After the tremendous success of Longbow 2 in the last months of 1997, the Origin Skunkworks development team at Jane's, spearheaded by sim maestro Andy Hollis, turned their attention to the arena of jet combat. Since the Gulf War in the early '90s, the U.S. fighter of choice has been the F-15, a versatile air-superiority aircraft that, with its E variant adaptation, proved an equally capable precision ground attack platform during Operation Desert Storm. Jane's F-15 is the result of laborious research from the Skunkworks team, and is an incredibly accurate and deeply satisfying simulation of this famous plane.
It's important to note that the decision to model the F-15E variant of the fighter results in Jane's F-15 becoming largely a sim of air-to-ground combat. If you're into "mud moving", this is your kind of game! Of course, aerial combat is here, but generally as a defensive action, and not the primary goal of a mission. All missions in F-15 are set over the skies of the Persian Gulf, including Iraq, northern Saudi Arabia and the western half of Iran.
To describe Jane's F-15 as detailed is rather like describing the actual plane as complex. The sheer level of detail woven into the sim is astonishing, and there is no better example of this than the recreation of the plane's avionics and systems. The cockpit panel itself is entirely interactive (mouse driven), with nearly every button and switch serving some purpose. There are three multi-function displays and numerous "pages" to scroll through, including about six air-to-air radar modes and sub-modes, four air-to-ground modes, and various other information displays. Flight modeling is equally impressive. The physics of flight feel extremely accurate, and the aircraft feels slightly underpowered if anything. Of course, the hardcore sim fan will revel in the kind of complexity that F-15 provides, but for those who are intimidated by the steep learning curve, Jane's have included a "casual" gameplay option, which tones down the detail considerably.
Immersion is a crucial factor in sim titles, and graphically F-15 doesn't disappoint. All aircraft are sharply rendered and bristle with weapons when fully loaded. There are full 3D virtual cockpit views with readable gauges, padlock views and night vision options. It's only when flying a night bombing raid over a major city like Basra or Baghdad that the power of the graphics engine really strikes home. Lights illuminate the cities, and you'll see massive amounts of tracer fire shooting up into the night sky. Terrain is also good, but suffers from a couple of minor problems. When flying over Iran, the mountain ranges appear to melt as you approach, leaving a rather unrealistic impression. Also, densely packed areas such as major airports cause a noticeable drop in frame rates, even with a Glide or Direct3D compatible video card. Other than these glitches, the graphics engine does a superb job.
Alongside a dozen individual missions, two featured campaigns are included. The smaller of the two is set during Operation Desert Storm, placing you in an actual F-15 squadron flying historically based missions. The longer campaign is a futuristic scenario pitting the U.S. against Iran. While both lack the true dynamic nature of Longbow 2, a semi-dynamic approach does manage to provide enough random elements to keep things interesting. More importantly, the actual missions are beautifully crafted and some of the most intense I've seen in a flight sim. There's plenty of radio chatter from wingmen and AWACS planes, and good artificial intelligence that'll keep you on your toes. Ground targets range from factories to vehicle convoys and mobile scud launchers, so variety is plentiful. To add extra longevity, Jane's have also included an extremely powerful mission builder so you can create and trade custom-built missions.
Unfortunately, this leads me to my biggest complaint with F-15. Unlike Longbow 2, multi-player support does not include co-operative play. Head-to-head dogfighting is the only option, which, for a ground attack aircraft, makes absolutely no sense at all. F-15 is crying out for a co-op mode, and it's a tragic shame that the developers haven't utilized such massive potential. The deathmatch dogfight style works fine, and includes modem, LAN, and Internet support, but co-operative play would've lifted F-15 to new levels.
Despite this glaring omission, Jane's have produced a quality flight sim that is deserving of the attention of all simulation gamers. F-15 undoubtedly has a steep learning curve, especially for those with little experience with the genre, but a combination of the comprehensive manual and some patience will result in hours of fun with a product that is really more of an experience than a game. Deep, rich, and wholly satisfying, Jane's F-15 is simply a superb flight sim.
Graphics: A couple of minor problems, but on the whole very good.
Sound: Good, plenty of radio chatter and wingman interaction.
Enjoyment: More than a game, Jane's F-15 is an experience that all gamers will find deeply rewarding.
Replay Value: Benefits from a powerful mission builder, but multi-player options are lacking.
People who downloaded Jane's F-15 have also downloaded:
Jane's F/A-18, Jane's USAF, Jane's Fighters Anthology, Jane's AH-64D Longbow Gold, Jane's WWII Fighters, Longbow 2, Jane's Combat Simulations: Attack Squadron, Jane's 688(I) Hunter/Killer
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