I forget who said it, but someone recently made a joke that Strike Commander was going to be re-released because technology had finally caught up with the game itself. I laughed so hard, I peed my pants. After a quick shower and a change of clothes, I sat down to give it a try. It's called F-16 Aggressor and although it mimics some of the features of Strike Commander, it just isn't as much fun. It does have its own strengths and merits, however.
This game has been in the works for about 7 years now. It's the product of collaboration between an aeronautical engineer and an experienced pilot. Throughout the entire process, the key concept was authenticity. They wanted to make this the most realistic F-16 sim on the market. The flight modeling is extremely well designed. It is based on real performance data from F-16s-g-loads, rolls, etc. In fact, much more realism could've been added, but apparently the US military would rather keep some things about the plane a secret. What a bunch of babies.
So many different variables are modeled here. First off, you must know that an F-16 is a fly-by-wire craft. This means that all the control surfaces (flaps, rudder, etc) are activated electronically rather than physically. The alternative is to have fabric covered controls where your motions in the cockpit are transmitted mechanically to the control surfaces of the plane. All the control surfaces on the F-16 are monitored by a complex computer. This computer uses a concept known as Relaxed Static Stability to adjust all surfaces to maximize manueverability. This makes the F-16 one of the most nimble jets around.
You may find yourself suddenly frustrated at how realistic this sim is. For example, let's say that you're coming in for a landing and you're not using the autopilot. My condolences. You cut down to your minimum controllable airspeed (MCA). Suddenly, you discover that the rudder on an F16 doesn't respond at the MCA. It would put the plane into a spin to apply full rudder at such a low speed. If you're not lined up with the runway, you gotta go back and try it again.
In addition to the various F-16 specific factors in the game, other aeronautical physics are worked in as well. There is a definite change in plane performance at higher altitudes. The atmospheric modeling goes up to 80,000 feet. As the pressure, temperature and humidity change, so will your aircraft's handling. Transonic and supersonic effects have been included also. You will experience wave drag, buffets and other hazards associated with sonic flight.
The problem is that the game is too authentic to attract the casual gamer. It's not flying the plane or monitoring all the various cockpit systems. Nope. That part is pretty easy. What kills me about this game is that there is no sliding difficulty scale. You can select unlimited ammo or invulnerability, but you can't adjust the flight or combat modeling. So basically, here's this great flight sim that you can only play on one difficulty level. While it's incredibly realistic, it may be more of a challenge that the non-flight-sim-nut is prepared to handle.
Even though I am not one of those nuts, I still enjoyed flying the F-16 around. Unfortunately, my combat skills are pretty sad. You just never even see anybody else in this game. All you do is shoot missiles at blips on your radar or squares on your HUD. For me, there's very little thrill in that. When it becomes too much to bear, I usually load up a mission to take down 16 unarmed air transports. It gives me a chance to use my cannon for something besides starting the foot race at the Founders' Day Picnic.
You do get five solid training missions to introduce you to the basics of the F-16. The first covers take-off and the last covers landing. If you can actually land this thing yourself, I'll be the first to congratulate you. I never could. You'll also learn how to follow waypoints, escort aircraft and use your weapon systems. I wish that the combat training had been a little more intensive. All you get to do is shoot a missile at another plane. Since ground targets are featured so prominently in this game, I thought some bombing practice would've been useful. Oh well, c'est l'aeronautique.
From the training mission, you can go to the instant action or campaign options. The four campaigns are set in Africa. You play the part of a pilot in the Aggressor Squadron. It's an elite mercenary force that does the dirty work of the Global Union of Democracies, or "GUD" if you can believe that. This group is sort of a UN for the 21st century. As in Strike Commander, you earn money for successfully completing your objectives. You can also lose money. Like, say, if you ditch over the ocean. But as a taxpayer, I feel perfectly comfortable wasting an expensive piece of military equipment.
There are four theaters of operations in F-16. None of them have any real practical distinction. They're all fairly flat and non-descript. About all that changes are the color palettes. You will fly in Morocco, Ethiopia, Madagascar and Kenya/Tanzania. There are a few natural features here as Lake Natron, the world's largest soda lake. Tal still ahsn't explained to me how you get a whole lake full of soda but I guess stranger things have happened. With very flexible cockpit views, you'll get a good chance to look around. Just make sure it doesn't distract you from your real purpose here.
You're here to down enemy planes, pure and simple. As you progress through the linear mission structure, you'll begin to understand that there is a larger narrative that strings the missions together. Whether or not the final payoff is worth the wait, I can't say. I preferred the single mission option. It doesn't give you total control over everything, but you can set a lot of the variables.
You can pick your theater, time and weather (cloudy or not, basically), as well as the number and type of enemy. There are also controls for invulnerability and unlimited weapons. It's too bad that you can't set the skill level of the pilots you're flying against. As I got a little better I just had to add more enemies. I would have preferred to see an increase in their quality instead.
There are 11 separate detail switches in the game. With all of the details turned off, the game still looked very good. Most of the shots here were taken at the lower levels. I was surprised. I was also surprised at how well the game moved with all the details maxed out. I played on a 333MHz machine with a Voodoo2 card and found the action to be very, very smooth. The different detail elements range from clouds to bilinear filtering.
For those of you who know that you love jet sims, F-16 is probably very satisfying. The missions are straightforward and the difficulty level is not adjustable so there's really not much room for flexibility. When that's added to my personal prejudice against jet games-i.e. they lack the immediacy of games like EAW or WWII Fighters-F-16 should come out pretty low in the rankings.
Despite that bias though, I still find myself liking the game. It feels real when you're flying. Forget about the three-axis thing, toss the six degree of freedom idea out the window. When it comes down to it, this game is believable. If a game can turn my desk into an 11-ton jet fighter, then that's good enough for me. I just wish I could've traded some of the realism for a little more entertainment.
People who downloaded F-16 Aggressor have also downloaded:
F-16 Multirole Fighter, F/A-18E Super Hornet, F-22 Total Air War, F-22 Lightning 3, F-16 Fighting Falcon (a.k.a. iF-16 Fighting Falcon), F/A-18 Korea, F-22 Raptor, Falcon 4.0
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