Chief Master Sergeant (r) Ron McMasters, 45, is a native of Cleveland, Ohio. He enlisted in the Air Force in January, 1973. Ron amassed over 3,000 hours as aircrew trainer and mission evaluator in RC-135 Rivet Joint, P-3 Orion, and Special Operations MC-130 aircraft, flying 215 combat support and training missions. He has also flown the F-4G, F-15C, and P-3.
About three months ago Ron McMasters flew a late beta of MiG Alley. Since the US was delayed to December 15th, we've decided to print his impressions of the game. Ron has especially insightful comments on the flight model. Please note that there have been many changes to the game which will be reflected in our full review of version 1.1 later this week.
When Len "Viking1" Hjalmarson, editor of COMBATSIM.COM™ asked me to review this latest addition to the Korean Air War combat simulators (of which there have been precious few), I agreed, thinking it wouldn't take much time. I had been sorely disappointed in past attempts at this forgotten era (remember "Sabre Ace"?)
To be honest, I had never been very excited by Empire Interactive's previous attempts at flight simulations (living overseas at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, Japan, for the past four years, I have not had the opportunity to fight online, so I've probably missed out on that front). My expectations for this title weren't very high.
Let's face it, most people just aren't interested in the Korean War time period - a real shame, considering the tremendous loss of life and the many unsung American heroes on the ground, in the air and at sea. Another ho-hum flight simulator to snatch my money, right? WRONG!! You want excitement? With MiG Alley, you've got it! Hang on for a great ride, and don't forget to buckle your chute. You're going to need it.
I tested this Beta version using a Pentium II 400MHZ system with 128 MEG of RAM. Graphics were handled easily with the Diamond Monster Fusion 3Dfx Banshee board with 16 MEG of display memory, and a 17" CTX monitor. Not the fastest machine out there, but who can keep up?
Anyway, with everything turned on to the max, the program ran extremely smoothly. My joystick for this test was the Microsoft Sidewinder Pro Force Feedback. It gave me some problems, and according to the experts at Rowan most of the issues were with the stick itself. A better choice for this sim is Logitech's Wingman Force.
Loading the program was a breeze. It accesses the CD, but I never noticed it. The opening credits are colorful and exciting. Although the graphics aren't quite as good as one might expect for today's standard, I liked them.
The music is exciting and fits right into the shootdown sequence. I liked the MiG Alley sign; it reminded me of the actual photo from that period. Overall, the opening sequence, while creating excitement and making me want to play, appeared a bit rushed. That said, I was still ready to fly, fight, and win (I'm an Air Force guy; it's in my blood).
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One of the things I can't resist when I buy a new flight sim is the urge to jump in and fly without any regard for flight safety or consequences (In the real Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps, discipline teaches all but the washouts to suppress that urge). MiG Alley was no exception. But I needed to set my preferences first.
The "Preferences" screen is clearly superior to most any other sim. No matter if you are a novice or an ace, you can easily pick a wide range of settings to suit your machine and ability, even midway through the flight. I picked the hardest levels because I like to feel the agony of defeat immediately after opening the box.
I was not disappointed. I selected "Hot Shot" for instant action. The action was instant, and so was my demise. I watched as my F-86 flailed helplessly through the air, with one wing fluttering uselessly nearby. I should have ejected, but I couldn't find the correct keystroke fast enough. So, I drilled a hole into the ground, then went back to read the draft manual. Great crash and burn sequence, …complete with screaming!
More Data Needed
Speaking of manual, they really fall short in this arena. The key guide is ok, but nothing great, and the manual is spartan, to say the least. I don't want to drag some manual down from on line help. If I am going to pay $40 or more, I want a neat, colorful manual, complete with aircraft info, historical data, and the works.
On the other hand, the addition of the declassified reprint from the RAF Central Fighter Establishment, "The F86 vs the MiG 15" really adds nice value. Many people who buy these sims know very little about the history of the time until they read material like this. This was the first jet-age war (Me-262s were just too late to really be a significant factor in WWII) and virtual pilots need some aircraft data and history to look at.
Armed with new knowledge, I tried the "Hot Shot" mission again. I did much better than I did the first time. In fact, I found the MiGs to be almost too accommodating in letting me shoot them out of the sky, even with their experience levels maximized. AI was ok, but not as aggressive as other sims I've seen. Enemy maneuverability was more than acceptable, but they just never got very aggressive. (Ed.Note: this improved prior to release and you will occasionally encounter some very hot pilots, especially if you have COMPLEX AI PILOTS selected.)
Go to Part II