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Eurofighter Typhoon: Review - Part I

by Len "Viking1" Hjalmarson

Article Type: Review
Article Date: May 15, 2001

Imagine . . .

Imagine a combat flight simulation with no single mission mode, no training missions, and no dogfight mode.

Further imagine such a simulation with no mission builder, and no ability to set up your own missions in the campaign. In fact, there is no world outside the campaign; the campaign is everything (resistance is futile).

Now imagine this innovative approach coming from the designers of EF2000 and F22: Total Air War. That’s right, this is probably the most sophisticated campaign engine ever designed for a consumer simulation, but all the other pieces have been stripped away. Can Digital Image Design's Eurofighter Typhoon succeed by virtue of this simplified design? Will the real time campaign carry the day?

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Splash Screen

Simple is Beautiful

In an age of rush and bustle, there is something appealing about simplicity. Recently my wife and I have been asking ourselves, “what is the center?” “What do we really need?” “What do we really value, and how do we express those values?” We have been considering moving out of town back to the country as one way of beginning a change. We feel a need to simplify and re-center our lives with the important things in their rightful place.

Simulation designers, in their attempt to appeal to a broader market, have also been asking questions about where they are going and what is the center. Some have boiled it down to “the combat experience,” and have been stripping the old layers away in an effort to recreate that experience.

In this quest for simplicity, the combat platform itself will determine the limits of their ability to reestablish the combat experience as the core of the game. Aircraft like the F22 and the Eurofighter, with reduced pilot workload and their stealth abilities, are natural selections for such a design philosophy. The trick, however, is to manage the package in such a way that simplicity remains beautiful. Over simplifying can quickly destroy the combat experience, just as too much complexity puts it beyond the reach of the weekend warrior.

Eurofighter Over Iceland

With this perspective in mind, I have been flying Eurofighter Typhoon. I’ve been asking myself whether the delicate balance of simplicity and immersion has been attained. Is the combat experience enhanced by the simplicity of the design, or have they gone too far? Does the supporting framework add to or detract from the central experience of the campaign? What could they have done differently to attain the apparent goals of their design philosophy? This review will attempt to answer these questions.

The Play’s the Thing

Borrowing a line from Shakespeare is not inappropriate. There is a poetry to simulation design, and when the required elements work together to achieve harmony, the result is an outstanding game.

Eurofighter Typhoon is striking in its innovation. It boldly goes where no sim has gone before. But innovation alone is not a measure of success; in fact, many innovative projects fail because the vision is too far ahead of its time or is poorly executed. While we respect the courage and creativity of innovators, at the end of the day we must ask if they have delivered the goods.

The areas for combat flight simulation assessment are typically flight model (FM), damage model (DM), systems model (SM), campaign, artificial intelligence (AI), gameflow and interface, graphics and effects, and sound and comms. We’ll run through these areas quickly in order to focus on the key points for assessment in this review: campaign and gameflow.

FM, DM, SM, Views

FM, DM, and SM in EF Typhoon are solid with a few exceptions. The damage model is progressive and detailed, and well represented graphically. I’ve seen holes in wings and rudder and elevator, with varied degrees of damage in each. Damage to the airframe affects the FM, and damage can cascade from system to system.

Eurofighter HUD

The SM is somewhat streamlined. There is no velocity of closure in the HUD, and no switches are clickable. The targeting key locks the highest threat, and the player won’t always agree with the selection. The player is then forced to page forward or back according to distance from the aircraft. A “lock central target in HUD” key would be a simple solution and may yet appear. Furthermore, HUD contrast is only bright and dim and no other colors are selectable.

The FM is also streamlined. Inertia is under-modeled relative to drag. Induced drag is very weak, and a full weapons load affects maximum speed only slightly. The player can drop gear at any speed, and flaps have little effect on speed. There is no manual rudder control, modeled after the real Eurofighter but a problem in a low speed dogfight.

DASS and Radar Displays

Weapons and targeting/detection systems are also streamlined, and it is at this point that the player may begin to feel that simplicity interferes with gameplay. The DASS system is on all the time; this means that there is no way to limit AUTO countermeasures. This in turn means that the system will churn out chaff and flares until a lock is broken whether the player has begun maneuvering or not. The result is that the player runs out of chaff and flares quickly, leaving him vulnerable to future encounters. An OFF switch would help, as would the ability to set the range sensitivity of the DASS.

This wouldn’t be a great problem if weapons were also simplified, but in fact they are not. BVR combat is plenty challenging. Bandits will stagger their launches, and will use team tactics to kill you. Your own radar missiles have a low PK beyond ten miles or so, and ASRAAM is far from a sure thing unless you are under 3 nm or have a low angle off the tail.

While the radar can be switched off (via the comms system) and the IRST system is available for targeting, there is no explanation of procedure in the manual. It’s a small omission and at least stealth is possible in Typhoon. Both IRCS and RCS are modeled for gameplay, as is terrain masking.

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Tu22 as seen in IRST

Views are what most players expect, with the exception that there is no wide angle view, and no fixed cockpit view with working MFDs. The on screen HUD and MFDs are adequate, though the wide angle view may be missed. The fixed cockpit view can be zoomed in but not zoomed out.

The padlock system is divided into three components: an internal/external target padlock (also doubles as airfield padlock), an internal/external threat padlock, and an internal/external wingman padlock. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear possible to padlock an escort flight.

The Smartview system is now fully automated and the player can’t interfere by locking on a single object or paging through objects at will. That’s unfortunate, because that function is missed by many. Still, what is there works adequately.

It IS possible to watch a particular pilot in flight without taking over control. Selecting the pilot, and then double clicking on his icon once you are in the cockpit puts the AI back in control and invokes the Smartview camera. While the manual notes that F8 is a target view, it doesn’t work in the release version.

Campaign, Gameflow and Interface

I’ve combined these three areas because Typhoon, with it’s all-in-one campaign, itself combines them.

Su25 in Smartview

The campaign is built around six pilots, flying against the Russians in a restricted theatre of war over Iceland. You choose your six pilots from a list of ten. The pilots range in their skill specialty, their psychology, and even their physical condition. Some are team players, some are not. Some are exceedingly healthy, some are not. Some are good at air-to-air combat, while others excel at strike missions or wild weasel missions. Their level of aggressiveness in combat also varies. These factors will influence your choice of pilots, and also change the way the campaign plays out.

If a pilot flies a strike mission, where the targets are clearly specified, and instead chases an incoming bandit, he risks facing military discipline. The nature of that discipline will depend on the state of the war at the time. The pilot may get only a reprimand, or he may be grounded for a time. If a pilot hits a friendly or bangs up a good bird on landing, he is more likely to face severe disciplinary action, even extending to time in the brig. But with only six pilots at your disposal, you really can’t afford to be short a pilot.

Pilot Command Bar

There are no airborne intelligence assets in the campaign, like AWACS or JSTARS, but you do have datalink information from other air and ground radar sources.

Rage has stated that EF Typhoon is a combat pilot experience and a light simulation (somewhere between serious and arcade style). In fact on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being arcade and 10 being Falcon 4, the game falls around 7, compared to F22: Total Air War which might rank at 8.5. The distinctions are often small, relating to the type of items and omissions already mentioned.

The campaign itself has great depth, though much of it is transparent to the player. It is a real-time campaign, and it is fully dynamic. Resources are fully modeled and the battlefield environment is persistent. What the player does can indeed have an impact on the progress of the war.

As the campaign begins the goal is to disrupt the invasion forces as much as possible. As time passes the player has to support ground units, disrupt enemy supply lines, take strategic targets and achieve air dominance. Mission types are diverse and weapons and systems encountered are similarly diverse, including cruise missiles, hovercraft, and sophisticated fighters like the Su37. The pace is intense.

Arming the Typhoon

Gameflow in the campaign is marred by small things (the devil in the details?). The pilot bar which keeps the player abreast of his or her six active pilots pops on screen constantly. Virtually every change in status for each of the six pilots is an occasion for the large bar (one-fifth of the entire screen) to pop up and flicker madly for a second or two. When this happens in the middle of a dogfight or just before you touch down on the runway it is very distracting. It would have been nice if we could have chosen what type of pilot events would require notification. It would also have been nice if a less obtrusive way to provide notice could have been found.

Similarly, EBC News war updates causes the top game bar to flicker onto the screen. This is a small bar and is less distracting, and it happens only very occasionally. The player can choose to pause the game in order to view updated war information, or view the films and war updates later when on the ground.

Intel Update 14:00

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Intel Update 16:00

The intelligence updates are helpful if somewhat brief. The format allows the player to explore a tactical map as well as read an updated OOB for forces in Iceland. A strategic briefing is also included.

There are quite a number of cut-scenes in Eurofighter Typhoon, and most of them are integrated beautifully into the game, using the game engine to supply the graphics. There is no way to bypass these video sequences, which has been irksome to some players.

The between missions interface isn’t very appealing, since it is the same scene numerous times and the figures are somewhat blocky. Any time you are not flying, you are in the mess, or the relaxation room at the pool table, or in the hospital, or in planning. Thankfully, the player can speed up the transition to the next mission with time acceleration, and with six pilots to fly not much time is spent on the ground once hostilities begin.

Part II: Campaign, AI, Graphics, and Sound

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