Long after the Socialist-Realist statuary has been dragged from the squares of Eastern European capitals to the scrap yard by frenzied mobs, the video game industry occasionally releases a title that hints at an almost obsessive attachment to the Cold War. JetFighter IV: Fortress America is a case in point.
It's 2012 and China, Russia, and North Korea have ironed out their differences and become model communists, teaming up to finally rid the world of the "red, white and blue" menace. Accordingly, they've attacked America's West Coast, commandeering decommissioned American airstrips and steadily advancing east. It's up to you, at the controls of a variety of heavily armed flying death machines, to stop them.
The plot unfolds through a series of missions with a similar pattern. Take off, follow a series of waypoints using your navigation computer, blow a few things to dust on your way, then fly back to base. The main focus is the fighting, evidenced by the words "Intense Aerial Combat" on the front panel of the box, and it's good fun. To mix it up with the various bandits you encounter, you have machine guns, sidewinder missiles and Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAM).
Enemy pilots are fairly intelligent and keep combat challenging. The targeting system will likely confuse players who don't have a lot of experience with flight simulators, but it becomes easier to use fairly quickly with practice. To destroy the various tanks, Humvees, tanker trucks, antennas, grounded planes and so forth that the eastern armies field in California, you're equipped with Maverick missiles as well as two types of unguided bombs plus regular guided bombs. A fancy aiming camera system known as LANTIRN offers a chance for pinpoint accuracy.
The main threats, other than enemy planes, are the SAM (Surface to Air Missile) sites that dot your path. You'll be targeted by heat seeking and radar guided missiles, which can be dealt with by deploying flares and chaff, respectively, or through maneuvering. Again, avoiding these dangers is not easy, and certainly adds excitement to the experience. All of it gels together fairly well, making for a generally fun game.
A potential irritant is the enormous distance encountered between targets and the airstrip where the mission begins. Obviously, in the real world, targets are not always conveniently located and require significant travel time. However, having to cover 70+ miles in a game before even getting to the fight can become tedious. Rather than building tension, these flights often lead you to switch to autopilot while you raid the refrigerator for a snack.
Visually, the game is very successful, but a lot of the terrain is uninhabited California mountains. When missions take you over or near cities, they look convincingly crowded and busy. The only visual disappointments are the explosions, especially those of the enemy planes, which look two-dimensional and silly. In general, JetFighter IV: Fortress America is a positive experience. Gameplay is complex enough to feel realistic, action-packed enough to be exciting, and easy enough to learn for players who are flight-challenged.
Graphics: Terrain and enemies look good, but the enemy plane explosions are weak.
Sound: The sound is good, but the explosions sound positively goofy.
Enjoyment: There is enough variation in the missions to keep the game interesting, with emphasis on aerial combat. Long distance travel to some battles is annoying.
Replay Value: Completing all missions will take a fairly long time. Replaying the same missions adds nothing new except a chance to improve performance.
People who downloaded Jetfighter 4: Fortress America have also downloaded:
JetFighter III Platinum, Jetfighter 3: Enhanced Campaign CD, JetFighter 2015, Jane's USAF, JetFighter: Full Burn, Jane's F/A-18, Jane's F-15, Jane's WWII Fighters
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