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Review by: Emil Pagliarulo
Published: March 3, 1998
The Night. Cold, dark…unforgiving. My heart is a perfect mirror of my surroundings, as the Eurofighter rockets above the Ukrainian forest (yet under the veil of radar) toward a munitions depot that will soon cease to exist. So far, it’s been one smooth ride; even my mid-air refueling was a breeze. But I know the worst is yet to come. Engaging and destroying my target is the easy part. Hey, they don’t call ‘em “smart bombs” for nothing. The problem is getting out in one piece after I deliver my payload. Without the advantage of stealth, I might as well just fly in there with “Shoot me” painted on my fuselage. But I can’t think of that. I must concentrate solely on the mission at hand — because if that depot’s not destroyed, those weapons will be used, possibly on my own friends, and that’s just not an option I’m willing to accept….
Several years ago, this very scene did in fact take place. The high tech piece of hardware in question was not a Eurofighter, though; it was a 486 computer. The game was Ocean’s nearly forgotten TFX, and the scenario described was the most memorable gaming experience I’ve ever had with a flight simulator. I remember sitting there for hours, gliding silently through the night on my way to the mission objective. Halfway there, I had to hook up in flight with a tanker and refuel, just so I’d be able to make it to my destination. I was alone, without a wingman, just one man and his plane on the way to destiny. The excitement and tension I felt were beyond adequate description. Suffice it to say I destroyed the depot, made it home, and even managed to land at my base in the middle of a torrential downpour, palms sweating the entire way.
Since that time, Ocean and DID have continued to produce some of the best flight sims gamers have ever seen. TFX just got bigger and better with EF2000, and the advent of 3Dfx graphics meant unparalleled graphical realism to equal the totally immersive gameplay. Now, the team that caused my heart to stop those many years ago is at it again, this time giving gamers their version of the much hyped F-22. F-22 Air Dominance Fighter is a military flight sim in the classic DID tradition: loaded with options, realism, graphics…everything a fan of the developer has come to expect. In retrospect, one has to smile when thinking about the events of 1997, and the feud between NovaLogic and Interactive Magic over the use of the F-22 name. While others were bickering, negotiating, and otherwise deliberating, DID was busy making a computer game. And it shows.
More than just a military flight sim, F-22 Air Dominance Fighter is a unique hybrid, offering for the first time the ability to control the action not only from the cockpit of a warplane, but from the console of an AWACS reconnaissance aircraft. While it may sound a bit “gimmicky,” this aspect of the game is actually just as intense as flying the missions themselves. For lack of a better analogy, directing a battle from the comfort and relative safety of the AWACS is sort of like playing a naval sim, like USS Ticonderoga. Although the whole experience is a bit detached — moving icons and symbolic representations of aircraft — the consequences are no less serious.
Also unique to F-22 Air Dominance Fighter is the Air Combat Maneuvering Instrumentation, or ACMI. More than just a screening room which allows the player to view tapes of recorded missions, the ACMI is a complete computer in itself. Here, pilots can analyze data gathered from their planes while in combat, viewing the action from several different perspectives, including cockpit and satellite views. Vectoring information provides the player with invaluable post-mission information on enemy weapons launches, the path of your aircraft, and just about everything else. ACMI was reportedly included in the game simply because players demanded it, and for good reason: Getting familiar with the system can greatly increase your effectiveness, and could quite possibly be the difference between victory or a fiery death during your next sortie.
Things only get better when you actually jump into the cockpit. There are three campaigns in F-22 Air Dominance Fighter, the Red Sea Tour, Eritrea Tour, and Saudi Arabia Tour, as well an instant action option and several single and training missions. The sorties you’ll fly are as varied as they come, from seemingly uneventful combat air patrols (CAPs) to all out urban assaults and escort missions (one of my personal favorites is “Bill’s Limo”). Unfortunately, there is no mission editor, a feature that is very sorely missed. After all, the game’s got 2.5 million square feet of accurately detailed terrain, and the ability to turn this into a personal playground would have been fantastic.
I was expecting a lot from F-22 Air Dominance Fighter, and the game didn’t disappoint. Though not perfect, it is an incredibly solid military flight sim, and manages to succeed where so many other recent games in the genre have failed. By combining plenty of options, 3Dfx graphics, a believable flight model, and gameplay that is complex yet fun, the developers at DID have completed yet another successful mission.
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