Flanker 2.5: Combat Flight Simulator is a jewel-case update to the ambitious original game from Flying Legends. In addition to including the update, which was available on publisher Ubi Soft's web site at one time, the game features a new 3D graphics engine using full texture-mapped terrain, a new sound system with shift and Doppler effects, and a new aircraft (Su-33). As part of this budget-conscious update, the game's manual is included on the CD.
The Su27 Flanker is one of the most advanced Russian aircraft in service today, and more than a match for most western aircraft. So you might assume that in order to successfully fly it in the game, you would need to know a bit about aerial combat, counter measures and all that malarkey, but fear not as the game comes with an extensive 200+ page manual that explains everything you will need to know. It even has the Russian alphabet listed in the back!
The manual is a real armchair pilots delight as it contains an interesting history of the development of the Flanker, as well as detailed information on the weapons that you are likely to encounter in the game. This can prove useful when you have enemy S-300PMU long range SAM batteries preparing to fire at you.
Can't be bothered to read the manual? Don't worry, the game contains an extensive set of training missions which teach you everything you need to know about being the worlds best armchair pilot. The training covers all aspects of the game from carrier landings to dog fighting and ground attacks. Thankfully the system is blissfully simple and shouldn't bore the average player by being too technical. The system operates with the instructor talking you through a maneuver as he does it. After you've had it explained to you, it is your turn to give it a try. The instructor will then give you constructive criticism on how to improve your technique. Once you have completed basic training you are ready to fly one of the worlds most advanced fighter jets on a proper mission...
The game's missions are laid out in a standard campaign style, but unlike most games of this type, the campaign changes and branches depending on the level of your success. In true tradition you must at least accomplish some of the goals set out for you in a mission, but should you fail to successfully bomb an enemy munitions plant, for example, you can expect to come under more anti aircraft fire in subsequent missions, which in turn makes the game harder.
Luckily it is possible to rectify the situation, as you may get a second chance to take it out, which would once again cause the game to branch. Thanks to this the game offers a fair degree of non-linearity, but as they say "all roads lead to Rome". You are fighting for the same outcome whatever you do along the way.
During the game you will pilot both variants of the Flanker, naval and airforce, which means that sometimes you will have take on a more multi-role style of mission, eliminating strategic ground targets and defending the skies from hostile incursions. Oh, and then land back on the carrier at the end of it all.
Thanks to some brilliant modeling and texture design, all of the aircraft, buildings and vehicles are wonderfully realistic and certainly help immerse you in the virtual world created in Flanker 2.5. It is possible to fly past tanks and SAM sites and identify the exact vehicle that is about to fire a deadly missile at you, which while is not all that terribly useful is a testament to the level of detail put into this game.
The landscape is also extremely well done, but this time the credit can't all go to the development team. Using recently de-classified Russian stereographic satellite photographs, the team has used these to accurately model the Russian landscape complete with rolling hills, dipping valleys and soaring mountains. Buildings are also realistically placed in the virtual world, once again based on their actual geographic location and design. With detail like that it's a good thing for the Russians that the Cold War is over...
The cockpit is accurately modeled on the real Flanker aircraft, and comes complete with instruments that are all displayed in Russian. Sensibly there is an option to have the cockpit HUD display in English, but strangely not all of the instruments follow this setting...
The final facet of the simulator is the sound, which hasn't been neglected either. Now whether or not the development team actually sampled the in-cockpit sound of a Flanker aircraft is up for debate, but it certainly sounds suitably noisy. If you close your eyes you can almost imagine sitting on a jet engine as it powers up. Almost... 3D positional audio has also been put to good use in to further enhance the experience, and certainly when you tear past an IL-96 (a large slow cargo plane) at Mach 1.2 it sounds impressive enough.
Flanker 2.5 is certainly an evolution on the previous game, sequels generally are, but it also helps improve the quality of the genre. Novalogic and DID have always seemed to lead the field with titles like F22 Lightning 3 and EF2000, but Flanker 2.5 deservedly sits up there with its more well known brethren.
That said it isn't the perfect game, and the attention to detail may reduce the appeal it has to the general game playing population. For those that care about flight sims it is definitely one to check out.
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