It's early morning aboard the INS Peacekeeper and you're waiting for your turn to launch. You are part of an elite United Nations strike force, leading a team of the world's top pilots with the motto: "Global Peace through Deadly Force." Your wingman is already in the air, waiting for you to join him. Your mission this morning is to destroy a power plant deep in Argentina, but getting there will be the tough part. In your way are numerous SAM missile sites and half the Argentine air force. It's up to you; will this be a successful mission or will you go down in flames?
The basic plot in Jetfighter III is engaging enough, although fighting for the U.N. lacks some of the appeal I find in other games where you fly for the USA or Soviet bloc. But the new villains are a challenge and in many cases the planes they use are Russian-made. There are also plenty of them -- you will be hard-pressed keeping track of everyone during the larger engagements. All your skills will be tested as you fly a F-22N Lightning IIs or F/A-18 Hornet on missions to preserve world peace against threats like Argentina's invasion of Chile or Cuba's sinister alliance with the Colombian drug cartels.
Many gamers shy away from flight combat simulators -- they often have huge manuals, complex control setups, a steep learning curve, and just aren't much fun to anyone but a dedicated fan. JetFighter III (billed by Mission Studios as "the easiest-to-use flight simulator") is much different. If you're looking for a hyper-realistic flight model or military accuracy, it's probably not the game for you. But if you want a fun combat game that's reasonably accurate but still easy to play, then grab a joystick and settle into the cockpit. Don't worry if you've never flown before: JetFighter III includes an exhaustive set of training missions that will teach you how to handle your aircraft.
Once you have completed training, the gameplay follows two campaigns, one based around Argentina's invasion of Chile and the other based around Cuban-backed drug lords. Unlike other flight combat simulators, there is no custom mission builder -- but Mission Studios has released several add-on missions to their web site and an expansion pack is due out soon.
The missions are a mix of stand-off air-to-air engagements, close-in dogfights, and ground strikes with dumb munitions and air-to-ground missiles. One nice feature is the dynamic campaigns -- even if you fail a mission, you can continue playing and the campaign adjusts, changing the final outcome (after all, no one wins every time).
In addition to time in your plane you also spend time aboard INS Peacekeeper. You can walk around the ship (much like you would in an adventure-style game) or use a menu to get you from place to place quickly. You can visit the briefing rooms, control and hangar decks, and even your own cabin where you can admire your medals and awards or check for email from your family. You can also view an extensive database that includes specs on all the military hardware you will encounter, as well as a dossier on each pilot you can select to be your wingman. Each pilot has different skills and personalities -- selecting the right one for the mission at hand is important. You can even design a personalized insignia for your plane -- a very nice touch.
JetFighter III is a DOS-based game and it doesn't play well in a Windows 95 DOS box -- if you normally run under Windows you'll want to reboot to DOS mode before playing.
JetFighter III is easily one of the best-looking fighter sims available. The terrain in the game was generated using data from U.S. Department of Defense, FAA, Defense Mapping Agency, USGS and NOAA maps, and it looks great. The mountains tower around you, the rivers and other scenery are accurate and lifelike, and the atmospheric effects (which include transparent clouds, smoke, fire and dynamic lighting) add to the realism of this flight experience.
While the graphics are impressive, most users will probably not be able to enjoy the full effect -- running at the game's highest resolution (640x480) with all the detail options turned on takes a top-of-the-line Pentium or Pentium Pro system. Gamers with less powerful systems will need to toggle off some graphic features, such as clouds and mountain shading, or select a lower resolution. If you run at 320x200 and switch off some of the atmospheric effects, JetFighter is very playable on a 486 system.
Sound in the game is only fair. The sound effects are sparse, no engine noise to speak of and fairly minimal effects for the weapons and explosions. Particular music tracks are annoying; I turned them off after playing a couple of times.
The JetFighter III manual includes lots of information, including detailed specs on the planes, a background story for the campaigns, extra tutorial information and more. It's worth the time to look through it. However, the game is easy enough to learn, so if you hate reading manuals you won't need to open it at all.
Minimum Requirements: 486/DX4 100MHz or better, 8 MB RAM, 2X CD-ROM drive, MS-DOS 5.0, 256-color VESA-compatible SVGA (640 x 480) video card, 30 MB free hard drive space
Recommended : Pentium 133MHz CPU or better, 16 MB RAM, 4X CD-ROM drive
JetFighter III is a great game, although it's not a realistic combat simulation. It has fantastic graphics, an easy-to-learn interface and absorbing gameplay. It does require a powerful system, especially for the higher resolution modes. Overall I enjoyed playing, and I give JetFighter III a score of 83 out of 100.