EF2000: Tactcom: Review - Page 1/1


Created on 2005-02-01

Title: EF2000: Tactcom: Review
By: Len 'Viking1' Hjalmarson
Date: 1997-01-20 2170
Flashback: Orig. Multipage Version
Hard Copy: Printer Friendly


Click on the picture to see a larger image..from Graphics Plus!

In November of 1996 Digital Image Design, the UK firm that came out of disaffected Rowan Software people, released their second TFX, titled EF2000. Although version one of EF2 was barely beyond beta, it was obvious that something unusual had happened. A few months later version Two broke out, and who wants to even think about the limitations of the first release? Since then the TactCom upgrade has been released and the Graphics Plus patch for Rendition and 3dfx is well under way. Icing on the cake for this sim!

EF2000: Genesis


Whenever I leave EF2/TactCom to rest on my hard drive for a week or two, then sneak out to the tarmac on a quiet evening to spool up my engines, I remember how easy it was to love this simulation. Starting out on the tarmac, spooling up the engines and getting taxi clearance, the beauty of the morning mist, runways and tower alight, mountains and mist in the distance, watching the cross traffic as you head for the runway, the tower reporting the wind conditions, then finally getting clearance and the noise of the hard rubber as you gain speed and finally loose the bonds of earth... hey, it feels like the real thing! The "suspension of disbelief" is powerful. And if you happened to have a sub woofer stuffed under your butt, even better!! First impressions count, and EF2 has a lot going for it in the "atmosphere" department.


The sim is set in north western Europe, mostly among the awe inspiring landscape of Norway. Flying over mountains and fjords, glaciers and ocean, one is constantly distracted by the scenery. Of course, you will also see roads and railways, dams and tunnels, ships and oil rigs, SAMs and runways. Buildings also abound at key sites, especially strategic ones like EWR and air bases. Air bases are particularly interesting since runways are lit, control towers have winking strobes on top, and dozens of aircraft of various descriptions are parked or taxiing around. Cities are modelled nicely with detail high enough to be impressive but not so high that the frame rate is unduly affected.


If you've followed the EF2000 story at all, or if you've been a fan, you know that the inevitable train of bugs plagued the sim. Most of them were only annoying, but some players found themselves skimming the white caps one moment, and looking at a DOS prompt the next. But DiD kept on working, and by 2.04 most players found the sim stable.


From 2.01 to 2.04, EF2000 ran in two resolutions with three levels of detail, and resolution could be changed on the fly: kind of nice for enjoying the scenery and keeping a decent frame rate, then making the change when needful if you are hardware challenged. At 320x200 it is still beautiful, and in this mode playable on a 486/66. TactCom is the same, and at high res you better be ready with your P120 or better. (See below for more discussion of hardware and frame rates....)


EF2 is closer to a modern military simulation than anything else out there, and will probably age very well. It requires dedication to learning the systems and learning tactics. But it also pays off handsomely; a challenge that once met is well worthwhile. The campaign mode with its unpredictability and progressive nature truly shines.


There has been a lot of discussion in the Usenet groups about the flight model. Its definitely beyond USNF, but perhaps not quite up to SU27. The full 6 point DOF is not\ present, yet the aircraft does apparently behave close to the real thing. The version 2 revision of drag and inertia was a great improvement, and this was tweaked again for TactCom, losing some more of the springiness. Where 2.01 added difficulty levels, they have been further refined for TactCom.


TactCom



EF2000: Tactical Communications has a fancy new interface, (that brushed aluminum air frame look), new tactical maps, and so many other enhancements (including ECM indicator in the HUD, a bug bear of mine) that it both looks and feels like a new simulation.


DiD decided that because WARGEN places waypoints poorly, they would give us the ability to edit WARGEN set waypoints. As one is setting waypoints and altitude of the flight, a fuel guage keeps track of fuel requirements. You do not need to enter the planner to modify waypoints. So if that is all you want to do, go for it!


The Mission Planner allows the pilot to decide on his home base, his and group targets, waypoints, takeoff time, and type of aircraft in his force. It allows loadout choice and whether or not one will refuel. The pilot also decides on size and type of escort, and whether or not there will be a wild weasel mission. For example, one may decide to fly a Strike force of 4 EF2s, with an escort of F22s and a WW of four Tornados! Be warned that this process can run afoul of WARGEN, since in order to do this there must be 12 aircraft available at the chosen base. Due to the contingencies of war and the fluidity of the virtual battlefield, you may not always have so many unassigned aircraft to choose from. However, you can enter the planner if there are as few as ONE EF2 to fly. If you are the lone ranger type, this will please you.


Strike missions include airfields, EWR sites, AWACS and Refueler kills, POL sites, SAM sites, ships and more. The new interface shows these sites very nicely, and can display the terrain features and EWR and SA ranges overlaid. As a result, you can plan your ingress and egress for the highest chance of success. Intercept missions include AWACS and Refueler kills. Escort flights include ferrying aircraft to forward locations as well as flying CAP for tankers and AWACS. Now on to the planner!


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The Planner


One enters the planner by clicking on the Options menu in the Campaign Map screen. If there are enough free EFAs, one is booted into the MP interface. The pilot now has two menus to work with, the one seen on the left, and the one at the bottom of the map.


The map interface itself is customizable, with four maps to select from. The bright map that shows nation boundaries is nice to work with for a broad overview or an intercept mission, but if you fly a strike mission and stealth is an issue you will work more with the topographic map. The dark map is nice to get a clearer tactical picture of SAM and EWR placement.


Each of these features can be turned on or off to declutter your workspace. When you are placing waypoints and finely adjusting placement you may not want to have all those other icons on all the time.


The Edit Button in the far right of the lower menu is a toggle between ZOOM and EDIT. When you are placing or adjusting waypoints the button must be in EDIT mode. I wish that DiD had left the FLAGS option default to off, since they don't add any useful information to the display unless you have forged an alliance. But its a small annoyance.


The layout of the planner menu in the upper left is fairly intuitive. You begin on the left and work your way to the right. First you choose the Strike Type. Say you choose EWR for a radar kill as in my screen shot above. You then use the map of your choice in edit mode to click on your target. Next you click on Base. You need a base with at least 10 free EFAs for a good strike mission package. The map displays the number of free EFAs at a given base with a small red icon over the base.


When you click on Base, you will then have to assign the elements of your strike package. In the case above I assigned four aircraft for my strike package, 2 for Wild Weasel, and four for escort. I then clicked on Aircraft Type (its another button you will see in a secondary menu when you are assigning aircraft), and chose EFAs for the strike, F15s for the Weasel, and F18As for escort.


Once this is done, its time to assign targets. The interface for this is rather impressive, since you are shown each target, just as in the rotating target view in the original EF2000. You assign each of your wingmen a target individually, and then click on the WP button to move to the next stage. You only choose targets for the strike package, targets for your weasel and escort missions are taken care of by WARGEN AI.


The screen shot above shows the next step, where you determine your flight plan, and decide the altitude to each waypoint. The set height screen in the lower left has a zoom toggle so you can set your alt in 100s of feet when below 1000 feet. The fuel bar above the alt planner gives you an estimate of your consumption to your target and home again. At this point, however, you have to guess at a percentage of fuel use against the total capacity of your aircraft. Perhaps in F22 this will be enhanced to estimate actual kg of fuel....Anyway, you are ready to fly and click on ATC to choose your takeoff window, usually about eight time slots with forecast weather given for each time....


Difficulty, Detail, and the Player Rating


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The first thing you will notice when you load the upgrade is new levels of difficulty: kind of a sliding scale arrangement with ten levels from Rookie to Top Gun. After so many complaints that individual efforts made little difference to campaign progress (realistic after all, since the fate of one aircraft will rarely affect a war...), DiD decided to give us the power to change this.


One selects an option when first generating the campaign: "Players Performance Affects Campaign:Yes/No.." Here's how this works....


Default is ON, so one must choose NOT to have their performance affect the campaign if preferred. If you leave the default setting alone, you will start out with a rating of 50%. Every mission flown will be rated, usually altering your rating by around 10% up or down. Every mission you fly affects the entire campaign based on your rating at the close of your mission, and if you use the 8 hour time advance feature you will be surprised to note that you take an automatic 10% cut in rating!!


As noted, every mission flown will be rated. If one takes out a designated target and makes it home, one is usually rated at 50%. For every 10% above or below 37%, your player rating will be affected. If the pilot takes out the designated target and an additional target, rating may be 60%. If one takes these out PLUS an enemy aircraft, rating could be 75% and so on. The performance of the entire strike package seems to modify the rating of LEAD, but I'm not sure how this algorithm works.


The overall effect can be quite dramatic, especially in Top Gun level 10 difficulty. For example, I flew two missions in this mode, was killed after taking out one bandit on my second mission after breaking even on the first flight, (Final Rating 37%) and promptly lost the war!!


On my next campaign I flew the first mission at 50% and gained a Russian base as a result. On my second flight I took out some extra targets and was rated at 75%. Two more Russian bases fell as a result and the Russians lost a great many aircraft. The campaign progresses dramatically based on LEADs performance if your success is high. Difficulty levels are saved between missions and also if you exit the game, but must be re-selected with a new campaign.


In 2.02 there were three levels of difficulty integrated with three variations of campaign layout. If one generated a new campaign and found oneself against the wall, one could simply generate a new campaign. It no longer works this way.


This represents a major change from the campaign AI of 2.02. In 2.02 there were three levels of difficulty intersecting with three variations of campaign layout. If one generated a new campaign and found oneself up against the wall, one could simply exit and regenerate a campaign, and this time one might find that the Russians were only in possession of half of Norway. It no longer works this way and choosing Level 10 (Top Gun) when you first generate a campaign means that not only will you fly against a more deadly enemy, you will also find NATO backed into a small toe-hold in Norway! You wanted challenge, you got it! Most pilots will probably fly around level seven or eight. This usually gives one three bases to start off rather than only one (on level 10).


More Enhancements


The second thing one notices is that detail has INCREASED in sim, affecting terrain and objects both, though the terrain is the most noticeable. An ECM indicator now appears in the HUD. Frame rate is roughly the same despite these improvements (!), and load times have been reduced. The cockpit has also changed, with small letters on all the warning lights to aid memory.


Moreover, the JTIDs repeater has gone from red lines to blue, making it easier to see the tails indicating vector of bandits. Bandits can still be hard to see, however, and maybe a lighter red color to represent enemy aircraft might be better for ease of sight.


The auto leveller, that key you hit when you are out of control, also doubles as a single key AutoPilot to input present altitude and heading. It works very nicely so long as you do not engage it below 390k. If engaged below this speed your afterburner will also engage and will not shut down til you disengage with another "L" press.


Next you will notice that when the controller gives you takeoff clearance, the "Wind 0 knots, 0 degrees" message has been enhanced! Yes, Virginia, you will now hear a randomly generated message as though there were real weather to contend with! Unfortunately, this isn't the case, but it does beat hearing the same old message every time! (DiD reports that the frame rate hit with a weather generator was simply too great to justify the feature).


Next, the APS system has been enhanced to download the altitude set by the mission director. No more universal setting to 7000 feet and 499 knots! The other change on this MFD is in the DASS system. DASS range now extends to the MAP ON maximum of 40/80 miles. Nice improvement, especially when you fly with no AWACS or lose your link due to damage.


The flight model has been adjusted slightly to increase the effect of a full loadout. Some of the springiness is also gone. (By the way, the weight of individual shells is modelled, and since these things are quite heavy, your overload of 1500 shells could kill you in a knifefight. The real EF2 does NOT carry this many shells. Fire off half of them before you get up close and personal).


Every pilot values situational awareness: in fact, good SA is the difference between life and death. Three more SA features have been improved for TactCom: the wingman padlock, the floating X indicating direction to locked target, and more SAM warnings...


Enhanced SA


Every pilot values situational awareness: in fact, good SA is the difference between life and death. Three more SA features have been improved for TactCom: the wingman padlock, the floating X indicating direction to locked target, and more SAM warnings...


Every pilot values situational awareness: in fact, good SA is the difference between success and death. Three more SA features have been improved for TactCom: the wingman padlock and the floating X in HUD indicating direction to the locked target, and more SAM warnings. Finally we can toggle the wingman padlock between different wingmen, Up to now once wing 2 was out of action you could not easily locate three or four. Poor devils: they could call out HELP all day and all you could do was guess at their vector, or if you had a lot of patience, pause the sim and play with the browse plane view til you hit player-wingman and then make an effort to get heading in the right direction. No longer! SHF C now toggles the F11 wingman padlock view to different wingmen. You can also view Wingman Threat, since a second press of F11 toggles from current wingman to his current threat.


And in addition to this, we now have the typical floating X in HUD indicator of direction to the locked bandit. This alone is a major SA improvement, and should increase survivability for many pilots in the knife-fight. Combined with the Custom A2A generator, we should be able to improve our skills in close in combat considerably.


TactCom has increased SAM launch warnings. In fact, audio feedback has been beefed up considerably, and when you have a "Radar Lock" voice warning plus another bandit launching an IR missile at you (with THAT claxon ringing in your ears), plus voice comms coming from AWACS or a wingman, you will feel like you ARE in the middle of a large and complicated battle system. As the Marines are fond of pointing out, no matter how much you have prepared and no matter how awesome your plans, in the middle of the battle the best you can count on is confusion!


SHF F12 accesses a built in screen-saver! Thats right, you can now share your most hair raising encounters with friends all over the net! Or, on those lazy approaches over the mountains or fjords, save that beautiful scenery with your flight of EF2s for wall paper in Windows....All you need to access the files created is Paint Shop Pro, available on the net as shareware.


Weapons and Radar


Refuel and Rearm in the Campaign! That's right! Touch down at an allied base, come to a complete stop on the runway, shut down engines, engage and lock your wheelbrakes (W) and you will be re-armed and refueled with the same loadout you had at takeoff! So if there are more bandits in range and no one else to do the job, or you like that John Wayne Lone Ranger image, go for it! See how long you can play the role in the dynamic environment of the campaign. See the box below for a play by play on this new feature...


I set up a strike mission on a choke point in the campaign with three wingmen in EFAs, a second strike force consisting of 4 EFAs, an escort of F22s, and weasel mission with 4 F15s. Targets consisted of a rail bridge and a road bridge: I took out the rail and wing two took out the other. The weasel boys had done a nice job, which I observed using Smartview as I ingressed.


By the time I was pickling my GBU, I had bandits scrambling forty miles out. My escort was engaging before I regrouped. They took out the three bandits and lost two aircraft in the effort. I then regrouped just as the second strike force was arriving with nothing to do...


I noted on the JTIDS link that another NATO force was approaching a target about eighty miles NE, and enemy aircraft were vectoring to intercept, so I made a hole in the clouds with my three wings in tow. We took out the bandits and I lost wings two and three. I had two AMR and one ASR left, and my wing had two ASR and three AMR. Decided to head for NATO turf to rearm and refuel. BTW, I had also jettisoned my center tank in this last encounter.


Instead of having to return to home in the deep south (Rygge), I touched down at Trondheim. I came to a complete stop on the strip, locked my brakes, shut down my engines, and a minute later was airborn with a full load: 2 GBUs, six AMR, two S225, 2 ASR and a full center tank! Awesome! My surviving wing came along for the ride, though his fuel and weapons were not replenished. (Note: I did not switch my waypoint when I headed south, which meant that my remaining escort remained in place to guard the second strike force... They managed to take out two more bandits while I was "AWOL" refueling; my remaining escorts both died nobly...)


I switched JTIDs out to 160 miles and spotted an enemy strike force. We climbed to 35,000 and proceeded for the intercept at full throttle. Ten minutes later my wing was dead and I had added another five kills to my score, not to mention a control tower left in a heap! I headed south to try another round but when I was near to Trondheim I received comms on STUD 3 from the First Lady requesting my immediate return home ...ie. the wife wanted me to come to bed!)


Next I set up an Escort for a Strike mission in the deep south from my single remaining NATO base. Why wait for the Strike mission to get airborn when I can rearm and refuel later? I took the battle to the Russian base, engaging a Russian CAP about halfway to the enemy base. My wings and I took out eight bandits before I returned home with my remaining wingman in tow.


Before arriving at home plate I heard a MAYDAY call from my outgoing Strike force. Time of the essence, I went in hot onto the strip, dropping like a stone from 30,000 feet. I came onto the CPFD about half a mile off the runway. Air brakes and gear down ASAP, I landed, hit the chute, full stop, locked brakes and engine off. I was rearmed a few seconds later, engine on, dump the external tank, hit the burners, head for the sky!


A half minute later I locked up the first bandit who was engaging the remainder of my assigned Strike force about twenty miles from base. I took him out then headed high, locked up a second bandit and ordered my wing to engage. I locked up a second pair vectored 60 degrees from the first. I lost my wing too quickly, but the four were down. I noticed another pair another twenty miles out, shot off my remaining S225 and then my remaining ASRAAM, and headed back to base.


Rearmed and fueled up a couple of minutes later, I headed high again. Just as I reached 30,000 feet two incoming strike groups appeared on my JTIDs display. One group appeared to be a four ship formation, and the second possibly larger. The smaller group appeared to have the attention of a two ship CAP, so I vectored toward the larger group. When they appeared on my radar at about 60 miles, I still thought there were four. Shortly the resolution improved and I engaged six bandits.


I used Smartview to check their loadouts... armed to the teeth with Cruise missiles! Just as I unleashed the first of my four S225s, they turned toward the near NATO base. At my altitude I was soon in range for AMRAAMs, and quickly unleased all six. I had four kills by the time I was in range for ASR (at mach two it doesn't take long)... I took out one of the remaining SU35s with an ASR and the second with guns.


This left me one ASR for one of the two survivors from the smaller group, and guns for the second. The two EFAs that had engaged the smaller group took out two but went down in the effort. Thanks to refuel and rearm, I saved a NATO base... Its a bit of me against the world, but a lot of fun!


Many pilots have commented on the Maverick lock.... instead of "fire and forget" the Maverick has acted like a laser guided weapon... break contact with the target and lose lock! DiD have addressed this problem, and the Maverick is now working properly! But even more important, the radar and weapon association has been corrected.


Yep, that's right! Now you can use radar as it was intended to be used. You can lock a bandit at forty miles even if the only weapon you have left is a chunk of chewing gum. This increases strategic possibilities, (Yes, Russian pilots are deathly afraid of chewing gum.) since this means that a bandit will take you seriously as a threat when you have NO WEAPONS left... hmm, maybe it wasn't so bad before after all ?


No, this is the way it was intended to be. You want to distract an incoming strike package but they are fifty miles away and you are Winchester.... lock em up! You want info on that incoming bogie at forty miles but only have ASRAAMs... lock em up! You want to lock a bandit and order your wing to engage, cause he has some long range missiles and you don't -- go for it! You have a bandit vectoring toward you, but he has not used his radar and so your escorts have not yet decided that he is a threat? Lock him up; he'll return the favor pronto and your escorts will take him on. This fix takes care of a lot of territory...!!


Another fix is that the large + no longer appears in the bandit track boxes as soon as you order "Engage." Now when you have that indicator you can be sure that there is already a missile allocated and you can concentrate your fire elsewhere.


Wing loadout will now mirror LEAD! This is a fantastic improvement, since it means that you can ditch the unnecessary dual tanks for a single center tank or no tanks, and add two more A2A weapons! (In TactCom you will find that you are assigned dual tanks only rarely, another improvement over v.2). This will sometimes mean the difference between a successful mission, and a premature abort. It also means that if you don't need external tanks, you can switch two GBUs for a single center line mounted weapon, and gain additional A2A weapons for your wingmen. This can mean EIGHT more A2A weapons for a flight of Lead plus three wings.


Finally, ALARMs may now be staggered and fired in Direct mode at different targets. Previously, one had to wait for the first ALARM to hit prior to locking a second target in Direct mode.


Enhanced Debrief


A debrief screen has been added to the end of campaign missions which gives detailed information on campaign progress, even including pie charts! If you've felt in the dark about where you really stand in the campaign, this is for you.


The debrief includes detail such as total enemy and NATO kills listed by ground targets, aircraft, ships, choke points etc. The pie charts cover such areas as Balance of Power between NATO, Neutrals and Russians. DiD will add personal statistics on kills to this screen for TFX3 under WARGEN v.2.


When one exits this screen one is returned to the main campaign screen where the standard mission debrief is given. Though limited, the standard debrief is rather nice, with your flight path displayed on the mission map, and icons showing air and ground kills at the appropriate place. One may cycle through one's own flight to the escort and wild weasel flights to observe the performance of each element. From here one may then select the next WARGEN given mission or return to the planner.


We wanted the ability to create A2A with guns only in the simulator and we got it! Want to fly on on one against a Tornado? An F14? Now you can! Maybe you feel really daring and want to fly against two SU35s, or two EF2s..... This ability to fly with guns only is the best way to improve your ability in a knife fight...


Simulator and KOTS Enhancement


We wanted the ability to create A2A with guns only in the simulator and we got it! Want to fly on on one against a Tornado? An F14? Now you can! Maybe you feel really daring and want to fly against two SU35s, or two EF2s..... This ability to fly with guns only is the best way to improve your ability in a knife fight...


And now, a much demanded feature....We wanted the ability to create A2A with guns only in the simulator and we got it!! Want to fly one on one against a Tornado? An F14? Now you can!! Maybe you feel really daring and want to fly against TWO SU-35s, or TWO EF2s.....This ability to fly with guns only is the best way known to improve your ability in a knife fight. You can also choose to fly against HINDs or Cobras, or even against a Hercules transport (known to be very deadly in head on collisions...). The choices are unlimited. (Well, you can't fly an Independence Day scenario: that choice will wait for TFX3!)


DiD have also expanded control in the A2A creator. We can now control the positional aspect and altitude of the engagement. This means that you can practice engaging your enemies from an advantaged position or a disadvantaged one. In other words, the Custom A2A features have become extremely advanced!!


But thats not all! There is now a team feature in multiplay KOTS! Whew, talk about the kitchen sink! We have the standard Me Against the World solo stuff, a team game, and a base defence team game! I know, I know... it is TOO COOL! Better book your marriage counsellor again and send the wife off to spend the month with her mother....


New Views!


SmartView is a new view altogether. One can enter SmartView in sim with SHF F, and get an AI version of the old Browse plane view. The view shifts automatically to different aircraft in the theatre doing different things, with the type of aircraft and the mission listed in the top corner of the screen...Especially cool, one can monitor the progress of one's own mission even after death..


Finally, there have been some changes in the views: most notably, the F4 external view set, Missile View and a new view added called SmartView. F4 views can be customized and the Missile View is now smart: it moves from the missile to the target, shows you the target in relation to the missile, and changes perspective.


SmartView is a new view altogether. One can enter SmartView in sim with SHF F, and get an AI version of the old Browse plane view. The view shifts automatically to different aircraft in the theatre doing different things, with the type of aircraft and the mission listed in the top corner of the screen...Especially cool, one can monitor the progress of one's own mission even after death..


SmartView is a new view altogether. One can enter SmartView in sim with SHF V, and get an AI version of the old Browse Plane view. The view shifts to different aircraft doing different things, with the type of aircraft and the mission noted in the top corner of the screen. Perspective on any aircraft changes automatically, with a variety of views integrated. One might first see an SU35 cruising, then it becomes a flyby, then the view pans around the aircraft, then its track view, then its SU-35-Target, etc. Suddenly the view shifts to another SU35 in a dogfight. Got a long flight but would rather watch all the happenings in the Virtual Battlefield rather than timeskip? Smartview will automate your gawking around, if you like....


Smartview also has its own filter. SHF F filters Smartview six ways: All Aircraft, Your Flight, Your Mission, Allied Aircraft, Enemy Aircraft, and Neutrals only.


But SmartView is ALSO available when the player is shot down, and one may choose to be dropped into Smartview immediately after ejection or death. One can watch the progress of ones own flight even after death. Will your wingmen make it? How will they survive the knife fight you just left? Now you can see it all. There is also a HOLD command in Smartview so you can stick with your wingman if you like. Nice touch! And the most recent enhancement is that you can toggle SHF C and SHF X to move to the next aircraft in a given category.


Connectability


The upgrade comes with every connection option under the sun: modem, net play, and direct serial connection. What more could a pilot want? EF2 was a Falcon net killer from the beginning. When you fly with a human wingman, all the limitations of computer AI are history, and you have the added dimension of sending messages in real time while flying the virtual skies with real people!


A friend and I have connected with two different modes. We both have fast computers (P180 or better) with USR DSVD modems. The first connection we tried was without the modem in DSVD mode. I acted as server and sent him a simulator mission. Connection was simplicity itself and our frame rate was as if we were playing un-connected! That's right, we noticed no difference from playing on our own against the computer!


Next we tried the connection using the DSVD mode so we could talk on the same line in real time. We noticed a drop in frame rate of around 30%, but whenever we used the voice connection frame rate dropped again. We lost 50-60% of normal frame rate when using voice and data simultaneously. Conclusion: If you use this mode, use voice as little as necessary, in the 3,1 model like a real fighter pilot would!


Limitations


Occasionally, one may try to access the planner and discover that one is locked out. This is especially a problem when NATO is against the wall. Unless there are unassigned EF2's, one cannot access the planner.


So far, one cannot edit alt and speed and elements for WARGEN generated missions. One also cannot plan CAP, INTERCEPT or SEAD missions. These things are unlikely to change. Aftermarket utilities like REVIVE will even allow us to play Tactical Commander and call up the Reserves! AWACS shot down? Check the Reserves!


Occasionally, one may try to access the planner and discover that one is locked out. This is especially a problem when NATO is against the wall. Unless there are unassigned EF2's, one cannot access the planner. On other occasions one will access the planner only to find that selection is limited to two out of five bases, and with only one EF2 free per base. Contrary to what one would expect, this does NOT mean that one can fly an EF2 and choose three F22s as wingmen or escort. Rather, with only one EF2 free, one is limited to a total assignable force of ONE. If you want to go it alone, fine; otherwise abort and head back to the WARGEN generated selections.


We still cannot edit wingman loadouts, though the mirroring helps. (Sigh). The impact on system AI was simply too great, and would have meant rewriting reams of code, with unpredicable impact on other areas. Be aware that this also raises other issues. If you plan an airfield strike and choose a runway as your own target, your wingmen will be given durandals as their A2G weapons. From the weapon selection screen, you will have to trade 2 durandals for 2 GBUs if you want them to be successful.


One cannot delete waypoints given by TactCom outside the Planner although one may move them. This can be annoying since WARGEN still assigns the long way around at times, and shortening the route can mean that waypoints pile up, but at least we CAN shorten the route....


Unfortunately, the Planner itself does not allow one to set different routes for different elements of the strike package (as in Tornado). Neither can one implement different velocity to different waypoints, or different times on target. This kind of flexibility will have to wait for TFX3.


As for network play, EF2000 is ALMOST a Falcon killer, and here is the disclaimer. EF2000 is TOPS for network play. All over North America F3 is breathing its last on the hard drives of virtual pilots. Many F3 clubs have already made the switch. Unfortunately, not everyone has access to a network. And those who rely on kali have already discovered that ping times limit playability. Kahn has apparently given better success to many players, but I suspect that this only means that Kali will be or has been improved, and playability should continue to increase. For many of us, the best play other than network has been me by my lonesome relying on computer wingmen against computer generated adversaries. With modem play now being possible, many who have not yet connected EF2000 will be flying H2H and tandem for the first time.


Me and My Wing


..when I as lead need to re-assess the fluid campaign situation, perhaps because the Wild Weasel mission has been shot down, or because we have used all our A2A weapons due to weak escort, can I query my wingmen for remaining stores or order "Return to Base?" Nope.


So what about solo play? There are a fair representation of standard wingman commands (engage my target, disengage, radar on/off, bracket left/right and so forth), and the two way comms help me stay connected, but every time I order a wing to engage the lone bogie that I as lead shouldn't have to deal with, all three wingmen break formation!


And when I as lead need to re-assess the fluid campaign situation, perhaps because the Wild Weasel mission has been shot down, or because we have used all our A2A weapons due to weak escort, can I query my wingmen for remaining stores or order "Return to Base?" Nope. One can cheat and use the wingman view to check stores: a survival method.


Or when I'm low on fuel, do I know how far to the nearest gas station? Do I know the distance to the nearest base? Nope. Can I find out how long I will wait for the help I need? Can I inquire whether the Wild Weasel boys did their work? Double no. Neither can I order my wingman to "Sanitize Left" or "Scan Low" with radar. These are things I hope to see in TFX3, F4, iF22 and F16FF. Unless one is connected to another real pilot via network or modem, one sometimes feels a bit lonely in the sky, despite the comms with Escort and ones own wingmen. Though I have to confess, the browse plane views are unbelievable and help one feel a part of something MUCH larger.


AWACS placement for the other side remains something of a mystery. If you choose the AWACS kill in the mission planner, you will discover that the Russian AWACS aircraft must have Klingon sensor technology. These guys are a LONG LONG way from the battlefield. This seems to be a WARGEN limitation, and most likely it will never affect your enjoyment of this awesome sim.


As I ended my last strike mission, I was about ten miles out from Vaernes and called for Recovery. I received the message, "Negative: Runway Damaged." I decided to chance a landing anyway to see what would follow.


Before I knew what had happened, I was under lock and key in the brigg! Okay, no, I'm pulling your leg. I landed without incident, and I could not see any damage on the runway. It would be nice if such damage were both visible and critical. We really should not be able to survive a landing on a damaged runway.


Refueling has been a strong suit in EF2000. If you haven't tried it, I suggest you do so: it will challenge your skill as a pilot. Having said that, if you find yourself TOO challenged, turn down the stick sensitivity in the config screen and you will have an easier time of it. Look for improvements in realism in TFX3 in this area. I suspect that more communications will be necessary prior to linking up.


It would also be useful to have range to target included in pre-flight briefing so that one could gauge need of extra fuel tanks; optional partial fuel load would also be useful. As for TOT, it could be in pre-flight briefing so that we could get an overall sense of the picture for tactical advantage and flight coordination; and radar range and azimuth indicators could be added to the no cockpit HUD for ease of use. An actual target designation could be added to the anti-ship mission briefing so that we have an idea of what we are going for.


After ordering my wings to attack their designated ground targets on my last flight, and then a moment later hearing "Weapons Gone," I realized that a "Target Destroyed" message would be really useful! With the complete reworking of the comms that is happening for TFX3, perhaps we will see this kind of confirmation in DiDs next simulation.


In EF2 v.2x radar became usable when we went winchester. Thankfully, this is now changed. Unfortunately, radar is still not stabilized. This means that when you are turning with your aircraft at 90 degrees to the earth, you will lose any radar lock you had. And what about wingmen who eject when necessary? Some chutes floating around out there would not only add to atmosphere, it would also mean that wingmen are not going down with the ship.


Graphics Plus


Finally, there has been a lot of confusion about the upgrade process with regard to the Graphics Plus 3d hardware patch for TactCom. This patch will NOT be useful for SUPER, but only for the DOS version. It will add hardware driven smoke and fog effects and anti-aliasing as well as more ground objects to the sim. Frame rate is up, so much so that you may discover for the first time what fluid flight feels like! But even more important, frame rate does not drop no matter how many bandits are in the melee. Remember, this sim was not written from the ground up for 3d hardware, as TFX3 will be. See below for more.


Net Play


Info from the Deltahawks: Fly In One


RATINGS


Graphics: When EF2 was first released the graphics were state of the art. True, the art changes rather quickly these days. But TactCom does enhance the graphics of the original sim, and there are few rivals out there who do it better.


The fjords, mountains, airports and aircraft are beautiful. Explosions are nicely done, and aircraft damage is also excellent. Displays are readable, and the virtual cockpit and MFDs are also excellent. I rate graphics at 90%. If I were reviewing the Graphics Plus version, where the graphics are even superior to JF3 or Novalogic's F22, I would probably rate graphics 100%.


Sound: Voice and Effects: Sound in TactCom has some enhancement over EF2 v.2x, though not much. Sound was excellent at release and is still excellent. About the only enhancements possible in my mind would be variation for the different types of jet engine, better cannon sounds, and a more realistic canned sound for pilot comms. It would also be nice to have different voices represent different pilots; it can get confusing. Explosions are impressive, especially with a sub woofer! I rate voice and effects at 90%.


Gameplay: What can I say? A year later I still love it. With the flexibility added to TactCom, KOTS, base defence, canned missions, free flight, custom A2A creator and dynamic campaign, this is a great package.


Moroever, compared to something like JF3, the control interface is far more intuitive. The virtual cockpit is easy to use, and there are limitless other views which can be easily programmed to your favorite HOTAS. And the MFDs can be controlled and even panned using the mouse.!


On the other hand, there are limitations, as set out above. Wingman control is good, better than Novalogic's F22, JF3, or B2B. But there is room for improvement still. A2G operations remain a weakness. I rate gameplay at 90%.


Intelligence: Despite the occasional weak wingman, they do quite well on the whole. Escort is sometimes weak, but make one mistake in A2A combat and get a silk ride to earth.


WARGEN, while also not perfect, does a good job of creating a virtual battlefield environment. True, we don't have an active ground war, but "suspension of disbelief" is achieved.


The Mission Planner, the feature many will purchase the add-on for, covers the bases, though not as completely as that in the benchmark, Tornado. The only real drawbacks at this point are inability to delete waypoints in WARGEN created missions, and inability to set variable Time on Target and different routes for different flights. (For example, wouldn't it be nice to send the second strike force by a different route while dividing the Escort into two groups, one for each flight?)


Furthermore, one cannot set a different speed to different waypoints, and neither can one choose to carry half a tank of fuel or half the max cannon load. The interface for the planner is effective and quite intuitive. I like it. I rate intelligence overall at 90%.


Connectability: There are no real limits to the way TactCom may be connected, and it seems to work well in all modes. I particularly like modem connection, though if I had enough guys to create a day a month for net play, I know that would be the way to go. I rate connectability at 95%.


SUMMARY


TactCom takes EF2000 where it had never gone before. For the price of an expansion disk, the simulation has a new life. This will be even more true for those who have plunked down the pesos for a 3dfx or Rendition board. The Graphics Plus version of TactCom will come as a free patch to all TactCom users. Note: the patch will only work with TactCom, NOT with SUPER EF2000 for Windows. If you liked EF2000, run out and get TactCom, or order it from Chips and Bits.


If you need tips on mission planning and execution, go to

TactCom Tips


Overall: 92.5%. An excellent score!


Finally, there are a number of add-ons for EF2000 and TactCom. Here is a listing:


EF2000 Add-Ons


ReVIVE: by Brett Luck. www.cenet.com.au/blisoft/Welcome.html
ReVIVE will allow you to selectively re-activate reserves and even place them at the base of your choice! The CHEAT option allows you to ReViVe dead aircraft and NUKE Russian bases, along with all aircraft stationed there.


REVIVE32 integrates the MORPH utility to allow you to change one aircraft type to another. Those SU35s getting you down? Switch em for MiG29s.... REVIVE automatically backs up your campaign file. REVIVE32 now has a SUMMARY button that will add to your debrief stats... print em and share em if you want to! You will need grid32.ocx as well as the VB4 files to run it in its Windows interface.


CoolStuff Inc. www.coolboy.com/p-ocean-g1.html
CoolStuff Inc., licensed from Ocean, has everything from T-shirts to mousepads, hats, mugs, sweatshirts, etc., all imaged with graphics and logos derived from EF2000.


EF2000 Around the Net


There are a number of places around the net to go for help or information, or even to chat with other EF2 pilots. Here are a few of the most prominent spots...

Digital Image Design: the Maker


Check out their site for patch information, info on the real aircraft, and ongoing projects...DiD in London


1st Canadian Tactical Eurofighter Group


My own site dedicated to flying the simulation... 1CTEG EF2000 Page


The Delthawks


The Deltahawks were a primary group involved in testing net play. Check out their own reviews and information... Deltahawks

Here is the Deltahawks report on their last fly-in:

Deltahawks Fly-In

SUPER EF2000



TactCom for WIN95 (SUPER) will run in native mode with support for DirectX but not Direct3d.


The only distinguishable differences of which I am currently aware between DOS TactCom and the WIN95 version are some sound patches. Unfortunately, on my system SUPER has a weaker frame rate than TactCom for DOS.



EF2000 Graphics Plus



Graphics Plus is TactCom for 3d hardware (Rendition and 3dfx). This patch will be applied to TactCom ONLY, not to SUPER nor to the original EF2000.

The version that I have in hand is a beta for the 3dfx chipset. It is the entire simulation, and not only partial as was the demo released with the Monster 3d.


When I first loaded G+, I noticed that my load time had doubled. I promptly engaged a 2 meg Smartdrv cache which brought load time back to normal. But when I first hit the runway, I could see that the world would never be the same....


Frame rate had entered a new dimension! The difference is so substantial that I could not see any effect on frame rate despite the number of missiles or bandits in the air. In fact, flight now feels fluid and I have to change the way I fly and fight!


The first time a bandit passes you at the merge in this version, you can almost feel the pressure wave! When you yank back on the stick you instantly feel the vertigo as the world whirls around you. I am wondering whether this might even impact the effective in-sim turn rate, supplying a needed advantage over those pesky SU35's!! Or just as important, I expect that hardware acceleration will greatly impact playability via network or kali.


Anti-aliasing is in place, smoke and fog effects are supported (and very impressive!), and there are additional object details on the ground. Fog effects combined with smoothing make flying over the mountains at 20,000 feet every bit as beautiful as the scenery in JF3, but with 3x the frame rate!


I understand from those who have seen both the demo supplied with the Monster 3d and the Graphics Plus beta that it is superior in every way to the earlier demo, and of course, it is the complete simulation. If you enjoyed EF2000, you will WANT TactCom and the 3dfx patch!! I am waiting for information on how 3d acceleration impacts network play. I have seen the future, and it is grand! The screen shots at page top are from G+. For an update on how this all looks in the coming NA release, go to: EF2000 v.2.0



F22 Lightning Strike!!


"Don't just fly the plane: Command the war!!"

You loved EF2000, and soon you'll enjoy F22 Lightning Strike! Finally, we will have the ability to act as the Strategic Commander, and not merely edit waypoints and flight elements. With F22, we will both fly missions in the F-22 and guide the progress of the war aboard an E-3 Sentry AWACS aircraft. Vectoring of aircraft from mission to mission or base to base will be a simple point and click affair, with an advanced messaging system keeping us up-to-date on where we are in the battle.


Stepping into the tactical commander's shoes will mean taking on the demands of the combat theater from an entirely fresh perspective. The big leap in conception for TFX3 will be the move from a bipolar combat gameworld to one that is multipolar. This means that alliances will have to be made (and broken), perhaps right in the middle of a mission, depending on how you handle possible threats and rules of engagement. Consideration of alliance and opponents' alliance effects on resources will be required.

For more info go to the F22 Page


Go to Digital Image Design



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