Xicat delivers this title in the name and spirit of one of the definitive series of PC flight combat sims. The game offers 14 flyable aircraft and a variety of other land, sea, and air vehicles. Features like the fully three-dimensional cockpits and realistic localized damage effects bolster the authenticity of Jane's Attack Squadron. Virtual pilots head to the wild blue yonder for patrols, intercept missions, and bombing runs that take place over a million square miles of satellite-accurate terrain.
It's hard to say whether sim fans should be happy that yet another sim title made it alive to market, or if they should be upset that it's not quite what they expected. Jane's Attack Squadron originally looked to be a part of Electronic Arts' respected Jane's Combat Simulations line, but with EA deciding that the only sim the company really wanted was The Sims, the proud brand had its wings shot off. After two years and much negotiation, members from the original development team continued the title's development in a new company, Mad Doc, and with a new publisher, Xicat Interactive.
Gamers will quickly realize this rebirth of the Jane's Combat Simulations name is a different beast than the one they knew. Gone are the thorough manuals, the exacting realism, and the completeness characterizing many prior Jane's releases. There are manuals in digital format installed with the game, but they're not to the standards of the professional printed manuals of earlier Jane's releases. The manual covers game operation reasonably well, though there are some discrepancies in the keyboard command charts, and little of the history and background data that made the other Jane's manuals great reads. The relaxed flight models make it tough to keep pilots honest. Stalls and spins are mild, and defensive guns on large bombers seem too lethal. Landings, on the other hand, can sometimes be too unforgiving. Players happy with the realism of Il-2 Sturmovik will be disappointed.
There are also a few stability issues. I encountered occasional crashes during single-player games, and also in a multiplayer game when I tried to use a bomber. The visuals in the sim are presentable, but clearly a step down from the latest sims, something you might expect of a title two years overdue. Depicting a gaggle of heavy bombers keeping formation while contrails stream behind them and flak bursts fill the sky is a feat Attack Squadron does well, though the flak never seemed to affect the bombers. Other quirks of the graphic engine's age show up in the virtual cockpit dashboards (which aren't as functional or readable as newer sim equivalents), and the low-level terrain graphics, problems Il-2 Sturmovik and Microsoft Flight Simulator 2002 have made strides toward improving.
Attack Squadron tries to focus on the strike role in WWII, rather than solely on the dogfighting as many sims do. Il-2 Sturmovik does a great job with the air-to-ground aspect, but strategic bombers like the B-24 Liberator and the Avro Lancaster are interesting airplanes you don't see in most sims. Even when Attack Squadron includes fighters it recognizes their air-to-ground roles.
Still, it's obvious Xicat isn't the same publisher with the same resources that Electronic Arts is, and the barrage of short cuts doesn't end with the flight model or documentation. EA's Jane's titles spoiled gamers with excellent mission suites, including interactive tutorials, interesting single-mission challenges and campaigns, and good multiplayer support. The tutorials in Attack Squadron are not interactive, there are only five single missions, and multiplayer lacks the cooperative bomber crewing mode mentioned in the manual -- it's currently deathmatch only.
The title does do a good job with its options. There are numerous realism settings, and though the flight model is light, there appears to be the foundation for a robust damage model. The flight model undercuts it by sometimes allowing damaged planes to keep flying perfectly, but the sim supports location specific hits, and planes can lose entire parts such as a tail section or ball turret. There are also several optional combat aids, such as icons to identify aircraft, lead indicators to assist in gunnery, and pop-up magnification windows to identify targets. All of this is bogus to die-hard simmers, but casual and moderate players may appreciate some of this help. Realism mongers should find the nice selection of snap views, smoothly scrolling virtual cockpits and gun stations, and padlock views adequately implemented.
Attack Squadron is not a total loss. And it could get appreciably better, given the foundation, and the included tools. An included editor gives users the ability to modify the simulation's physics and create missions. Extensibility gave sims like European Air War, Falcon 4.0, and Fighter Squadron: Screaming Demons over Europe new life, and the potential exists for the same to happen with Attack Squadron. It'll take some work though, as cut corners again come back to haunt the title.
People who downloaded Jane's Combat Simulations: Attack Squadron have also downloaded:
Jane's WWII Fighters, Jane's USAF, Jane's Fighters Anthology, Jane's AH-64D Longbow Gold, Jane's F/A-18, Jane's F-15, Microsoft Combat Flight Simulator 2: WWII Pacific Theater, Combat Flight Simulator 3: Battle for Europe
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