You've seen them in the news, in the skies over the world's hotspots, and in the movies. You've heard about laser-guided precision bombing, GPS-guided cruise missiles, and the power of the modern-day aircraft battle group. But, what is it really like to be part of a carrier wing and fly an F/A-18E? In F/A-18 Simulator, you now have a chance to come as close to the real thing as possible without investing six years in flight school.
The design team has done a remarkable job simulating naval combat ops, replicating the procedures used in the real world, and simulating the flight model and characteristics of the aircraft. The clear goal is to give armchair fighter jockeys a taste of what its like to fly as part of a US Navy squadron rather than as the lone hotshot pilot who can take out entire enemy squadrons on his own and then bomb the impregnable enemy base into oblivion.
You must learn to coordinate your wingmen and follow mission parameters by using the F/A-18E's systems without relying on any targeting and communications shortcuts you might find in more casual simulations. F/A-18 Simulator is intended for gamers who want an experience as close as possible to the real thing, not necessarily those looking for a "fun" flying program.
Before you can find your way to a target without crashing or getting shot to pieces, you need to spend a couple of days just getting familiar with the basic systems. The multi-mode displays and HUD are standard (to US planes) and should be no problem for anyone with some flight sim experience, but the sheer amount of information will take some time to digest for anyone other than a veteran. Mastering what all the displays mean is the easy part, but you also have to learn how to actually operate the extremely complex radar and targeting systems prior to any hope of carrying out successful missions.
The radar is basically an exact duplicate of the APG-73 radar used in the F/A-18; you must learn how to read it, and adjust its settings so you can lock onto or identify a target. The operation of the radar is so complex there is even a standalone simulation of it at home1.stofanet.dk/baskat/mainpage.html which will help if you have trouble understanding its proprietary methodology.
After becoming familiar with the F/A-18E's numerous systems, you need to learn communication and flight procedures in order to perform missions, or, just as importantly, get back safely and land on your carrier. The learning curve is huge, as there's a great deal of info to absorb, and the game manual offers only brief explanations. Even worse, the training missions aren't much help and don't offer practice runs of all of the procedures. Most non-veteran fliers will wonder what many of the terms mean, what all the chatter is on the radio, and even what they're supposed to be doing at any given time.
As an example, if you want to find the position of an object by contacting the AWACS plane via your radio, you'll receive a coded reply in navy-speak. Unless you've been in the military or played hours of flight simulations in the past, chances are you won't know what "angels" are, or, even if you've got a "tally." It's likely that Jane's Combat Simulations will put off quite a few gamers of this otherwise excellent sim by not including critical data.
With all the importance placed on communications and radar, one would expect either more information or shortcuts would be available. Unfortunately, the only alternative is to activate the option to have all objects labeled to help recognize their placements, which ruins the simulation since the labels give away the position of every single object, regardless of distance and whether or not it's been detected by radar. With the labels turned on, gameplay becomes very predictable. The only viable choice, if you want to experience this sim the way it was intended to be played, is to learn all the systems and procedures. But, then, no one ever claimed flying an F/A-18E would be easy.
The complexity and realism of the simulation is a testament to the hard work expended by the designers. F/A-18 Simulator is certainly not something the casual gamer will want to try, but for hardcore flight sim enthusiasts, it should be considered a must-have.
Graphics: The engine features some great volumetric cloud and fire effects and ground detail textures for low altitude flight. Terrain is dynamically lit, with different weather conditions and time of day simulated. Object textures and details are a bit bland and blocky in places, but acceptable overall. There seems to be no model LOD (level of detail), so the engine slows to a crawl when there are many objects on screen. A fast processor and a capable graphics card is a must to achieve steady framerates.
Sound: Radio chatter is one of the highlights, as you hear a steady stream of communications coming from wingmen, towers, AWACS planes, foreign NATO fliers, and occasional Russian ally pilots. The verbalization greatly enhances the atmosphere and realism, and makes you feel as if you're part of a large naval operation. Communication plays an integral part in the sim since you actually use the radio to command wingmen and coordinate with your base and other allied units, as well as receive mission information in real time.
Enjoyment: The simulation is either a love or hate affair. Gamers seeking unrelenting realism who can cope with an extremely steep learning curve will flourish. Others, including many casual flight sim fans, will probably find the required time investment a bit daunting. Enjoyment comes from the satisfaction of doing things the way they're done in the real world, facing challenges and limitations real pilots encounter. When you get a kill, or hit the target with a guided bomb, you'll appreciate the success since you used the F/A-18E's systems properly, not because the AI picked the target for you.
Replay Value: The sim will keep even the most skilled pilot busy for months. Dozens of missions and add-ons are available on the Internet, in addition to the built-in large campaign. Missions and campaigns are scripted, but random elements change them somewhat each time you play. What your wingmen and allies do affects your role in the mission. Changing weapon loadouts and wingmen, altering target assignments, choosing day or night flying, and selecting guided or unguided weapons add extra challenges. An "instant action" mission generator allows you to set various parameters and the type of combat desired.
People who downloaded Jane's F/A-18 have also downloaded:
Jane's F-15, Jane's USAF, Jane's Fighters Anthology, Jane's AH-64D Longbow Gold, Jane's WWII Fighters, F/A-18E Super Hornet, Longbow 2, F/A-18 Operation Desert Storm
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