Jane's Attack Squadron

by Aaron "Spectre" Watson

Article Type: Review
Article Date: April 22, 2002

Product Info

Product Name: Jane's Attack Squadron
Category: WWII Air Combat Sim
Developer: Mad Doc Software
Publisher: Xicat Interactive, Inc.
Release Date: March 27, 2002
Rec. Spec: P3 600MHz, 256 MB RAM, 32MB GeForce videocard
Files & Links: Click Here

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Jane's Attack Squadron

Jane's is a name synonymous with such groundbreaking simulations as F-15, F/A-18, WWII Fighters, and USAF, to name a few. These simulations were licensed from the Jane's Information Group, who are the civilian authority on all things military. Electronic Arts produced all of the mentioned titles. But, in early 2001, the casting off of the Jane's titles was completed by the closure of Combat.net on 30 Apr. 2001.

At least one title was partially completed, and that was a WWII simulation focused on the ground attack aspect of the war in Europe, namely Attack Squadron. This title was originally named Flight Combat: Thunder over Europe when it was started. It was picked up by EA as Jane's Attack Squadron and subsequently cancelled when EA dropped the Jane's brand. The code languished in some unspecified area for some time, until Mad Doc Software expressed an interest in completing it. As completion drew near, Xicat Interactive agreed to publish it. It went gold and hit store shelves within a week at the end of March 2002. The Xicat site showed the coming soon page well into April, and the only acknowledgement of release by Mad Doc was the undated announcement that the title had gone gold. Not exactly a media blitz.

I received the new style case, which resembled a VHS tape case, and got straight into installing it. It took quite a while, as it puts a massive 988 MB on your chosen install drive. While installing, I looked at the only media included in the small case, the keyboard card. Different view systems are a good portion of the upper row, with the best array of internal and external views I've seen in quite some time. Multiple keys for gunner's stations, and the full gamut of aircraft controls. Right, installed, I fired it up and was greeted with the usual company animations, and a pretty nice full motion video sequence for the game itself. When the UI appears, the following options are displayed:

Front-end Menu

As you can see from the image above, there are a number of choices for play, with single and quick missions, multiplayer and campaign selections, some pilot training and reference material, and lastly the game options and credits. A quick peek in the game options area seems prudent just after install and initial launch. You are presented with tabs for game settings, graphics, sounds, joystick and key bindings. A look through the installed PDF electronic manual tells of the vagaries of some of the settings. One of the more interesting settings is the "hear enemy radio chatter." It is in German if you're flying the Allied side, and if you understand it, it may help your situation, and if you don't, it is a novel alert system to the fact there are enemy aircraft about.

A good place to get the feel of a sim is in the quick mission area. All the flyable aircraft available are in there. Bombers and fighters for both the Luftwaffe and the Allied side. Creating a bombing mission and adding a flight of escort aircraft is not possible, as the choices are limited to bombers if you choose a bombing plane type.

Quick Mission Menu

Off we go in a favorite of mine, the venerable P-38 Lightning, with a couple of helpers, and Mustangs for escort. Add a pair of enemy Bf-109 G6's. Hit the fly button, and we're off! Well, now, the graphics are looking crisp, and usable, the airframe feels pretty tight, and the presentation is smooth. Not bad. Request that the wingmen attack ground targets, and they do! Find a truck on the taxiway, and take a run on him.

Airbase attack.

We take a few hits from the airfield's AAA, but they are silenced after picking them out with the "O" key and a command to hit my target. A few more passes and the airfield is out of business. The escorts have done their job, and the mission is successful.

Off to training, and there are different airframes for different jobs. Very limited choices considering there are fourteen flyable aircraft, but the basics are there. Each aircraft handles differently, but the differences aren't as noticeable as in other simulations I've flown. The aircraft themselves look like they are in different stages of development also. The Bf-109 and the Lightning look very nicely polished, yet the P-47 and the Spitfire look downright nasty, comparatively speaking.

When getting into the bombers, there are the choices of the British and German fixed sight, and the American Norden system. While in training or campaign, the autopilot can be engaged, and the bombing is done from the respective bombsight. In quick mission, autopilot is not available, so you have to stick with your chosen station to achieve success. With a simple key press you can man any of the gun positions. The whole bomber side of things is also pretty fun.

Fixed bombsight

To me, the heart of any simulation should be the campaign. In keeping with the prior Jane's Simulations style, campaign missions skip around from aircraft to aircraft. Sadly, the campaign is all of ten missions in length, for each side.

The are only five single missions included in the package, two each for the USAAF and the Luftwaffe, and one lonely mission for the RAF. I can see why the overall number of missions is low, as the mission editor, which is included, but not supported, is pretty archaic. There is no explanation of it in the manual, and clicking on help from inside the editor will yield a missing *.hlp error message.

Mission editor

There was a PDF formatted manual for the editor posted on the website a few days after release. It is marginally beneficial, as objects are basically illegible with the rainbow effect to the icons and fonts. Trying to choose an object involves highlighting by drawing a box around it. Most of the time it won't highlight unless there are multiple units encircled, which will yield an error. More experimentation is required on my part, but preliminary indications are that user friendly is not its style. If this is what the developer's used to create missions, it is understandable why there are so few.

There is another editor included. It is something I have not seen included with any flight simulator previously. It is a physics editor that can be used to make changes to the airframes in a number of different areas. It is invoked by a menu choice after starting the mission editor.

Physics Editor

The one thing I found amusing about the physics editor is the damage mode. You can load up an aircraft, choose a weapon, and take shots at the plane to see the effects. A .303 will take three or four hits in a spot to make a hole. The .50 will make a small hole with a single hit, and a larger hole with a second. The Hispano makes big holes and there is blast damage from the impact. If you miss the aircraft, a clod of dust jumps into the air!

Click to see bullet holes

Mildly amusing, and possibly practical, if you'd like to take the time to figure it out. The downloadable manual for the mission editor doesn't touch upon the intricacies of the physics manipulator, and it's as user unfriendly as the mission editor.

So, overall, definately not a milestone in the history of combat flight simulations. It's mildly amusing in an arcade sort of way, but that is short lived due to the very limited number of missions. Grass roots efforts have already started in the simulation community to make improvements, including an unofficial patch, which allows some keystrokes to work that didn't when shipped.

Xicat released a patch, 1.01b, via 3DGamers on 18 Apr 2002. The host site did not have any information as to what the patch addressed. That is probably because none was supplied, even after installing the patch! It is commendable to release a patch this soon after release, but reprehensible to not even say a word on what it fixes.

I did not even touch upon the multiplayer aspect, as it is truly broken. If you can get a game going, great. I found that when you exit one, and try to setup another, you will get a hard lockup. Community support for this product may indeed make it worthwile, but a little more thoroughness before shipment could have really helped.

The combat simulation world may be a slightly better place with Jane's Attack Squadron in it, the code unused on a shelf would have been a waste, but not much of one.



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