Pages: 1 2 3
Graphics: For a title using graphical technology created several years ago, JAS still looks as good as most of today’s flight simulators. The program supports resolutions from 640×480 up to 1600×1200 using 16-bit color, though most players, even on high end systems, will probably not want to crank the graphics very high due to serious frame rate problems when things get busy. Even my P4 1.4GHz system with a 128MB ATI Radeon 8500 began to really stutter as soon as more than four airplanes were on the screen at one time. Lowering the resolution to 800×600 and turning the details and draw distance down only seemed to marginally help. This is a real shame, since much of this game’s appeal comes from seeing the detailed airplanes and damage effects in action, and it’s no fun when frame jerkiness makes tracking planes a matter of guesswork. When the program does run smoothly, however, it makes good use of shading, lens flares, transparency, smoke, and flames. The 3D cockpits are nicely detailed, though not to the exceptional level of offerings like Microsoft Flight Simulator 2002. The satellite-mapped scenery looks authentic, though certain buildings look artificially inserted on the landscape when viewed from up-close. The menus have been designed with an effective cockpit-gauge and fuselage motif, and an appropriate battle green and gray color scheme is used throughout the game.
Interface: Jane’s Attack Squadron presents a decent interface plagued by some annoying external bugs. The program weighs in at around a hefty 1GB of data on your hard drive, though once installed, inserting the CD activates the autoplay feature, which causes the program to go through the install procedure every time. There are also problems surrounding the patch to this game, which I was obligated to install in order to test the multiplayer functionality. Once downloaded, the patch itself takes an extra 15 minutes to install, and once in place, prevents the uninstall shortcut in the Start menu from working properly. External elements aside, there is support for joysticks with force feedback, and players can adjust different elements such as engine rumble, gun recoil, and landing jolts. Different realism switches and sliders configured prior to flight, such as arcade physics, indicator toggles, and unlimited ammo, can make your experience arcadey, challenging, or anything in between. The program also boasts numerous camera angles and viewing flexibility, which it does well through keyboard and mouse combinations.
Once you’re in the air, understanding all the different controls can be difficult. Fortunately, the box includes a foldout keyboard chart explaining the different keys, though some of them don’t seem to function as printed. To make up for this, the developers included online PDF documentation that supercedes the printed material. It’s worth noting, however, that any of the keys can be remapped prior to flights on the keybinding screen. Once in the air, help is quite scarce, although during the training missions, pressing the mission-objective key brings up the mission instructions on top of everything else. While this is adequate, in an era where most flight simulators have interactive flight training, I was hoping for more. The rest of the layout is normal for a flight simulator, with much of the screen dedicated to the cockpit and viewport.
Gameplay: JAS has fairly decent gameplay, but it is offset by several instances of corner cutting or general incompletion. A physical example of this can be seen in the publisher’s choice of documentation. One of the first things fans of the Jane‘s series will notice is the lack of a substantial printed manual (formerly a staple of the series) out of the box. A 78-page manual does exist, though only in electronic form, thus saving the publishers the physical costs of printing. Parts of the game itself feel incomplete, evidenced by the title’s low number of training and single-player missions. Once you complete these missions, you probably won’t want to go back to them again, instead focusing on the linear campaign or dynamic quick missions. The quick missions offered the most variety and entertainment for me, though I would have liked more complexity to them. Such intricacy may be possible by tinkering with the mission editor that comes with the program, but its lack of any documentation coupled with a confusing, unfriendly interface makes it an impractical option. The campaign missions, while detailed and well researched, never really give you a sense of actual involvement like in other releases such as Combat Flight Simulator 2. They end up feeling just like the single missions, only in a more chronological order.
All told, the airplanes in JAS are much easier to fly than in a realistic simulation such as Warbirds III, and the damage model on the different aircraft make hits much more satisfying than usual. Unfortunately, the low number of missions and low sense of involvement makes gameplay repetitive and causes the novelty of flying to wear off. This may move players to the gunnery stations on bombers, which are fun to control at first, but become frustrating when you discover the inaccuracy of the guns and the low frame rate environments you end up using them in.
Multiplayer: Like many other flight simulators that support multiplayer, the focus of JAS seems to be on its LAN play instead of Internet competition. The program itself supports pairing up with local players, and relies on GameSpy Arcade to do any external player finding. Flying with others requires having the same version number, so I found myself required to download a 1.5 MB patch for JAS that took a surprisingly long time to install. Actual gameplay against four others across a DSL connection was unsatisfying, with numerous instances of lag causing general shooting and flying inaccuracy. The box claims to support up to 32 players at once, but I can only see this happening under the best LAN conditions, with extremely high-spec computers. The multiplayer component only includes a dogfighting scenario on a few terrain maps; apparently there wasn’t enough time to implement any sort of cooperative mission mode.
Sound FX: The one category JAS shines in is sound. The various sound effects you hear during missions are appropriate and of high quality. Bullets whiz past your cockpit and the scary “thunk” of shots ripping through metal are very convincing. Opening the cockpit prior to bailing out even fills your speakers with the sound of air rushing past at high speed, which I thought was a nice touch. I also felt that the voice acting was well done, with your wingmen speaking their native languages complete with accents and gusto as they shout phrases like, “Scratch one Jerry!” before screaming in agony as they get shot down. Overall, I found the sound really enhances the gameplay.
Musical Score: While music may not necessarily be a prerequisite to a successful combat flight simulator, its presence can be a nice way to add mood and atmosphere during game menus or during the action. Unfortunately, JAS‘s attempt at music becomes a repetitive exercise that lacks depth. The menu screens play two tracks of 1940s swing music, no doubt inspired by Ellington’s “Take the A-Train.” While appropriate in setting the wartime mood, the two tunes quickly grow repetitive without any way to be disabled without turning your speakers down. During the game itself, a rousing, heroic orchestral theme constantly plays, but due to its similar repetitive nature, will probably be disabled in the sound menu by most players.
Intelligence & Difficulty: I was unimpressed with the AI in JAS — I just didn’t feel that the enemy planes were especially tough opponents. Their tactics when chased one-on-one often amounted to going for altitude instead of attempting intelligent maneuvers such as barrel rolls, scissors, or hard breaks. I also noticed that when the enemy was on the offensive, they weren’t really that hard to shake off your tail. Similarly, your wingmen don’t really act with enough common sense during missions. I discovered that on bombing runs, the AI friendlies always drop their bombs whenever you suggest that they go after incoming enemy fighters, making certain missions more difficult than necessary as you are the only fighter left with heavy ordinance. As far as the missions themselves go, everything is scripted in a linear fashion, meaning that every unsuccessful mission, when reattempted, will lead to the same exact encounters every time. Difficulty-wise, there are three levels ranging from easy to hard, but the only thing the three levels seem to affect is the intensity of damage your plane can take from enemy fire, and the amount of punishment enemy planes can endure before going down.
Overall: While Jane’s Attack Squadron tries to carry itself on its graphics and the laurels of Jane’s name, it ultimately comes across as a buggy, incomplete offering. While the game’s flight mechanics and damage model provide some enjoyment, the few missions that ship with the program are uninvolving; and attempts to create your own scenarios with the program’s arcane mission editor require more effort than most gamers may be willing to invest. Additionally, the multiplayer portion is not up to the standards of most flight simulators on the market. Flight sim enthusiasts looking for the next great Jane’s title will likely be disappointed with this release, which gets off the ground, but once in the air, proves to be a bumpy ride.
Pages: 1 2 3