|Genres:||Simulator / Flight Simulator|
|Release Date:||March, 1998|
|Game Modes:||Singleplayer / Multiplayer|
The Great Eagle Soars
Rather than following the trend towards the combat aircraft of the future, Jane’s Combat Simulations decided to model a true combat veteran. The F-15E Strike Eagle, first introduced in the US Air Force in 1988, was a star player in both Gulf Wars and is still in use today, albeit on a much smaller scale. Following hot on the heels of Longbow 2, which was unanimously hailed as one of the best simulations of 1997, Jane’s F-15 was hotly anticipated by flight enthusiasts everywhere, and for good reasons.
As with nearly all titles of its pedigree, F-15 attempts to cater to both hardened virtual pilots and beginners alike. The training missions are straightforward and to the point. They place you in situations that allow you to experiment with a given aspect of the game, providing brief instructional dialogue along the way. There is definitely some missed potential here; it would have been preferable to have some detailed instruction in the employment of the more complex systems. This and the included “Instant Action” modes provide great opportunities to hone your skills before embarking on one of the game’s two campaigns.
You engage in Operation Desert Storm of 1991 and a fictitious post-2000 Iran. The Desert Storm missions are perhaps the best treatment the conflict has ever had in a computer game. As was the case in reality, most of the Iraq missions are deep night strikes with little air threat but a monstrous amount of SAM and triple-A coverage in the target areas. The game progresses through the various stages of the air campaign and the player’s performance has little to no effect of the flow of events. The Iranian campaign is a mixture of ground strikes and air intercepts, with missions being selected based on the player’s prior performance. The rolling hills and river valleys of Iran provide a beautiful contrast to Iraq, which is mostly long, brown and flat.
Rather than use a true dynamic campaign engine, Jane’s has assembled a large offering of pre-made missions for their campaign system to select from. Experimenting with the included mission builder—the same one used by the designers of the game—allows some insight as to how the campaign missions are constructed, with various flight groups having random odds of appearing each time the campaign engine selects a given mission.
The heart of any flight sim is the plane itself. The flight model has a wonderfully fluid feel to it and the actual physics of flight are applied well. An F-15 is not a light “turn ‘n’ burn” fighter. It’s a hefty bird, and the game does a good job of providing a feel for the mass of the plane, requiring the pilot to rely more on his flight instruments and execute maneuvers in a proper manner. It certainly wasn’t built to be a dogfighter and that shows well, since banking ninety degrees and yanking back on the stick to turn with a more nimble bandit will find you quickly bleeding airspeed and out of control. (Bitchin’ Betty will chastise you liberally for it too.) It is far better to engage enemies at longer ranges, where the advantages of the F-15 hold sway.
While Jane’s claims to have utilized the actual declassified numbers for the F-15’s performance specifications, the game’s plane seems underpowered. The real F-15 has a lot of horsepower for hauling those big bomb loads around, and it seems that an unladen plane should be able to climb vertically with ease. In the game this is definitely not the case. It’s tough to retain airspeed in even moderate climbs with an unloaded Eagle, and altitudes over 30,000 ft. are near impossible to maintain. Otherwise Jane’s appears to have been quite accurate with the plane’s performance.
Another area where the game absolutely soars is in the communications amongst allied aircraft. It’s common to have up to eight wingmen, your copilot, a few groups of escorts, and the AWACS plane all yelling on the radio at once while in the heat of combat. It’s quite a rush to hear the radio go absolutely berserk with communications once the missiles start flying. The voices are all quite convincing and suit the situation well, with the possible exception of your WSO in the back seat. It would be nice to be able to filter him out after hearing “Ow! That hurt!” and “That sucks… we missed!” for the umpteenth time. Your wingmen are amazing, however. They will call targets to each other, confirm one another’s kills, and even call in rescue missions for their buddies when they get shot down.
The game allows players to customize nearly every key on the keyboard to their liking, but the true brilliance of the interface is the cockpit itself. Any button, switch, or knob visible on the screen is click-able and will perform the same function it does in the real aircraft. There are seven MPD (Multi-Purpose Display) monitors split between two cockpit stations and they each can be configured individually to the player’s liking. Each function of the displays is controlled by the buttons surrounding the MPD screen. Clicking around while trying to fly can be quite a daunting task, but thankfully the game allows you to pause the action.
There definitely a great deal of technical nuances beginners must overcome, but serious flight sim pilots will be in seventh heaven. F-15 is a game full of potential and quite entertaining to play, and only mildly unpolished in some areas, such as the multiplayer or a resolution locked at 800×600 pixels. Despite these misgivings, the game is still recommended for those hardcore desktop pilots looking for a game that focuses on complex, single player strike mission realism.
System Requirements: 166 Mhz, 16 MB RAM, 50 MB HDD, 2MB Video, Windows 95