by Leonard "Viking1" Hjalmarson and Bob "Groucho" Marks
Learning the Ropes:
Next up, some flight training. This is the narrated, instructor provided style training that we're getting accustomed to. It's nicely done and I didn't find a single flaw in the taxi and takeoff missions I flew in both the F16C and the F22A.
Landings are too forgiving, even on high realism settings. But for most weekend simulation pilots, this isn't a bad design choice. You may argue that they could simply select Easy Landing. I tend to agree. Oddly, you'll have to keep your speed close to 200 knots for a safe landing.
Groucho: USAF is a blast! Part of the reason for this is the eye candy, no doubt. USAF is a gorgeous sim, funny colors on the F-16 aside. But I think the main appeal to those of us who like a jigger of reality in our fun and games (shaken not stirred) are the generally well thought out mission structures.
All of the missions you can fly are at any of four "destinations"- Iraq (of course- I think it's the law), Vietnam, Germany, and the strangest, most exotic, not to mention highly hostile (especially to your paycheck) of all- Las Vegas. The Quick Missions, Training, Single Missions, and Multiplayer structures are great- annoying quirks aside- but the Campaigns and rough yet latently powerful User Mission Editor or UME are where the real entertainment lies. In my opinion, the UME is one of the most promising things about USAF, especially for those of us with a decidedly more technical bent. A God complex is also helpful.
Keep in mind before flaming in the Forum that my comments are based on (1) Yes, I have tweaked the flight control gains in the joystick utility and (2) All of the realism settings cranked to eleven…making this a challenging simulation- even for you self proclaimed F4 aces.
The Quick Mission Editor is an intuitive way of setting up fairly simple scenarios. With a max of two flights per side and restricted target choices, the QME is of the McDonald's school of mission building- limited; fairly bland choices, fast service, and you want fries with that? The QME is a great way to get familiar with the individual airplanes and terrain, and a great way to tangle in implausible "what if" scenarios (F-105 v. F-22?) when you don't want your hard won pilot profile besmirched by abject failure.
Single Missions are a smattering of prefab scenarios, and are pretty challenging. One of the more imaginative missions involves saving a French 707 airliner from being abducted by those now generic bad guys, the Iraqis (boo, hiss). There are enough surprises going on here to keep even those with a stunted attention span involved. In this package you also have the choice of flying missions that have been completed in the semi-dynamic "Future" Campaigns (I'm getting to that) and ones created in the Quick and User Mission Editors.
The pre-mission briefing contains all the information you need. A description of the mission is presented, along with the flight tasking and objectives, and even mission tips! USAF takes full advantage of html content, and hyperlinks are used so that you can click on a subject to bring up a window with 3D models and vital statistics courtesty of Jane's Information Group. Clicking on a target name will bring up a satellite photo of the target area where you can also access a 3D view of the target in its setting.
Multiplayer works pretty much as advertised, although my hosting experience is limited by my sim buddy having an internet connection that is one step removed from a taught string between two soup cans. Once a stable connection is accomplished, however, co-op missions are a true blast. The screens for accomplishing an internet mission are well thought out and idiot resistant, and clearing the skies of the Sukhoi menace with a friend is much more satisfying than going solo.
USAF has been pushed as the "beta" for Next Big Thing- Jane's World War-, which does sound VERY promising. At this point, however, JWW is just so much vaporware. Logging on to the Jane's Combat Net you get the same old aerial fragfest- fine if that is your cup of espresso. Can't get into it, myself…but a lack of anything better to do sometimes draws me there. Lock on to Groucho_01 if you disagree with my views on that.
Viking1: After the training missions I went straight to Desert Storm and chose the second mission. This mission involves taking out a COMMS center if you choose to fly the F-117A. I took out the center on my first try (!), but neglected to watch my fuel status. By the time I was getting the warning message I had 1000 pounds left and thought I might be able to limp home. Wrong. I had to bail.
After explaining the loss of a few million dollars worth of military hardware, I reflew the mission. I didn't want to deal with the time consuming process of finding and hooking up to a tanker, so I was careful to monitor my throttle and managed to make it all the way back to base on the single tank.
How Do You Want It? Flexible Gameplay
It's at this point that USAF builds on its strong suit. I chose to fly the mission in the F-117, but after I had hit my target and was out of SAM range, I decided to visit some other action.
Hitting ESC brings up the Tactical Display. From here you can click on any of the aircraft listed along the bottom of the screen, and either VISIT (you can observe but have no control) or FLY (jump in the pilot's seat and get in the action.) If you choose to VISIT, be sure you selected AP NAV mode when you left your assigned aircraft.
In fact you don’t have to go back to the Tactical Display/Map view to switch planes, you can do it in-flight via a shortcut (SHF 1-4). You can also VISIT other aircraft via the Tactical Display if you have a long ingress to target. I visited an F111 which was about fifteen miles from the target area when I was still fifty miles out. The action over Baghdad was intense.
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Last Updated November 18th, 1999