to play the war the way that you wanted, whether from the AWACS command chair or actually flying the missions, or any combination thereof. The modeling of the F22 itself was quite detailed, yet the simplified systems and the stealth design of the F22 allowed relatively easy entry even for the novice.

As I share my initial impressions of EF Typhoon some might feel I am not judging the simulation on its own merits. Is it fair to compare EF Typhoon to Total Air War?

You'll have to make that judgement for yourself. Every simulation stands in the light of previous efforts, and EF Typhoon shares not only the heritage of DiD's earlier efforts but even a later generation of the WarGen strategic AI system designed for Total Air War. Having some of the same designers (Steve Hunt), this makes sense. And building on previous iterations allows game developers to improve on their own designs. Inevitably, this invites comparison and brings me to ask whether EF Typhoon is an improvement over Total Air War, and if so, in what way?

Weapons and Targeting

Let's return to the cruise missile mission, a mission I have now flown three times.

When the missiles from the sub began to appear I soon had a lock with ASRAAM as well my IRST (the IR system is integrated with the radar in a seamless manner as in the real Eurofighter systems). Closing to under one mile from the rear aspect gives about a 90 percent PK (my learning after knocking down close to forty of these units now) but it's easy to take hits from debris.

Meantime, I searched the manual and found keys for targeting . . . but no key to turn radar off? It turns out that one must do this via the COMMS menu . . . very odd.

There is no EMCON system in this Eurofighter as there is in Total Air War. All this appears to be done for you, though Iím not sure how it works or whether radar emissions are a factor in detection as they should be and as they were in Total Air War.

HUD in Typhoon

I have several complaints about the HUD and targeting. There is no closure rate to target displayed, as Iím sure there must be in the actual Eurofighter. You can, however, note the relative speed of the target in the IRST display.

The range counter doesn't switch to tenths of a mile when you are less than one mile, but the the gunsight range clock is marked in 1/3 mile ticks. When you have half a solid circle you are one and a half miles from the target.

Closure Rate (VC) in TAW

The targeting MFD displays up to 60 miles ahead and 20 miles behind your Eurofighter. As the manual states, it is a ďgodís eyeĒ view based on the MAWS. Without AWACS or JSTARS, Iím not sure how any system can be aware of a missile directly behind you, but at least the simulation is basing the feature on an actual concept.

God's Eye View

While you can toggle the contrast of the HUD between bright and dim, you canít change the color. In some situations neither bright nor dim green is ideal. And anytime you have your cockpit toward a dark surface (there is a lot of ocean out there) you really can't see the range circles in your radar MFD. Oddly, the lines are deep blue and they don't lighten in contrast when you shift your HUD contrast.

Unfortunately, that isn't quite all. You can't create a shoot list, (as in the F22: Air Dominance Fighter in F22: Total Air War), and there is no key to select the closest or central HUD target. This means that in a multiple bandit dogfight or when up to your knickers in cruise missiles you could find yourself paging through many targets to get a lock.

In fact, though the manual neglects to mention it, hitting the "T" key for target locks the highest threat. This doesn't always work very well. For example, in my third run of the cruise missile action I hit F3 when faced with twelve missiles in my forward quarter, varying from 14 to 30 miles distant. My view remained forward while the target symbol popped up in the extreme lower right of my display (you pull toward the symbol to bring the target into your forward view).

I noticed, however, that the "near threat" was further than other targets in my front quarter by two miles. Worse, the missile had two other friendly aircraft chasing it at about two miles!

I also tried this in a mission where there were about twenty incoming bombers. I turned into three of them and had them four miles in front of me and closing, a good range for ASRAAM. When I hit "T" I was instantly locked on another bomber eight miles at my 8 o'clock, then forced to page through ten targets to get a lock. This bomber was not a threat to me and was already targeted by another Eurofighter. We really will need a "lock target nearest center" on the HUD.

On the positive side, the feel of flight is very good. The power of this aircraft is impressive, probably overdone slightly (it accelerates like a rocket). Explosions and effects are nicely done, giving a good sense of action without being hollywood in style.

The Eurofighter itself is very good looking, while other aircraft look somewhat rushed. Iím experiencing some graphics glitches where parts of the Eurofighter Typhoon (stores, landing gear and a particular top panel) will blink on and off at certain angles and distances. Terrain is very nice, particularly around air bases. Clouds are much like Total Air War except the layers are thicker.

Eurofighter Makes the Kill

Sense of speed, on approach to an airfield, for example, relative to scale is very nice. I donít think Iíve ever had such an easy line up and approach on a first flight. As soon as you have permission to land your ILS display comes up.

Landing with ILS

The padlock seems to work predictably, with F2 cycling internal/external padlock on target, F3 cycling internal/external padlock on threat, and F4 cycling internal/external padlock on wingman. So far, however, the F8 target view key doesnít appear to get me any result.

While all these padlock options are nice, you must come to appreciate the distinctions. Target padlock will lock any target you have locked, no matter how distant. Threat padlock will prefer missiles, and is subject to visual constraints.

Physics seems nicely modeled, and watching a damaged aircraft spin out of control is gratifying.

Damage Modeling

Your own aircraft doesn't like high speed collisions with debris. I have taken hits four times from debris from damaged objects, and have experienced a range of results.

Way back in the days of EF2000 in its first release, I remember complaining to the developers that damage of enemy aircraft seemed to have two consquences: smoke and not much else, or huge explosions. Thankfully, those days are long past.

Total Air War expanded the range and diversity of damage effects, and also improved damage resolution. EF Typhoon should at least equal that effort, and perhaps surpass it.

In the four impacts I have experienced while flying in the Eurofighter Typhoon, I had one instant death, another complete loss of flight control, forcing me to eject, and two other damage states which were somewhere between mild and serious.

Airframe Damage

The two other damage states were very revealing. The more serious of the two affected control response partially, and my left MFD was lost completely. The right one operated, but was repeatedly broken-up by static. Since I had only my cannon left at the time, I don't know whether my radar targeting would have worked.

In this instance I was not far from land, so I asked for a vector to the airbase and when I saw a nearer base I requested and received permission to land. My request showed on screen as an "emergency" request, a nice bit of contextual chatter. In spite of the sad condition of my Eurofighter, I received a reprimand from the commanding officer for landing at the wrong base . . . not very charitable!

Damage State includes electronics

The mild damage flight was somewhat more interesting. It began with most of the same symptoms of the more serious case, except that my MFDs were all still on screen. Both were heavily distorted, but after a few minutes my right MFD cleared up about eighty percent. I was able to use my cannon and took out a couple more cruise missiles before heading back to base.

Graphically, damage is represented much better than in Total Air War. I saw shredding on my tail, and holes in my wing. The holes revealed structural components of the wing.

Nasty Smoke Trail

The smoke behind my aircraft was black and thick. There was also a fire effect in both cases. I expect there were various voice warnings at various times but since my audio is not working and I was busy with other things I didn't notice any text appearing on screen.

Mission Flow

I was struck as I thought about EF Typhoon that it represents the first entry in the TFX series that lacks typical stand-alone components. There is no single mission editor, instant action mode, or single mission list. Everything in EF Typhoon revolves around the campaign, which you can enter in peace time or in war. Training is taken care of via the former entry, and with the on-screen use of pop up help dialogues.

Similarly, intel and mission flow is handled in the game itself. When there is important campaign information, the top icon bar flashes on screen to alert you to view a news brief when you have a chance. This pop up may occur in the middle of a dogfight, or when you are on the way to a target area.It's not terribly distracting, but it is somewhat artificial. Not many pilots have access to CNN while they fly, nor would they want to. But you have the choice to pause the game and watch the news brief, or catch up later when you get home The design choice was to simplify, and it shows up in the way information is presented.

Similarly, when one of your six pilots begins a new activity, whether entering a briefing, meeting the CO for a dressing down, or engaging the enemy, the pilot icon bar flashes on screen. This seems to me to be a decent way to let you know you have another mission to fly, if you choose to do so. I would have preferred the bar to be a bit smaller since it takes up about one-fifth of the lower screen real estate when it pops up, but at least it is only there for a second or two.

Pilot Interface

Major gameflow transitions are handled very nicely, to my mind. As soon as you come to a full stop on the runway the AI takes over and Smartview is invoked. This means that you pass from a first person perspective to third person and are no longer in control of that pilot. You can continue to watch, if you like, as the AI taxis the plane to the hangar, or as you hang in the air in your chute if you have ejected. Or, you can move your mouse to the lower part of the screen and bring up the pilot interface and jump to one of your other pilots.

This works the same way at the beginning of missions. If you are logged on Duke when he is ready to fly, rather than a thirty second cut scene to take the place of a ten minute transition, you will see your pilot climb into his Eurofighter, and then run his pre-flight. After heís finished he will taxi to the runway, and when he is ready to take off you will then be allowed to replace him in the cockpit. All this happens in real time and is an effective way to increase immersion.

Debrief Screen

Debriefing is bare bones in Typhoon. Oh well.. the game is the thing, right?

Next: The Campaign in Typhoon

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