F-16 Fighting Falcon
|a game by||Digital Integration Ltd.|
|Rate this game:|
All The Above Is True, The Asian Aerospace Show in Singapore was the place. I also got the chance to stand W? under the wing of a B2, mess around in the cargo hold of a Chinook helicopter and get terrible sunburn while gazing at the aerobatics. I've always had a soft spot for the F16 though. I used to prefer the Tomcat (because of Tom Cruise) but when the Falcon was first introduced to the world I was in love. Consequently, F16 simulations have always been a high priority with me, especially when they promise to be as good as this. As I have quite the pedigree in this field, I've been looking forward to this for ages. And as with most major flight sims, there's only one question that the majority of us want answered...
How real is it?
How would I know? You think I fly F16s in my spare time or something? My total real-life flying experience is limited to fastening my seat belt, deciding between the chicken or the salmon for lunch and failing to chat up stewardesses. I once saw the cockpit of a 747 but it was while on a school trip to Spain and the pilot very selfishly failei to get food poisoning and ask me to land the plane and save all the passengers.
You see, the horrible truth is that it doesn't really matter. What is important is how well a flight sim actually plays. I've flown a lot of simulated aircraft in my time and seen a lot of games (which, let's face it is all they are) that really go to town trying to get all of the dynamics as accurate as they possibly can. only to then forget that the average punter is going to be about as knowledgeable about aircraft dynamics as they are about what it's really like to battle demons from a parallel dimension.
F16 Fighting Falcon is another member of the 200 pages club. I mean, let's face facts. It's from Digital Integration. When did you last hear of them not being a heavyweight design team? The key thing is that, as with Apache, they've managed to balance it with a game that really absorbs you the more you play it. This is mainly down to the fact that they don't just simulate your plane and the components of your mission, but while you're flying from waypoint to waypoint, there's a whole world going on outside your Plexiglas cockpit. Troops march from one engagement to another, trucks travel dusty roads bringing supplies in and out. It all feels really good and that's what counts. Not just the thrust-to-lift ratios.
Patching it up
I've always been a big fan of the hi-res polygon over the clunky texture-map. Bitmaps are okay on anything over a P200 with 64Mb of RAM and more 3D accelerator cards than a 3D accelerator card shop, but with anything smaller, as soon as you get closer than a couple of miles to an object you're almost guaranteed to enter Jerkyville, where everything looks like it's buried beneath a patchwork quilt. F16 adheres firmly to the impressive standards set by Hind and Apache and then improves on them. Most of the vehicles, weapons and so on are very detailed indeed and only have minute levels of texture-mapping where it's absolutely necessary. On the whole this looks very nice indeed. It keeps the frame rate up, even on less powerful machines (Dl claim that with some of the graphics levels turned down F16 will run fine on a 486DX2 - although I haven't been able to test this yet).
Where it flutters slightly is with the landscape. In order to give the impression of speed at low altitudes you need to be able to see something moving on the ground to give you a sense of. urn, ratio (my physics is starting to fail me here, so forgive me if I get some of the terminology wrong). Unfortunately this seems to have been delivered by covering the ground in, you guessed it, a patchwork quilt. While it does give you a sense of speed, it also makes everything look pretty messy at low levels. The buildings and vehicles are all fine. Better than fine, in fact. But the terrain is a bit of a let down, that's all. A-10 Cuba seemed to get away without resorting to Quilt Graphics'" and looked all the better for it It doesn't affect the impressive gamcplay in any way. but I thought it worth mentioning. Chances are you won't care one way or the other, but there you go.
I have a dream...
Many years ago. long before my soul had been tarnished by the godless practices of this games industry, I had a dream. It involved the Battersea Power Station, a raft of networked computers, the latest in military simulation software and a large staff. It was going to be a sort of simulated warzone holiday camp. People would book in for a week, sign up for either the army or air force, spend a day in basic training and then fight a co-ordinated campaign over the next six days. Everything would be linked, helicopter pilots would support tank commanders in the field while fighter pilots battled for air supremacy. Even the outside grounds would be used by foot soldiers in giant paintball games, everything all linked to the central computers. It would be a bit like Westworld but without a psychotic Yul Bryner robot killing off all the punters. Of course, I was 14 and had about $32.50 to my name so nothing ever came of it.
The reason I mention it though is because of DTs Virtual Battlefield (VB) system. With their Hind and Apache games, players could network their machines together and play against each other. F16 is also networkable (up to 16 players competing in deathmatches and capture the flags, or working together) but you can't link into the VB and fly around in human-controlled helicopters. Dl claim they tried to implement the idea but couldn't get the gameplay to work adequately enough. Understandable from one point of view I suppose. A helicopter probably has about as much chance against an F16 as Prince Naseem does against me (he's a wimp, apparently). However, I'd would've liked the chance. I get the feeling that co-operative games would've worked pretty well, the Apaches flying in to clear away enemy air defences before the F16s swoop in and bomb the hell out of the area and so on. But it's not to be. A shame, but it's nothing to really get worked up about. The proof of this particular pudding is when you're in the cockpit, and it has to be said that the AI of the enemy pilots, gunners and other troops is good enough to give you a real challenge. Networking is an optional extra. Nice to have, but hardly essential.
So all in all...
F16 Fighting Falcon is the latest in a long line of top flight sims from a company that I often feel ~ would have to work especially hard to even come close to making a bad game. Even that C4.99 Merlin Challenge thing (which simply asked you to land a helicopter on a moving ship) was damn good fun. This is simply the best F16 simulator currently available and is likely to remain that way for some time. Accurate modelling (so I'm assured) coupled with excellent gameplay. The best of both worlds.