Jane's USAF is the latest in a long line of survey sims which began several years ago when Electrontic Arts released U.S. Navy Fighters. If you're unaware, a survey sim is a sim that models more than one plane. While several sims model just one plane in excruciating detail (Jane's F15 or Falcon 4.0 are good examples of this), a survey sim usually turns down the realism a touch in order to accomidate several flyable aircraft. Jane's USAF continues this trend by giving us eight United States aircraft to fly, and several mission and campaigns to fly them in. The eight aircraft included are the A-10 Thunderbolt II "Warthog", the F-105D/F Thunderchief, the F-117A Nighthawk, the F-15 C/D Eagle, the F-15E Eagle, the F-16 Fighting Falcon, the F-22 Raptor, the F-4E Phanton II, and finally, the Mig-29 Fulcrum, which is only available in multiplayer games. This selection of aircraft covers everything from the Vietnam-era of aircraft to today.
Installation of the game is quite painless, but the full installation does take up a hefty bit of hard drive space, coming in at around 1.3 gigabytes. There are smaller installation options, but these are usually met with frequent pauses while the game accesses information from the CD's. Once installed, you're treated to a nice opening video of various United States Air Force aircraft in action. This really helps put you into the mood of the game. The main menu you're greeted with after the video is very clean and easy to use, and every menu option and menu choice is available from everywhere else in the menu screens. This is a huge leap over the horrific Myst-like museum interface of Jane's WWII Fighters.
There are several ways to play the game, so let's hit them one by one. The first option is the "Fly Now" option, which is a huge button in the center of the main menu. This button simply plops you into any of the eight flyable aircraft modeled in the game in the middle of an air-to-air dogfight. This is nice for those who simple want to get up in the big blue and shoot stuff with little mess or fuss.
The second option is the Quick Mission option. This option is relatively unchanged from its predecessor in Jane's Fighters Anthology. You basically select several different options from drop-down boxes that will determine the overall type of flight you'll have, then a mission is generated based on those options. This is a nice feature if you wish to get in the air in a hurry, and gives one a lot of flexibility in the types of missions they can generate. These missions can also be saved for later use in the Single Mission section.
The next section of the game is the training session. Like Jane's Longbow and Jane's Longbow 2, these tutorial missions are fully voiced by an interactive instructor. These missions are a great way for novices and experts alike to get familiar with the game's controls. These missions can also help you become familiar with the different aircraft that the game includes. The missions cover topics like take offs and landings, weapon usage, low level flying, and so on.
The next section is the Single Mission section. The game includes eight single missions and more can be created with the "User Mission Creator." This comprehensive and easy to use mission builder and editor can create highly detailed and complex missions. These missions can be saved, used, and traded with other pilots. The editor, unfortunately, does not allow you to create a campaign, but you can create multiple single missions that can be flown in order for that campaign feeling.
The next section of the game is the Campaign section. The game includes four campaigns. Two are historical (Vietnam and Desert Storm), while one is futuristic, and one (set in Germany), is fictional. In the historical mission, any mission may be flown in any order. The other two campaigns follow a linear path in that one mission must be completed if the next one is to be flown. This is typical of Jane's, as only one of their products, Jane's Longbow II, has ever had a dynamic campaign. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, as canned missions can be quite fun if written well, and the missions in Jane's USAF are written quite well.
Finally, we come to multiplayer. This sim has some of the best multiplayer gaming this side of Novalogic. Utilizing Jane's CombatNet, this game allows for almost lag free gameplay over a paltry 56K modem for those of us without access to a LAN. There are several was to play multiplayer, including single missions, campaign missions, special multiplayer missions, the quick mission editor, or an all out war. These methods of play are a blast, and CombatNet makes it easy to find other players with its web-based interface.
"Enough with the gameplay modes!" you yell, "How does it fly?!" Well, let's just say this. If you're the type of sim flyer who KNOWS how much speed an F-16 bleeds off during a high-G turn, and demands that type of realism, then this sim is NOT for you. IF, however, you're looking for just a fun time without having to worry about twelve radar modes and what not, then this game might be for you. Since the sim models several planes rather than just one, the overall flight model is simplified and spread to each plane. While each plane do have differences in handling (an F-117A will be nowhere near as nimble as an F-16), there are subtle differences. Each plane also has a different cockpit, straying away from the transparent "one cockpit for every plane" view that Jane's Fighters Anthology enjoyed. While the full cockpits might be represented graphically, they are by no means represented to any amount of fine detail. Each cockpit, while looking different, pretty much does the same thing and displays the same information.
Graphically, this game is a beauty to behold. The developers, Pixel Multimedia (who also brought us Jane's Israeli Air Force) have improved upon the terrain and object graphics immensely since their last effort. In Jane's Israeli Air Force, the planes looked great, but the terrain had this horrible shivering effect that almost made people sick. In Jane's USAF, they have really cured this problem. Even with the details turned down on a low-end machine like mine, the terrain and object graphics looked great. My personal favorites were the new Thunderbird F-16's, which you can get as an add-on by going to the Jane's website. These planes look great, and really show off what one can do with the skins in this sim. Ground objects also look great, with finely detailed buildings and vehicles.
The game sounds pretty good too. The voice acting, from your wingmen to your instructor, is top notch. The sounds of combat, from guns to missiles, are also well done. This is one sim that will make you turn your stereo up.
Overall, if you don't mind, or even prefer, a light survey sim, then Jane's USAF is one of the best you can get. It doesn't have the sheer variety of flyable aircraft that Jane's Fighters Anthology has (over 100), but its graphics and other innovations make up for it. If you have any interest at all in the topic of modern jet combat, do yourself a favor and pick this up.
Graphics: While requiring a monster system to look their best, they look great on low end hardware too.
Sound: Well done voice acting and sound effects.
Enjoyment: This is one fun sim, with lots of variety and enjoyment.
Replay Value: A mission builder, multiplayer options, and randomly generated quick missions allow for a lot of replayability.
People who downloaded Jane's USAF have also downloaded:
Jane's Fighters Anthology, Jane's F/A-18, Jane's WWII Fighters, Jane's F-15, Jane's AH-64D Longbow Gold, ATF: Advanced Tactical Fighters, Jane's Combat Simulations: Attack Squadron, Longbow 2
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