F-22 Lightning II
The message was garbled, but the assignment sounded interesting: "Warren... it's... from Zone... we want you to... go and check out... Jet... Lightning... next week." Alrighty! Naturally, I was excited. Okay, so Gladiators isn't my favourite tv programme, but which red-blooded male could resist the 'talents' of two of its 'biggest' stars? Jet! Lightning! fantastic!
And then the penny dropped. How disappointed was I to find that my mission was, in fact, to check out a jet fighter simulator based on the F-22 and not a couple of 'fit' young ladies? Well, how big is the play area in this bloody flight sim thing?
Still, having flown several thousand miles in the last year or so, I'm ideally positioned to preview the latest in state of the art flight simulators. Admittedly, if I had actually piloted a plane (like, at all), rather than merely sitting on my arse drinking, smoking, eating, smoking, watching films, sleeping, smoking, eating and smoking (roughly in that order) as a member of the paying public, I'd be even better placed to bring you an authoritative low-down. Nevertheless, I do know realism.
When I look out of a Boeing 747's window at 32,000ft, the landscape -if I can make it out at all - hardly seems to be moving. And this, when you think about it, is exactly what it's like running DID's EF2000 on a 486. Anyway, the F-22 is effectively America's answer to Europe's EF2000. In other words, it's a jet fighter for the 21st century. It's top secret but, as of now, probably not as secret as Novalogic's new simulation. To bring you this preview, we were given a password-protected and code encrypted-disc, forced to sign a non-disclosure agreement and banned from taking our own screenshots. Must be pretty good, we figured.
Bit in the middle
But we'll come to F-22 in a minute. The thing is, you see, most PR and marketing types are far too busy (poor things) to read through whole articles, so now we're at the 'bit in the middle' I have the ideal opportunity to tell you about Novalogic's top secret (yes, even more secret than F-22), sci-fi-action-adventure-type-thingy, called Killsuit, safe in the knowledge that no one will find out.
Killsuit is a shite name, sure, but we've witnessed an early version and it's looking very with similar-ish but faster gameplay, a choice of first-and third-person perspective views (the latter with fixed-wall and follow mode options), highly-detailed graphics with real-time lighting, a Hollywood script, tons of fmv cut-scenes, oh, and a multi-player team-mode option, and you'll get the rough idea. Sadly Killsuit isn't due until well into next year, so we'd better get back to F-22. I With Falcon 4 and Jetfighter III still stuck in the hangers, Novalogic find themselves primarily competing against the likes of Ocean/DID (with EF2000), EA (Jane's ATF) and, I guess, MicroProse (Top Gun). What does F-22 offer to the genre?
Well, Novalogic claim that F-22 has four key selling points - a superior graphic engine, the accuracy and detail of the aircraft controls and the flight model, ease of control and multi-player capabilities. Bearing in mind that we've only flown a beta model, and that this is a preview not a review (ie I can be as flippant as I like), let's go through the list.
The graphics? They look, in a word, gorgeous. In four words, better than Flight Unlimited. Novalogic have pushed aside their own Voxel Space technology for this project and wheeled in a very tasty polygon-based engine complete with detailed, photorealistic landscaping (jungle, desert and coast-line); lightsourcing (from the sun); smart vapour, smoke and cloud effects; three different graphic modes; multiple camera views including an excellent flyby mode - you name it and it's here. Lovely.
The accuracy and detail of the aircraft controls and flight model? Who could possibly judge how accurate it is aside from a few Lockheed employees and test pilots? Whatever, Novalogic have used as much military information as is legally possible, and it does feel good.
Ease of control? I can comment with some authority on this one. You don't need a manual to get this baby in the skies - whack on the afterburners and off you jolly well go. But then as a simulation of an easy-to-fly aircraft, you wouldn't expect it to be any other way, would you? Sorry, prop-heads, this probably ain't for you., unless you tie your hands behind your backs to make it more 'challenging'.
Multi-player capabilities? These haven't been implemented yet, but we're promised support for up to eight players across a network (plus, naturally, two-players via modem/ serial link), with both co-operative and competitive missions. For the solo fighter, incidentally, there will be training missions, four or more main campaigns (each with a storyline complemented by live-action video briefings), head-to-head shoot-outs and a Quick Mission editor for one-off flights.
So what have we got? Potentially, at least, a fantastic-looking flight sim which is fun and easy to play. Can't argue with that.
Remember F-22 Lightning?
Okay, hands up who remembers the original F-22 Lightning flight sim? Go on, you must remember that massive 368-page glossy manual, no? What about those brilliant graphics? Or that hilarious Red Arrows cheat? All coming back now, eh?
No it's not, you little fibber. You see, not only is everyone releasing sequels - Descent 2, Civilization 2, Witchaven 2, Settlers 2, Cyberia 2 and er, Euro 96, to name just a few from recent months - it's got to the stage now where some companies (well, Novalogic anyway) are pretending to release sequels.
There was never a game called F-22 Lightning (as far as we know), but this one's called F-22 Lightning It. Why? Novalogic won't tell us. Still, I guess that at least it means that no one can accuse them of cashing in on the original.
Download F-22 Lightning II
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
Novalogic Are Renowned For producing pretty but shallow games using groundbreaking graphics techniques and lots of action to make up for their deficiencies elsewhere. Well, that's about to change.
Although Comanche vs Werewolf was actually a very good product, it hardly offered the last word in flight dynamics and integrity. And Voxelspace - NovaLogic's acclaimed graphics engine - certainly looked marvellous, although it went all blocky and horrible close up, as well as being restricted in the angles you could tilt it. F-22 ups the ante somewhat. As well as being their first flight sim not to use Voxelspace technology, it's also their first to aim more at the propeller heads out there and less at the arcade players.
One for the boys
Let's get this straight. F-22 isn't about 200-page manuals, classified flight models and in-depth discussions of acm and weapon parameters. Nor does it claim to be. What it is about is a reasonable flight model, with an aeroplane that behaves like one rather than like a spaceship, excellent graphics, good effects and a reasonable level of detail. In other words, this is flight simulator which you can get into fairly easily and enjoy while avoiding that CSega' feeling which so often accompanies games like this. The missions, although not especially challenging at first, quickly build in difficulty and although your weapons are more effective than they should be, there is still the opportunity for it all to go horribly wrong. When you do find yourself in a furball, despite the fact that the enemy pilots seem to have the IQ of a toaster, it can rapidly degenerate into a turning fight where you should be losing energy faster than you can make it up. And then, of course, you'd be in trouble.
One of the biggest gripes I have is the way that your F-22 seems not to bleed energy when it should - I couldn't make it stall and in a knife fight simply opening the throttle seemed to be enough to get out of trouble. Now, earlier on I said that this wasn't about hi-fi flight models, and that is true, but it would be nice for physics to have a little more effect in places.
Looks good, sounds good
Make no mistake, though. When it comes to looks, this knocks pretty well every other fixed wing simulator currently available into a cocked hat. You'll believe that youire really there -coastlines are beautiful, mountain forests are spectacular, deserts are, well, sandy. Other aircraft are superbly presented, and even ground targets manage to look good without suffering from that Cstuck on' look that afflicts many sims with high quality terrain graphics. F-22 is going to take some beating - and it doesn't go all pear-shaped when you get up close either.
While we're on the subject of the overall effect, the sound is really quite excellent as well. You get full Dolby Surround sound and it really is worth it, although the music can get really irritating (you can turn it right down, but then you don't get any in the menu screens either). The background noise is good - just engine noise and the mechanical whirring you might expect (forget that you wouldn't really be able to hear them and accept that they're useful here), while the explosions from enemy flak are really quite unnerving. So, what have you got? Well, overall you've got a very good-looking simulator which has a nice career progression, a neat mission builder and full network support - either co-operative or head-to-head. No multi-player campaigns, though. The flight model isn't exactly military spec, but it's better than many which claim to be ultra-realistic. I have to admit that I was honestly expecting to slag this off - I truly and passionately detested Comanche because I'm a helicopter pilot and I wanted better. This is really quite good, and will probably stay on my hard drive for quite a while.
0700 and the alarm goes. The resupply flight of C141 s on the way in is being threatened by an unknown flight which is closing fast. You and your wingman are scrambled and vectored to intercept. You get off the deck in double quick time and pull a hard right turn onto the first waypoint. The AWAC's datafeed is already giving you information on the location of the bandits as they close on the transports. It's going to be tight... You select AMRAAMs and set up a shootlist. At 25 miles you flick on the radar and instruct your wingman to engage the first bandit. Then you target the others, rippling off one AMRAAM for each of the bandits. Thirty seconds later, it's all over. The stealthy approach and the LPI radar meant that the MiGs didn't have time to react and are now all riding the silk elevator. A brief thanks from the transports and it's back to refuel, rearm and get breakfast.
The Lockheed F22 is destined be the Falcon of the late 90s. In other words, every man and his dog will be doing a simulator of it soon. In fact, even now we've got US Navy Fighters, ATF, this F-22 and the forthcoming release from l-Magic, and the darned thing has only just flown. However, it is a stoater of an aeroplane, and will probably be one of the few planes this century which will actually be as good as claimed. It's a middleweight attack fighter which costs more than its weight in gold, but is probably worth it. Hardly surprisingly, even the US will only have a few of these babies, but their speed, range and stealthiness will make up for that. The F-22 has been designed with the ability to CSupercruise', which allows supersonic flight without using burners, making it both stealthy and fuel efficient. Couple this with vectored thrust to give a new level of agility and a powerful LPI radar and you've got a serious piece of kit. Just wish they'd let me fly one...
Welcome to the Flight Sim of the Week Club. It seems at least that often that a new state-of-the-art flight simulator hits the PC gaming market. Who is buying all these flight sims? Who needs more than one? Flight sim addicts, that's who. If you're stricken with this affliction, I hear there's a recovery center in Minnesota where they search everyone's luggage for laptops equipped with Thrustmaster rudder pedals. But before you pack your bags, you might want to hear about F-22 Lightning II.
For those who aren't avid readers of Jane's publications, F-22 Lightning II isn't a sequel, it's the name of the U.S. Air Force's newest "air superiority weapon" -- what in simpler times was called a "fighter." It's also the latest flight simulator from NovaLogic, the people who brought us Comanche; the revolutionary semi-arcade-style attack helicopter sim.Comanche debuted in 1992, leaving gamers agape at NovaLogic's proprietary, patented VoxelSpace terrain generation technology. NovaLogic largely disappeared from the market after that, with the exception of some Comanche mission disks, and Armored Fist, the tank simulator that proved that, while VoxelSpace terrain looked terrific from the air, from a tank on the ground it looked like pixels the size of ceiling tiles. Well, NovaLogic is back with a vengeance, having doubled their staff and more than tripled the size of their U.S. headquarters. After four relatively dry years, they're set to release no less than three titles for Christmas 1996. _ F-22_ is the first, with Comanche 3 (no, there wasn't really a Comanche 2) and Armored Fist 2 on the way.
NovaLogic is justifiably proud of its flight model, and it's definitely better than average. It does have a few minor problems, such as the lack of energy loss in tight banked turns (unfortunately common in modern flight sims), but nothing serious. The cockpit graphics are nothing to write home about -- the main eye candy here is on the ground or in the external plane view. The latter features realistic retracting landing gear, movable flaps and ailerons, weapon bay doors and air brakes. The standard assortment of internal/external, flyby, and target/missile views are available. You can also call up additional screens that focus on Defense, Attack and Stores (weapon inventory), none of which I found particularly useful, since you can get all the information you need from the standard HUD and pop-up radar display.
Night missions are something of a waste, considering F-22's focus on graphics. The areas you're flying over are unpopulated, so you don't even get lights on the ground, just blackness with your HUD superimposed.
Enemy artificial intelligence is good, and cannon-only dogfights can be gripping events, after which you have to pry your sweaty palm from the joystick. It avoids the cardinal sin of flight sims: when you and the computer opponent end up endlessly chasing each other's tails in a circle. But real dogfights happen all too infrequently in F-22, since the whole point of the F-22 Lightning II aircraft is a stand-off, semi-stealth attack profile using long-range AIM-120 AMRAAM fire-and-forget missiles. You're outnumbered many times in the game, but come out alive because the bad guys have missiles with a 5-mile range, and you have missiles with a 20-mile range. That's not exactly up close and personal. But the game's Dolby Surround Sound is extraordinarily effective when you get into a rare head-on close flyby. The "whoosh" of the enemy fighter passing makes you duck involuntarily. The music, on the other hand, is repetitive. I turned it off after an hour or so. Similarly, the explosions are pretty, but look too much alike after a while.
Contrary to reports you may have read, F-22 is a non-Voxelspace title, NovaLogic's first effort without it since WolfPack back in 1989. It uses a new, SVGA-capable, polygon-based engine with high-resolution texture mapping and real-time light sourcing. That's a mouthful of technology, but how does it taste? The answer is, pretty darn good. F-22 is easily the best-looking combat flight simulator around. Aircraft look simply superb. Mountains and valleys are accurately rendered, with ground textures that don't break up too badly even when you get relatively close (at Mach 1.58 you don't want to get too close; a moment's distraction and you're airplane parts). However, once you've been on the initial Nevada training missions, everything starts looking like Nevada. The Mekong delta region looks like Nevada with jungle. Siberia looks like Nevada with snow. It's a terrific-looking snowy Nevada, but a Nevada nonetheless. And there's a bit too much fog effect in the graphics engine; sometimes it looks as though you've strayed over downtown Los Angeles on a bad Air Quality Index day. But these are mere quibbles.
(Note that I said best-looking combat flight simulator. F-22 is still not quite in the same league as Looking Glass Technologies' Flight Unlimited for terrain realism, but who cares when you can't blow things up? We can only hope that Looking Glass is working on the problem.)
Gameplay and Missions
The player can choose to fly individual missions or a campaign, which is nothing more than a set of individual missions strung together. The only difference is that a pilot name may be entered for the campaign mode, and a small amount of mission statistics are kept (i.e., number of kills, weapon hit percentage, number of crashes). Yes, that's right -- NovaLogic is to be congratulated for not having a heinous function that will delete your pilot irretrievably if you crash only once during a long campaign (when your cat runs across the keyboard); unlike some other flight sims which shall remain nameless. Oh, there is a bit of ongoing story for each mission, displayed in a small text window along with the mission briefing. The stories are variations on the standard theme: interdiction of drug lords who've purchased Russian military hardware, that sort of thing.
Documentation, Multiplayer Capabilities
The documentation is unusually broad and physically compact (none of the "make the box feel heavy" sort of manuals, packed with the print equivalent of stock footage). The manual even includes a crash course (sorry!) in flight dynamics. But it does have a tendency to hyperbole, such as "The missile would then chase down the enemy aircraft like an airborne Arnold Schwarzenegger looking to terminate Sarah Conners," and referring to the Gulf War as a "live-fire demonstration." A handy, separate fold-out keyboard reference is provided.
Multiplayer support is included for modem, null-modem, and IPX networks. Internet play via TCP/IP isn't supported, but at least you only need to buy a single CD for multiplayer use. The game supports standard joysticks and throttles. I found that the Microsoft SideWinder Pro joystick worked particularly well with the rudder controlled by its twist action. SVGA modes require VESA support and a fast Pentium. F-22 worked fine in a Windows virtual DOS machine without having to reboot in MS-DOS mode. NovaLogic has update patchesalready available; make sure to check their web site for the latest version.
DOS and Windows 95 Compatible, Fast 486/DX4, PCI or VLB SVGA card, 8 MB RAM, 2X CD ROM drive, 100% SoundBlaster-compatible sound card, mouse.
Recommended: Pentium (required for maximum performance in high resolution mode), 4X CD-ROM drive, 16 MB RAM, joystick. Supports Thrustmaster FCS and WCS, CH Flight Sticks, Wingman Extreme, Microsoft SideWinder, standard joysticks and throttles
NovaLogic's Comanche was a wonderful avant-garde combination of a simulator and an arcade-style helicopter shoot-'em-up. F-22 Lightning II is much more on the Brooks Brothers side of the equation, serving up an extremely handsome, but otherwise quite conservative and ordinary flight simulator that brings nothing new to the table but graphics. In fact, it has fewer gameplay elements, and no better flight model, than the grande dame of the flight sim world, Falcon 3.0. NovaLogic could have made up for these shortcomings by pushing F-22 more in the pseudo-arcade direction of Comanche, or perhaps by doing the reverse; elaborating the career mode and adding a mission builder; but they didn't.
That doesn't mean it isn't a great game. If your gaming library isn't already stuffed with other excellent titles like U.S. Navy Fighters / ATF, EF2000, or even Falcon 3.0, then F-22 Lightning II is for you, especially if you want to show off your shiny new Pentium and Matrox Millennium card. Otherwise, it's an evolutionary rather than revolutionary title that I'll rate an 85 out of 100.