Flight-Sims Seem To Be Pretty Popular at the moment, and seldom a week goes by without some new title arriving that boasts lovely graphics, eight billion square miles of accurately modelled terrain, and an endorsement from a retired US Air Force pilot who needs some extra cash. And very nice most of these sims are too. The problem is that just about all of them are based on big, flashy planes that aren't out yet, the F-22 being the current favourite.
Why is this a problem? Well, firstly, since these planes aren't in service yet, die-hard authenticity fans know that the real plane will be different from the sim. Maybe not that different, but different enough to spoil things for people who reckon that two years of sitting up all night in front of their PC makes them qualified to fly a real plane. The second objection is much easier - simulating futuristic jets is completely bloody unoriginal. Over the past 70 years there have been hundreds of different types of planes in loads of wars, which you'd have thought would be a rich source of ideas for any game developer. But no. All they can come up with is next-generation fighters in either the Middle East, Korea or the ex-Soviet Union, plus the obligatory American training area. Yawn-o-rama.
Bomb the base
Jane's F-15 is unoriginal in that it features a big American plane in a Middle East scenario, but it beats the rest hands down in the authenticity stakes. The plane featured is the F-15E Strike Eagle, which has been around for ages and saw service during the Gulf War. The original F-15 first came into service in the 1970s, and it was a direct response to the Russian MiG-25 which scared the shit out of the Americans when they first saw it. While the F-15E is still used as a fighter, it's primarily used as an attack plane, which means low flying and loads of bombs. Hurrah! F-15 is set in the Gulf, and many of the missions and planes featured in the game are based on sorties that were flown against Iraq during the Gulf War. The gameplay is divided up into training and single missions, campaigns, instant action and multi-player missions.
The training missions are pretty comprehensive, covering all the usual things like landing and taking off, flying about, and the array of different weapon systems. This training is pretty necessary, as F- 15 definitely isn't a shoot 'em up, and just about every key on the keyboard does something, with more controls available via the alt, shift and control keys.
Obviously this complexity is part of the attraction for some, but people with a shorter attention span are catered for by a reduced 'Easy' control set. The single missions are varied, ranging from sensible-sounding tasks like taking out Iraqi airfields, to sillier scenarios in which you and your squadron are bunch of mercenaries available to hest bidder. If you don't fancy the are provided, there's a comprehensive and easy to use mission editor.
Flying the F-15 isn't actually that tricky, and everything worth knowing is displayed on either the HUD or the two programmable displays. Since the F-15E is a two-seater, you can occupy either position, although in practice you can't do anything from the back seat that can't be done from the front. The smartest thing about the F-15's cockpit is that all the buttons and knobs can be changed in-flight by pointing and clicking with the mouse. This means you can adjust things like radar modes and weapons release modes directly without having to memorise endless keystrokes. The only problem with this system is that using a mouse isn't quite as quick as reaching out and pressing a button in a real cockpit, and in the heat of battle the last thing you want to be doing is struggling with the mouse. Luckily though, you can access all the controls while the sim is paused, which, while being a bit of a cheat, makes life a lot easier.
F-15 has been developed by Skunkworks, the same team that created Longbow 2. It uses a very similar graphics engine, and the in-game graphics are therefore pretty damn lush. The terrain in particular is very detailed - at low altitude every small bump is visible, while higher up there's none of that 'flying over a big, patterned carpet' effect caused by repeating textures. Low-altitude flying is where this game's really at though, and the impression of speed when zipping over the desert at 150 feet is striking. The planes themselves are nicely modelled too - very detailed and suitably menacing-looking.
Of course, lush graphics are considerably less attractive if they crawl past at only a few frames per second. On our review system, a P200MMX with 3Dfx card, F-15 was very playable at the higher detail settings, but started to get a bit jerky whenever the scenery got too complex. Unfortunately this normally occurs either over the target or when landing, which are the times when a smooth frame rate is most important. Reducing detail helped a lot, but to enjoy F-15 in its full glory a Pentium II is in order. If you're wondering what F-15s performance is like without a 3Dfx card, don't bother. All you need to know is that if you like flight sims, a decent 3D card is a must. And since 3Dfx cards cost well under $100 these days, you've got no excuse. Where many sims fall down is in the gameplay department, with dull missions that are easy to complete.
Like Longbow 2, to be good at F-15 you have to get your tactics right, which means using the terrain properly and giving the right orders to your wingmen. When the shooting starts, there's a hell of a lot to think about before you can bugger off home, and panicky messages from your co-pilot and wingmen make you wish you'd spent an extra ten minutes reading the manual while on the bog that morning.
This level of detail is F-15s only potential shortfall, really, and it might not appeal to those of you who just fancy some flying rounded off by a bit of light bombing of an enemy village. But if you like something a bit more heavyweight and you fancy the idea of screaming along over the desert in the middle of the night, avoiding hills, anti-aircraft fire and MiGs, F-15 is the best there is.
Download Jane's F-15
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
The F-15 was originally designed as an air-superiority fighter to counter the perceived threat from planes like the MiG-25 back in the 70s. While this was an age ago in terms of things like taste and pop music, decent military planes can remain in service for decades, although they usually have to adapt to survive.
The F-15 that this game is based on is the E model that's used mainly for strike missions. Since it's also definitely not futuristic, the emphasis in F-15 is completely different from TAW, with its hi-tech, mainly air-to-air approach. This adds up to a game based on current technology and on a real war (the Gulf).
F-15 is probably the most realistic of the sims on test here, and there's a pretty hefty manual covering all aspects of the systems on board. Given the F-15's role, most of this technology is based around blowing up things on the ground using a large array of different weapons. Since it's so complicated, the F-15 is a two-seater, with the bloke in the back handling most of the weapon-targeting functions. The game models this set-up accurately, and you can switch between pilot and co-pilot positions whenever you like. Like TAW, the cockpit controls can all be operated directly with the mouse. This isn't as quick as reaching out and pressing a button in a real cockpit, but you can operate everything while the game is paused. This is a bit of a cheat, but it's pretty helpful, especially as you're playing the part of two people.
The game is divided into the familiar system of single missions, training missions and campaigns, and the action takes place either in Iraq during the Gulf War, or over present-day Iran. As you'd expect from Jane's, these campaigns are fully dynamic, so you're not simply flying prescripted missions, and there's a first-rate mission planner if you want further control.
F-15 is a close sequel to the excellent Longbow 2, and uses a similar graphics engine, which means that plenty of attention is paid to low-level flying. Since most of the action takes place over the desert, there aren't many ground objects to gawp at, but the terrain itself is ever-changing, with no obvious repeating textures. The sense of speed is excellent too, which is important when you spend a lot of time at low level. With the detail turned down a bit, everything was pretty smooth on our test system, although things got a bit slower over built-up areas.
It's the sheer attention to detail that makes F-75 such a great sim - everything feels just right. A typical mission involves flying several hundred miles over the desert at 100ft in the middle of the night while keeping a cautious eye out for enemy fighters and SAMs, 30 seconds of intense action over the target, and then buggering off home avoiding missiles. Very atmospheric, and probably a very good impression of the real thing - not that we'd know.
Such accuracy may not appeal to everyone out there, and F-15 isn't as good an all-rounder as Total Air War, but for sheer authenticity it beats the rest hands down.