F/A-18E Super Hornet
Well, Digital Integration haven't stood still in the intervening years. Taking advantage of today's processor power, they've sharpened up the graphics and wound up the detail levels a few more notches for F/A- 18E Super Hornet, their latest offering. So, if you like your flight simulators in the 'kick the tyres and light the fires' mould, this probably won't appeal - it majors on realism with a capital 'R'.
The F/A-18E Hornet has been in US service for quite a while. It's a pretty good aeroplane but getting a bit long in the tooth, hence the US Navy's decision to upgrade and the 'Super' tag. Scheduled to go into service in 2001, it's got lots of pointy things to hang off the bottom and sides, a better radar to help you find things to shoot at sooner and improved aerodynamics to enable you to stay in the air long enough for your missile to arrive at its destination. All of which is good news, but in addition to that the controls have been simplified as much as possible. Which means that you, sitting at home in front of your computer, have around 100 switches and knobs to learn as opposed to nearly double the amount in the old aircraft. Oh, and there are a few extra radar modes as well, all of which makes things a little bit easier. All the usual viewing modes are on offer, and it's particularly good to see that the padlock view from Falcon 3 has been included. In other words, it works nicely and lets you follow the baddie without always crashing into the deck. Another nice touch is that you can see your aeroplane from inside the cockpit, stores and all, and when you look back your view is spoiled by the fuselage behind you. It may not sound a big deal, but it's the little things that matter.
Dl have gone down the same road as a number of other developers by making all the cockpit controls clickable. Sure, you can have shortcuts as well, but isn't it so much more fun to search around a bewildering array of buttons and knobs trying to find the ECM while someone is firing missiles at you? Who said "No?"
And the graphics aren't bad, either have steered away from the photo-realistic landscapes with stuck-on objects favoured by other flight sims, choosing to stick with polygons and vectors. The end result, although hardly cutting-edge technology, is a smooth ground with variations as you might expect but with objects that look as though they belong - which, when you bear in mind that the F/A-18E is a groundpounder, is a good thing. The downside of this is that while F/A-18E Super Hornet looks pretty good it won't have you ringing your mates to come and have a look. However, the models in the sim are superb. They look great and are animated, which makes it far more satisfying when you shoot them down. Or even when you fail to.
Is It Hard, Then?
The enemy AI appears to be frighteningly good. Certainly in training, where the pilots of the aircraft you're up against know all the tricks and use them against Fyou. It most certainly isn't a cakewalk, although it's aiso good to see that the enemy are fallible as well - on one training sortie they managed to score two blue-on-blue kills. Then again, as they're supposed to be American it could be just more accurate modelling.
But all this would be a complete waste of time if your aircraft didn't actually handle like an F/A-18E. Happily, this isn't the case, as the flight model appears to be very well done - as we've come to expect from Dl - and the hard-core flight sim fan will find the overall levels of realism excellent. And there's the first small problem. Despite their protestations to the contrary, Dl have made it possible to fly this in two ways: realistically or arcade. There's no real middle ground -you turn options on or off in the preferences screen but they're all fairly fundamental; in other words you can't specify no ground collisions or unlimited ammo, for example. As far as the avionics are concerned, which are probably the hardest part to learn, you get roughly no help whatsoever, although we're assured that the manual that ships with the game will be more helpful than the one supplied with our review copy.
Where Shall We Go Today?
There's currently a choice of two scenarios - Russia or India - and the usual 'renegade troops are causing trouble, go sort them out' type of briefing. But although there are a number of missions linked together, there's no dynamic campaign as yet. The missions will always be assigned no matter what, and damage you cause to enemy assets doesn't get carried over - so don't bother killing that SAM because it'll be there when you fly here tomorrow. This is a major omission, but one which Dl are intending to fix when they release a Gold edition later on. They say that it will not be a full-price add-on for existing customers, but that there will be some form of loyalty discount. The party line for why the campaign isn't included already is that they didn't want to rush it and ship bugged code. Sounds fair enough, but we'll see.
But Is It Any Good?
So, to sum up, Ft A- 18E Super Hornet is a flight simulator par excellence, right up there with Falcon 4. It really is most impressive, and our review copy appeared to be entirely bug-free. The US Navy must agree with us, because they've adopted it for promotional work and some ground-based familiarity training. Apparently they'll also be endorsing the product when it ships. The graphics may be nothing to write home about but they're more than adequate, the flight model is superb and the way that the cockpit has been made clickable, even in 3D mode, is really quite something.
We're impressed, and reckon you will be too. Unless you don't want to spend ages learning how to turn the radar on, and even longer trying to start the engines (you have to start the APU, then spool up the engines before anything else will happen). In which case you'll hate this. Can't help wondering why they didn't stick with the Brits and try something like a decent Harrier sim. Or even better, Sea Harrier. Combine the best of both worlds. Hmm... now there's an idea...
Download F/A-18E Super Hornet
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
Not content with simulating one of the most classified jets in the world (only a select few of the US Navy's Top Gun have ever flown the new 'Super Hornet'), veteran Surrey-based outfit Digital Integration have decided to create the world's first 'fully interactive' carrier deck for that final touch of authenticity. Planes constantly take off and land, burly seamen scamper across the deck waving large, glowing sticks, and exhaust smoke from jet engines drifts on to the ocean. You could say it's a whole new plane of sophistication. One thing's for sure -you know you're in a war.
You'd be forgiven for thinking this was a case of aesthetics without the avionics, but that's definitely not the case. F/A-18E Super Hornet features a tasty mouse-operated 3D virtual cockpit with an astonishing 115 active buttons and switches, autopilot modes, communication channels, radars, and other information that can be accessed with a simple click of your mouse button. You can still use the standard keyboard commands, of course, but as simulations become more and more complex, the ability to be able to perform any action you want without using the keyboard is a masterstroke of ergonomics. If you have a decent flight stick or HOTAS (hands-on throttle and stick) support, you can kiss your keyboard goodbye.
Vodka Or Curry?
Super Hornet will let you get your teeth into two campaigns. The first is in the Barents Sea (based around Murmansk) where your task is to fly against a rebel communist faction of the Russian Federation. And the second, which takes place over the Indian Ocean, is a battle against the might of India who is attempting to make prawn vindaloo out of the Sri Lankans.
Whatever scenario you choose, it's going to be hard work. Along with 25 modern plane types (among them MiG 29s, Su 27s, Backfire Bombers and Mirage 2000s), 20 different ships and 30 ground-based vehicles are planned, including moving infantry and tank battalions.
The course of each campaign is determined by the success or failure of both forces in achieving their goals. In other words this is a real-time dynamic war - the outcome of each mission directly impacts the starting conditions for the next. Hence the detailed planning screens that can be turned on or off depending on your skill and/or current realism setting. Not only is it used to tweak your mission waypoints, and primary and secondary targets, it's also a perfect opportunity to gauge the current strengths and weaknesses of both armies. You may be able to spot an advancing force on the map that has otherwise been overlooked and arrange a mission to intercept the threat. Basically, rather than relying on what the computer tells you to do, you're actively encouraged to show your own military tactical skills. This pivotal section is also where you get to check mission details and flight paths of other pilots and your own wingmen. Due to the mouse-operated communications consoles, wingmen will apparently be more versatile and intelligent than ever.
In the version we played, our wingman certainly seemed to have a fair idea of what he was doing. He streaked off into the distance, harpooned an enemy destroyer, returned to the carrier and was back, tucked up in his bunk, before you could say "Russian patrol ship". Maybe the 24-player network option will attract the kind of beer-swilling, dazed gung-ho wingmen we can more easily identify with...
It's Cold And I'm Frightened
This is not just a fair-weather war. You'll have to contend with low, medium and high cloud, plus thunder and lightning, rain, snow, night and day... As Super Hornet's producer Anthony Redfearn keeps saying: "No game has ever been as close to flying the real thing as Super Hornet."
Yeah right, that's what they all say. But he might actually have a point. Of all the flight simulations we've recently clapped eyes on, Super Hornet does seem the most likely to scoop awards. Throughout the entire game you sense a relentless obsession with realism. From the colours of the test plane to the exact weight and specifications of the numerous air-to-air, air-to-ground and air-to-ship weapons, nothing escapes the surgeon-like precision of the programmers. But that's DI for you - remember, these are the wily old heads responsible for such quality flyers as Apache Longbow, Hind and F-16 Fighting Falcon.
But enough of that, you want to know about graphics, right? Well, take a look around the page - we can safely say there are no worries there. We've been reliably informed that the game cruises along blissfully at 1024x768 resolution and supports all 3D cards. At this stage the minimum specification is likely to be a P266 with 64Mb RAM.
Each 'world' has been modelled on real-world terrain data gathered by satellite and encompasses an area in excess of 40,000 square miles. Dotted across this landscape is a plethora of active units such as radar installations, bunkers, etc. But also populating the landscape is a hefty collection of towns, villages, airfields, harbours and industrial complexes.
All of these, like every other object in the game, will squeeze your processor to the limit with gratuitous use of dynamic lightning and light source shading. This is a live world in every sense of the word. In any case, we can't wait to review it. Trouble is we'll have to - Super Hornet is not due out until the end of this year. Look out for an exclusive demo soon.