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Written by: Chris Harding
Published: November 30, 1999
Jane’s USAF is the broadest appealing and one of the simulation giant’s most ambitious efforts to date. It allows pilots to choose from a variety of planes, including the F-105, F-4 Phantom, A-10, F-117, F-15 and F-16. Designed to be an all-purpose flight combat experience for the average to hardcore user, USAF comes equipped with four separate campaigns, including two historical-based efforts–Vietnam and Desert Storm–and a couple of futuristic campaigns. There are a ton of features and plenty of gameplay in this product, and while things are also a bit more watered down than in titles like Flanker 2.0, the sheer number of options and different planes fill the gap fairly well. One of the best qualities of the future campaigns is the inclusion of semi-dynamic gameplay, in which you only have access to a new mission after you complete the previous one. In stark contrast, all the missions in Vietnam and Desert Storm are accessible at any time and in any order, but to win the campaign, you must still complete each of its missions. By far the nicest feature of USAF is the multitude of planes you’re able to fly. Available in certain campaigns and any single- or user-created mission, each of the eight fighters is very distinctive in both look, feel and capabilities. The heart of USAF’s action are the planes and how each contributes to the overall experience.
The A-10 Thunderbolt II, for example, also known as the “Warthog,” was destined to be its own product built by Jane’s, but was cancelled earlier this year under hush-hush pretences. Built by Fairchild Republic, the A-10 is used primarily in the Desert Storm and futuristic campaigns. I was very happy to see Jane’s include this plane, as this is the closest you’ll come to actually flying an A-10 in a computer game. Gaining an understanding of each plane and how it is modeled is an especially fun aspect of USAF, and while the flight models are not as realistic as they could have been, the tradeoffs are beneficial enough to make this a worthwhile simulation.
1998 saw the explosion of the F-22A Raptor simulation, and USAF would not have been complete without offering its own opportunity to fly the new fighter jet. This is a tactical fighter for the next generation and is being built in cooperation by Lockheed Martin and Boeing, and while Jane’s efforts to simulate the F-22 are about as good as any sim on the market, in reality there is little known about how this plane actually flies. Therefore, any critique of its flight model would be pure speculation. What I can say is that the overall control of the aircraft feels too sensitive and sometimes borders on loose, making this one of the game’s least enjoyable planes to fly. This is a prime example of the inherent flaws that come with building an all-purpose simulation.
Some corners have been cut, such as using the same cockpit instrumentation for similar planes, but if you’re not an expert on these jets, you’ll never notice the difference. It’s arguable that the centerpiece of the product are its two historical single-player campaigns, but I felt that USAF’s futuristic campaigns were better developed and had a stronger mission sequence. The variety of missions are superb in each futuristic campaign, and the graphics are more defined than the muddy and somewhat blocky effects seen in Vietnam. While the available number of aircraft to choose from in the Vietnam campaign is limited to planes of the times, there is still a lot of variety making Vietnam a fun place to visit.
I’ve been trying to master the controls over what I feel should have been the biggest draw to this sim–the ability to fly the F117A Nighthawk, more commonly known as the “Stealth Bomber.” Sadly, soon after the mystique of flying the world’s most sophisticated bomber wore off, I was bored with piloting the F117A. There’s not a lot to do with this aircraft, and once you’ve completed a few bombing runs, you’ve seen all there is to USAF’s modeling of the F117A.
It is in the multiplayer arena this title really shines through. Out of the box, USAF is ready to fly over the Internet using Jane’s powerful and easy-to-use Janes Combat.net. You can fly in one-on-one scenarios cooperatively or with up to eight people, mixing the planes each team member can fly, such as the F-15E Strike Eagle and the F-16C Falcon. This same wealth of features is also available in head-to-head dogfighting–the options are literally endless. Including the F-16C and F-15 into USAF is a move destined to draw comparisons between it and Falcon 4.0 and Jane’s 15, respectively. Make no mistake; there is no comparison in either case, especially when it comes down to the flight modeling of each plane. As you would expect from an all-purpose simulation, the level of detail offered in USAF for the F-15 is not quite on par with Jane’s earlier F-15 product. While USAF simulates all the capabilities of each plane, including launching bombs, air-to-surface missiles and a multitude of different air-to-air missiles, there simply isn’t enough depth to compare the two. But the variance between the two styles of simulations is very fine in my eyes, and not something I feel dramatically detracts from USAF’s objectives.
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