iF/A-18E Carrier Strike Fighter

a game by Interactive Magic
Platform: PC
Editor Rating: 6/10, based on 1 review
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Overview

It's not unusual for game designers to build a simulation engine that will yield multiple products over a few months or even a few years of time. Jane's Combat Simulations did it with their USNF, ATF, and Fighters Anthology series, and Digital Integration produced HIND, Apache, and iF-16 with the same simulation engine. Interactive Magic has followed suit by releasing iF/A-18E Carrier Strike Fighter, based off their DEMON Terrain System used in iF-22 last year. In most cases, the biggest advantage of using an older simulation engine is that the designers have had plenty of time to fix all the little problems and glitches, while the biggest disadvantage is the fact that you're playing on a graphics engine that doesn't quite cut it visually any more.

Gameplay, Controls, Interface

After an intro movie showing real F/A-18s performing carrier takeoffs and landings, the game begins by presenting a graphic layout of a naval base. By clicking on various buildings or structures, you can navigate to areas such as the Officer's Quarters to set up your pilot or a training facility to practice in the F/A-18 simulator. Clicking on the aircraft carrier in the background allows you to deploy to sea where you can choose to fly a single mission or begin a campaign. Other interface options include Instant Action, Multiplayer, and the option to view the game's intro again.

There are eight training missions that can be flown during daylight or at night, from carrier takeoffs and landings to various weapon delivery systems. Each training mission has a preflight briefing outlining a seven- to 12-step procedure that, unfortunately, must be written down or memorized because once you begin in the training simulator, there is no way to refer to the step-by-step instructions. It would be nice if there were audio instructions given to you during flight, or at least a list of the training step-by-step procedures in the manual. iF/A-18E CSF contains the same TALON (Total Air & Land Operations Network) fully dynamic campaign system generator that was debuted in iF-22. This will create a virtually unlimited amount of single missions and will prevent having to fly the same missions over and over again in a campaign. There are two currently available campaigns: one defending Greece from a Turkish invasion, and the other the obligatory Persian Gulf conflict defending Kuwait and Saudi Arabia from a fictitious attack from both Iraq and Iran in the year 2002.

During setup, the player will have the option to choose a casual or expert flight model. The casual mode will give you a very easy plane to fly and operate and understandable radar systems. Even your landing gear and flaps will be automatically raised and lowered for you. If you are a hardcore simulation player like myself, choosing the expert flight model will give you a less forgiving, more realistic aircraft with much more complicated radar modes to learn and master. The flight model under the expert setting is along the lines of Jane's F-15 in terms of complexity and realism. The cockpit controls are clickable, so those of us with throttle and stick setups can operate most functions without having to resort to taking a hand off the controls to use the keyboard.

Graphics

The graphics engine features Interactive Magic's own DEMON satellite terrain system, which is also the same basic engine used to power iF-22. There is both good news and bad news as a result of this. The good news is the fact that most of the bugs and video pauses that frustrated so many users in the past have been fixed. The bad news is there are an all-new set of bugs to frustrate us, plus the graphics are far from state-of-the-art nowadays. As with all flight sim graphics based on real satellite terrain data, they look great from 10,000 feet and above, but get down towards the surface and that beautiful satellite terrain blurs into a rather bland nothingness. I was flying back from a mission at about 20,000 feet over enemy territory when I noticed an airfield below. Thinking this would be a good opportunity to look for some ground targets to strafe, I swooped down to get a closer look. To my surprise, the closer I got to the airfield, the blurrier it became, until at about 100 feet from the surface I could barely make out the outline of the runways. So much for accurate satellite terrain!

The long in-flight pauses that haunted iF-22 while terrain data loaded from the hard drive have, for the most part, been fixed. There are still pauses, but they are mostly very short and are not bothersome. One of my biggest frustrations with iF/A-18E CSF is the extremely long load times before and after a mission. Just navigating through the graphic menus, pilot rosters, mission maps, etc., takes longer than it should.

Audio

The thing that annoyed me the most was the poor sound reproduction. No matter what part of the game you are in -- the opening graphic user interface, the carrier deck, the briefing room, or the cockpit -- there is always some type of loud jet engine sound blaring through the speakers. In most cases, one would expect this since you are, after all, flying a jet, but since it was equally loud in the briefing room and officers' quarters, the lack of variance in the noise became quite annoying. The worst example was when I was making a carrier landing; adjusting the throttle up and down during the approach, there was very little audio difference between 0% and 100% throttle. I could never get a good feel for the aircraft because the audio feedback was so vague. On the other hand, radio communications were very clear and authentic-sounding. I understand that Interactive Magic obtained recordings of actual radio communications from on board an aircraft carrier.

System Requirements

Minimum Requirements: Windows 95/98, Pentium 166, 150 MB hard drive space, 24 MB RAM, 8X CD-ROM drive, 1024x768 SVGA video card with at least 2 MB video RAM

Recommended: Pentium II 266 MHz or faster, 32 MB RAM, 12X CD-ROM drive or faster, Direct 3D supporting video card with at least 4 MB video RAM, sound card with wavetable support, joystick, throttle and rudders

Documentation

One of the best features is the 154-page manual. Jane's Combat Simulations has set the standards for how a flight sim manual should be, and iF/A-18E's manual measures up quite nicely. Containing a table of contents, index, and glossary, it definitely doesn't overwhelm with detail like the Jane's manuals sometimes do. It is wire-bound so you can keep it open to a particular page on your desktop without worrying about the pages flipping shut. Also included is the standard fold-out quick reference card, listing all the many keyboard commands.

Patches/Updates

There is a patch now available which fixes many of the bugs that shipped with version 1.0 of the CD. No longer will your plane explode four seconds after a successful carrier landing following a mission. Many tweaks were made to the original program that have resulted in fewer system crashes. Also, cooperative play for multiplayer games was included in this patch.

Bottom Line

Interactive Magic has once again released a flight sim that has fallen short of expectations. Much like its predecessor iF-22, iF/A-18E CSF is not quite up to par with competing flight sims already available, but for all new reasons. The graphic engine is now cosmetically outdated and still has not shed all the bugs that made iF-22 so frustrating to play. While there are a few major positives such as the dynamic campaign engine and the well-thought-out manual, the rest of the game still leaves a lot to be desired.

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