by Aaron "Spectre" Watson
Article Type: Review
Article Date: November 18, 2002
Product Name: Strike Fighters: Project 1
Category: Jet Simulation
Developer: Third Wire Productions, Inc.
Publisher: Strategy First
Release Date: 2002
Files and Links: Click Here
|Strike Fighters logo |
Back in the 1960's the second generation of jet fighters and bombers were tearing up the skies. Smoking engines, rudimentary radars, and IR missiles that would lock onto the sun. The most memorable real-life conflicts that saw these airframes were in Southeast Asia. But how would it have been if these same jets took to the desert skies of the Middle East to repel Soviet armed incursion? What if the combatants were fighting over the rights to a vast oilfield?
This is the hypothetical scenario put forth by Tsuyoshi Kawahito and his team at Third Wire Productions. We have seen progress reports on these pages by Douglas Helmer, in May, and here by me, in July. The latter of the two coincided with the premature release of a version for Wal-Mart. After chasing down bugs since June, and after the disappointing pre-release, I was looking forward to the full version I received on November 02.
Install and ManualI received the now typical small-sized retail box and spilled out its contents. Enclosed were a single CD, 52-page manual, and separate four-page foldout key guide for the defaults. Options for game complexity are given during the install, with a note that they can be changed in game. The fairly slim 475 MB install size was laying onto my hard drive while I perused the succinct manual with grey-scale images and watermarked with an F-4 Phantom.
In it you will find the various interface screens, the instrumentation of the four basic flyable aircraft, key commands and basic fighter maneuvers. As well, a description of the enemy aircraft and the fictional conflict background make for a very functional manual.
Getting My Feet WetUpon starting, the main menu presents the choices available.
|Where do you wanna fly? |
The bottom menu choice is the options area and is where I go at the start of most games to check the choices. Turning off the background music is one thing I do right away. Just a personal preference as the different menus do have good, varied, background music. You can also adjust Game Play, Graphics and Controls. The controls adjustment for custom commands is a little tricky. Tapping the Page Up and Page Down keys while highlighting the arrows works best. There are certain keys that are hard to get to work, especially on the joystick. There are ways around it, and that is by making modifications directly in the default.ini file in the controls directory. Once squared away, I wanted to do some flying!
Instant action throws you into a random US jet with adversaries in the area. On your six, or twenty miles out, you'll find out how to fly in a baptism of fire. I decided on the more sedate single mission where I could create my own parameters.
|Multiple options await. |
After selecting desired jet, mission, and environmental factors, I was off to the load-out area. From here you can look at the briefing, mission map, and select ordnance for yourself and any wingmen in your flight. With all choices locked in, it's time to take down some enemy aircraft over the desert skies.
|Kick the tires and light the fires! |
After running the engine up to full military power, 69 percent, a tap of the brake key gets the F-4 rolling. At 50 knots, a push to full power lights the `burners. At 150 knots, a gentle pull back on the stick, and we're airborne! At 1500 feet, ground control confirms that we are on the radar screens for the traffic controllers. Moments later my wingman checks in as being airborne. A look outside via the F6 key confirms that gear and flaps are up, and a second press shows my wingman climbing out. Following the white triangles through the waypoints yields a message concerning hand-off to the airborne controller. My wingman forms-up enroute to waypoint three.
|Pulling into formation. |
With the radar set at 50 miles, it's not long before AWACS calls out an enemy flight we are to prosecute. Switch to Sparrows, lockup the lead, and toggle to the second enemy aircraft with the T key. When approaching the launch envelope for the semi-active radar missiles, I call for my wingman to engage the second aircraft. He drops tanks and lights the burners dutifully. With an Alt T, I am back on the lead bandit. Once he is between the min and max bars on the radar, it's time for launch.
The sparrow tracks true, and a radio call of "you got one" resounds in my ears. As we pass close, it is determined that the enemy flight was a four-shipper, who are now missing their leader. I take the pair to the right, as my number two chases down his prey. I pull out in trail of the fourth enemy bomber, switch to sidewinders, and loose one as soon as I get a tone. Bang! "He's going down" is heard on the radio.
Another call is heard shortly after, "I got one!” says my wingy. I get close to the last IL-28, and switch to guns. When the readout on the lower right shows less than a mile, green tracers start flying from the rear gunner. I have him lined up, and squeeze by reflex. The 20mm rounds tear off the right wing; in the meantime, I jink left to avoid return fire. Once the Beagle hits the ground, AWACS calls out a successful mission.
|Pistol Whipped! |
I then call for my wingman to rejoin, I see he is unscathed after his victory. I would like to do a little sight-seeing, so I request that he RTB. He confirms, but stays stuck to my wing. And stays there until I get on final approach. Hmm...?
Strike MissionAnother, different mission seems in order, so I choose a strike mission in stormy weather. The beautiful aircraft graphics are not as noticeable, but the anticollision lights set to flash assist in picking out your wingman through the squalls of rain.
|Bomb laden in the rain. |
After form-up, we break out over the clouds. When approaching Waypoint 5, a tap of the E key brackets the primary objective in red. A call for my wingy to strike the building yields "no joy". Requests that the second flight engage yields a "roger," but they stay stuck to my right wing. I pop speed brakes, roll inverted, and roll in. Rippling a half dozen Mk.82 500-pounders on the comm building causes its destruction, and confirmation of mission success. I hit the wing leveler and go outside to see what the rest of the flight is doing. They are following, and as the second element passes low over the target area, green tracers reach out and touch him in a very unkind manner.
|Hit Hard. |
The option to stop the mission with the escape key was chosen, and the loss of the airframe was shown on the chalkboard debrief. Every bomb, missile and cannon burst is spelled out. Even the status of the lost pilot, KIA. The pilot record stays current with regard to successes and failures, aircraft, buildings and vehicles destroyed. All very in-depth. This is one of the very good aspects of this simulation.
CampaignAfter running through a few more flavors of strike and air intercept missions, I figure it's time to saddle up my playability litmus test—the campaign. Newer screens are evident here, compared to the preview editions. The start date is not changeable, nor are the aircraft types to be flown. All USAF squadrons start with the radar-less F-100 Super Sabre. USN squadrons are equipped with the A-4 Skyhawk, as is one of the Marine squadrons. The last group, the Grey Ghosts, are equipped with the F-4B Phantom, a model not equipped with internal guns. No choice of squadron allows you to strap on an F-104 StarFighter. Even the Mercenary squadron starts out with the Super Sabre.
I continued on by choosing the USMC for their Phantoms and played through a few missions on a short tour. After completing somewhere between a half-dozen and a dozen missions, a feeling of aimlessness pervaded me. It seemed as if the campaign was a set of disconnected single missions without an overall purpose.
|Net results of campaign |
Repeat strikes on targets and a majority of operations in darkness made it all feel a bit futile. The briefing map showed little movement in the FEBA, and targets of opportunity being destroyed yielded little advantage to the progress of the campaign. While looking at the FEBA on the planning map you will notice a distinct lack of usability. There are only two stages of zoom, huge map, and not so huge, and very little pertinent information. The target, other flights and the waypoints suggested are all that are displayed.
Completion of a campaign is described in the manual. The short option is about 15 missions, medium around 30, and long of 60 or more. Movement to a closer airbase was not involved with the short campaign I flew, but it could theoretically happen in one of the longer sets. Variety has improved on missions presented in the preview betas, but still seem lacking in overall continuity.
MultiplayUpon installation completion, the setup program asks if you would like to install Gamespy. There has also been a limited release by Jiri of his HyperLobby application with a Strike Fighters capability. I have checked out both ways of connecting and was successful in hosting and joining dogfights. The co-op piece is currently not operational, but is being worked on in an upcoming patch that I am assisting on testing. You can currently set it up, but will never get a fly button. In dogfight, there are more aircraft available to mix it up with. MiG-15s, 17s and 19s make good guns only platforms, while a Tu-22 can do some ground damage but little to fighters, unless they too are guns only and then the tail gunner can be deadly!
All dogfights start in flight with all opponents separated by 20 - 40 miles of airspace. Depending on settings, a simple tap of the T key will produce a target box in your HUD locked onto your opponent's ride of choice. You can launch if missiles are allowed, or get in close for a knife fight. The start area is the mountainous zone on the east side of the map and I've had some pretty fine dogfights as a result of using the terrain to my advantage.
|Multiplayer in the Mountains |
Lagging and warping are evident when more that four aircraft are swirling through the skies simultaneously. This, of course, depends on connections more than anything. On a few occasions, gameplay hesitations were noticed when hitting the enter key while trying to chat. Mostly it is a fun experience in a big and heavy Phantom, a nimble MiG, or anything in between.
- Seldom seen era of aircraft.
- Beautiful aircraft textures.
- Fictional Middle East battleground.
- Expandability planned in from the start.
- Opposition AI not challenging. No SAM's currently.
- Mission planning rudimentary.
- Wingman won't strike ground targets.
- Campaign continuity and immersion lacking.
What a long strange trip it has been, to use a Grateful Dead phrase. But I feel it is far from over, and I very much hope that this title gets the revamping it needs. I tend to feel, as I saw a poster on a forum say, "It's a diamond in the rough." The game's base seems solid and it is an exciting time period for combat aviation. The folks running tests are second to none, with multiple real-life pilots, technicians, and weapons experts adding their input. But, most importantly, the folks programming it can claim credit to some of the longest lasting combat simulations ever produced. Lastly, there are some dedicated groups already starting to produce add-ons. The desert camo screen shots are from Red Ryder and are hosted by Major Lee's Aerodrome. There are another half dozen sites producing add-ons at the moment. See the list at the Third Wire Strike Fighters site. Once the official tools are released, this add-on excitement will probably mushroom. You've not heard the last word on this saga, and let's hope it has a happy ending.
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