E3 was a whirl of activity, as always, and the simulation selection was impressive.
It is well known that I am an avid hard-core, cooperative multi-player oriented sim enthusiast, so it is important to explain what I was thinking when I chose USAF as Best of Show.
First, potential is critical. I ask myself, "What can I expect to see when the sim is complete and what are the possibilities for enhancements?" Enhancements could originate from the developer or the sim could have an open architecture for 3rd party companies and individuals.
Second, appeal is critical. Will the target audience accept and enjoy the sim? How well has the sim addressed the needs of the target audience? Has the development team paid attention to detail? This is a subjective criterion, depending on the type of simulation and target audience.
Third, playability and longevity are key. While there may be sims out that do this or that better, I am asking, "What sim impressed me the most as an overall package?"
Using these basic criteria and others I came to the decision that USAF by Pixel/JANES gets my vote. The surprise? This is NOT a hard-core sim. It is primarily aimed at the medium to "lite" sim market.
The ATF/USNF/IAF crowd will be very excited about this sim. It looks like it should dominate the on-line flying circles in the jet arena. (More on this later) It includes several features that you usually associate with hard-core sims. It also has enough configurability to allow newbies up through medium level sim players to enjoy the game.
F15 in USAF
USAF allows players to begin to experience many features and aspects of a hard-core sim. This is GOORD because it can only result in them looking more seriously at the hard-core end of the market and THAT can only expand the number and quality of sims we will see in the future. Remember, to make money the game companies must cater to the larger markets. The more people we get into the top end, the more likely that we will see more of the available resources channeled to our favorite projects.
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So what was it exactly that made me decide on USAF?
Let's start with the tried and true Jane's formula. The UI is easy to use and most people will be able to jump right in and figure out what and where the options are. There are eight aircraft to fly: F-105, F-4, A-10, F-15C, F-15E, F-16C, F-22, F-117 (the later two both with modeled stealth).
The flight models were not complete at E3, but don't expect a model along the lines of SU-27 or FALCON 4.0. They will be good enough to definitely tell the difference between each of the aircraft and unique handling characteristics will be modeled as well. But don't get me wrong here either, a new flight model engine is being used to allow more realistic flight models in a multi-plane simulation. The flight models will easily rival, and exceed, any current multi-plane sim to date.
A Sim for the People
Newbies excluded? Not at all. There is an easy and a difficult mode for the flight models as well. "Easy" mode will keep the newest of gamers in the air fairly easily. The "hard" mode will give most sim pilots a few things to keep in mind to avoid stalls, GLOC etc.
The eight aircraft in USAF span a wide range not only in ability and complexity, but in history. Vietnam's F-105 Thunderchief fighter-bomber is here, as well as the F-4E Phantom interceptor. From our own day we have two air to ground aircraft - the F-117 Stealth Fighter with LGBs, and the A-10 Warthog complete with Mavericks and its famed 30 mm cannon.
USAF includes TWO versions of the F-15, which will keep that crowd happy. Both the C model and the E model are present. The lightweight C, with its powerful radar, is best known as an interceptor while the E is the ground pounder par excellence.
No USAF simulation would be complete without the Viper, and the F-16 is here. If Falcon 4.0 was too complex for you, this one may prove perfect. The F-22 Lightning is well known by COMBATSIM.COM™ fans as modeled in iF22, F22 Total Air War and F22 Lightning II.