Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Falcon 4.0: Allied Force Review

Falcon 4.0: Allied Force PC, developed by Lead Pursuit and published by Graphsim Entertainment.
The Good: Extreme accuracy and detail, outstanding graphics, interesting game modes, including team multiplayer and a dynamic campaign
The Not So Good: Bare tutorials with no in-game instructions make the game difficult to learn, only one flyable aircraft (with variants)
What say you? A complete flight simulation with a steep learning curve: 7/8

One of the most celebrated flight simulations of all time is Falcon 4.0. Released in 1998 by simulation giant Microprose (how I loved that company), it received rave reviews and a rabid cult following. Lead Pursuit has decided to offer an updated version of the game, released as Falcon 4.0: Allied Force. This new version features spiffy graphics and a new theater of operations (the Balkans, located next to Bartokomous). Since the simulation genre has been in a nosedive (see, ‘cause it’s a plane sim, ha!) recently, will Falcon 4.0: Allied Force provided a shot in the arm to a dilapidated genre?

Falcon 4.0: Allied Force features some outstanding graphics; they are easily on par with leviathan civilian flight simulation Microsoft’s Flight Simulator. The amount of detail on the planes and especially the ground textures and 3D buildings is quite realistic and satisfying. Flight simulators have always been one of the games to persuade gamers to invest in a new video card, and Falcon 4.0: Allied Force keeps that tradition going. Happily, the game seems to run fine on semi-outdated hardware (at least much smoother than FS2004 at essentially the same settings). Falcon 4.0: Allied Force provides a realistic environment for you to blow things up in. The sound effects are realistic, which, being a military flight simulation, isn’t that exciting. The realistic warning noises and other functioning audio systems on the plane are in full force, as are the engine noises and explosions. You wouldn’t expect a gallery of audio delight in a flight simulation, and Falcon 4.0: Allied Force certainly doesn’t overwhelm, but the sounds are certainly sufficient.

Falcon 4.0: Allied Force features a slew of different flight modes, appealing to those wanting a full campaign or a short jaunt of engaging and (hopefully) destroying targets. All of the missions are flown using the F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft, which is certainly not surprising given the name of the game. Instant Action spawns your aircraft already in flight and pits you against ground and air aircraft looking for a fight. In Dogfight, you can play against the AI or people over the Internet (no in-game matchmaking service, though) in a head-to-head team-based match of wits; it’s a neat addition to see team play in a flight simulation. You can design your own scenarios, or engage in the Campaign that can take place in either the Balkans or Korea. The campaign is dynamic and in real-time, so missions follow the progress of the war, and are offered to you as they become available. You can even customize the kinds of missions and targets you’d like to engage, which gives the user even more control. You can also play the campaign mode in multiplayer. Bonus! Falcon 4.0: Allied Force’s campaign mode is everything other games should strive for. After you are done flying a mission, you can see how poorly you did by using the replay suite, codenamed ACMI.

There is also a full list of tutorials in the game, thirty to be exact. The training missions are by far the low point of the game. Each scenario gives you vague objectives to complete while you are flying around, shown using waypoints. Once you enter your aircraft, there are no additional instructions at all: all of the tutorials are essentially sandbox modes with some preset conditions. You will often forget which tutorial you are doing, and you won’t actually learn anything from them, as all the information must be read from the manual. It is very hard to read and fly at the same time: I know! Falcon 4.0: Allied Force really, really needs some good, scripted tutorials with on-screen instructions. Learning to fly a F-16 is hard, and not tutoring the player in the game is a bad move.

Since the game only features one flyable aircraft (all right, there are three versions of the F-16, but that’s cheating), you would expect the plane to be extremely detailed, and it is. All of the buttons, levers, and other things you can accidentally press (“We need that to live”) are present, I am assuming, since I have never been in a F-16. Since there are so many different things to fiddle with, but the layout of the game is done with usability in mind: by clicking near the edge of the screen (or by holding down the right mouse button and moving the mouse), you can snap to the next screen; once you learn where all of the displays are located, moving between them is a snap. Most of the time, you’ll be engaging other, slightly more evil air targets. Falcon 4.0: Allied Force features both simplified and realistic radar modes in which to find your targets. Simplified radar gives a 360 view around the aircraft, and automatically detects which planes are friendly and not-so-friendly. Once you find a target, you can blow them up using one of the many missiles in the game: AIM-120 AMRAAM and AIM-9 Sidewinder (those names bring back the days of F-15 Strike Eagle III). Of course, sometimes, interesting things are located on the ground, so you may enjoy…

Falcon 4.0: Allied Force has some air to ground radar as well, where you can detect moving and stationary objects, and drop some bombs. There are two flavors of air to ground weapons: free-fall bombs such as the MK-82 and MK-84, which are guided using CCIP or CCRP, and fire-and-forget bombs like the AGM-65 Maverick, which is bad news for enemy tanks. You can’t blow stuff up if you’re dead, so it’s important…

You are given options to disrupt your enemy’s futile attempts at destroying you. First, HARM missiles can home in and destroy enemy radar stations (which tends to make them stop tracking you). Also, RWR (Radar Warning Receiver) informs you of incoming radar transmissions so you can take evasive actions. All of these systems makes the game highly realistic, which makes Falcon 4.0: Allied Force difficult but rewarding. Tied with all of the instrumentation is an accurate flight model (at least when compared with other flight sims) that gives expected feedback to user input.

Falcon 4.0: Allied Force is a very impressive game. The game has outstanding graphics, several multiplayer modes, a dynamic campaign, accurate flight modeling, and an overall realistic feel. And it’s only $30! Double bonus! This is definitely one of the best flight simulators I have played in quite a while. If it weren’t for the barebones training missions and consequent steep learning curve, I’d find no reason not to give this game a perfect score. If you are interested at all in military flight simulators, don’t hesitate to pick this game up.