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Review by: Chris Harding
Published: June 30, 2000
The flight simulator is an old and hallowed genre, one that’s been with industry from the very beginning. From the early days of Andy Hollis’ Strike Eagle to the more recent offerings from the likes of Paul Grace, realism has always been at the core of what critics consider great flight simulations. The competition between products has always been highly competitive, and time has proven that even titles loaded with realism, be that its only feature, will not be successful. Several things are crucial to a game’s success, such as accurate flight modeling, fantastic weapon effects, realistic-looking terrain, smart enemies and even engaging storylines. However, much like the action genre, nearly just as important is name recognition: the developer, their reputation and track record often become the discriminating factor when sim pilots go to make their purchasing decision. British developer Digital Integration has one of the best reputations for developing realistic and fun flight simulators.
Their name, however, is not as easily recognized as some others, such as Jane’s, but with the addition of an awesome license, their latest offering, Super Hornet F/A-18E, Digital Integration may have set themselves up for greatness. The license is that of the US Navy and Super Hornet F/A-18E is their official recruiting simulator. Digital Integration is banking heavily on this license to attract new gamers to their product and turn them on to their unique style of combat flight. In turn, the US Navy is hoping to swell its ranks, and together the partnership seems as powerful as the USS Enterprise. Turning their attention away from movies such as Top Gun and Iron Eagle, the US Navy is hoping to attract new recruits by way of computer gaming. Attempting to bring the real-life training simulator that prospective pilots use in military service to gaming audiences was enough to pique my interest, and it will no doubt catch the eye of many who dream of one day flying for the red, white and blue.
Super Hornet begins with an awesome intro that you’d have to see to appreciate. Russian forces are the enemy and it’s up to four F/A-18E Hornets to save the day. The in-game cinematics do an excellent job of showing off the life of a US Navy pilot, and bring back memories of some of the best dogfighting scenes shown in movies such as Top Gun. The accompanying action, acting, and music build the pride of the fighter pilots which is just what the Navy and DID was looking for. The high quality cinematics are packed with stereotypical flight-jock material that’s sure to please those looking for a fast-paced, high-flying, adrenaline-filled experience.
Players have a variety of gameplay preferences and options to choose from when starting Super Hornet F/A-18E, the most interesting of these being the number of difficulty levels included — twelve! Players with varying levels of experience will all find the product capable of providing just the right amount of challenge. Modes of play include training, combat, and quick start missions. If you choose training you’ll learn the basics of flying the F/A 18-E, takeoffs and landings on both airfields and aircraft carriers. In addition, you’ll take off and land in all types of weather and at any time of the day or night. Lessons in navigation, night flying, and formation flying are also taught. By the time you’ve completed training you should be prepared to fly a quick start or combat mission. Training is key to not only your success but your overall enjoyment. All things considered it’s a pretty good training module, and the scenarios within it are interesting enough that even experienced sim jockeys won’t become bored with the material.
While training you’ll learn to use the Super Hornet’s cockpit interface. The interface is displayed on screen as expected but almost all the buttons and switches are hot, meaning they can be manipulated by using the mouse. This feature, while not unique, is special in that the use of HUD buttons is crucial to successful operation of the aircraft. Super Hornet can be played with a mouse and keyboard, though hardcore fans will surely want to employ the use of a joystick and throttle combination to handle the intense interface. Even with a complete setup that includes configurable controls, managing all of the functions within the cockpit will require use of the mouse or equivalent hotkeys. My advice is to memorize the hotkeys as in the midst of battle you will have a difficult time using your mouse to select options while shooting down the enemies. This was somewhat cumbersome to learn and I found myself doing a little more keyboard management than I’d like.
The quick start missions give you a chance to put your training to good use in air-to-air or air-to-ground combat. The missions take place in the areas surrounding the Indian Ocean or Barents Sea while combating Russian forces. The combat scenarios give players two separate arenas for flight and battle. There are air-to-air, air-to-ground, anti-shipping and recon missions, as well as strategic attack and defensive missions. The odd thing about all these choices is they are standalone. None of the missions in Barents Sea are tied to any of the other missions and they can be played in any order; the same is true of the combat in the Indian Ocean. The combat missions are separated into two arenas, making it look like they were intended to be distinct campaigns. The missions in the Indian Ocean may all share the same physical landscape but since they aren’t connected, there is no campaign. I found this option quite disappointing overall, as I’ve become accustomed to the dynamics of most other modern flight combat simulations.
Even without campaigns, Super Hornet F/A-18E manages to bring something new and exciting to the genre. The detail displayed in the aircraft carrier takeoffs and landings is remarkable. Not only do you hear the crew’s instructions but you see them directing you with hand signals and flashlights. These crew members are integral to your success and the game has built in what happens if a crew member is hit by a plane: The mission is a failure and it is aborted. In addition, you hear the screams of the pilot as he is run over or sucked into an engine. In watching the crewman in front of me, I noticed that as soon as he gave me clearance to take off he quickly ran away. The downside to these takeoffs and their level of detail is that always being the last to take off in the group, the waiting tends to get monotonous. The addition of crewmen aboard the aircraft carrier to direct your movements is very cool, but in the end isn’t really an option you buy a game for.
Super Hornet possesses all of the feature sets necessary for flight operations, but none of them are memorable and surely won’t excite players familiar with more stimulating products such as Jane’s F-18. For example, the flight model in Super Hornet is generally good, though not as tight as I have come to expect from a DID product. In terms of things like weapons’ modeling, I found the simulation consistent with other products of the same type, but there were issues with the over-effectiveness of the air-to-air missiles. And lastly, possibly the most disappointing aspect are the visuals. Bland and nearly devoid of anything colorful, Super Hornet’s graphics are not as crisp as other products on the market. From the aircraft models to the terrain below, a lot of blocky and unrefined designs will leave players feeling cheated. So while the interface and cockpit design may be ultra-realistic, and the inclusion of personnel directing movement aboard carriers is a first, most of what Super Hornet offers is mediocre. It fails to inspire its players into military service, making Super Hornet‘s gameplay feel a lot more like a job than an adventure.
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