Game Review - by James Allen
Back in the days of the 386 computer (hard drives were 70 MB compressed and we LIKED it), I remember that one of my favorite games was F-15 Strike Eagle III. It was pretty fun to hop into a jet, fly into downtown Baghdad, and blow the ever-living crap out of all the buildings and enemy planes. Ah, memories. So that apparently brings us to this preview of Strike Fighters, another military combat flight simulation. Now, there have been a bunch of these sims released over the days of computer gaming, so what could possibly set Strike Fighters apart? Well, the game is set in the 1960s, where planes were getting fast but still in the rudimentary days of computers and guidance systems. This is a neglected part of history for flight simulations, and continues a trend of developers trying to seem fresh by covering new ground (see IL-2's coverage of the Eastern Front air battles of WWII, for example). So, let's dive in and check out what this preview version of Strike Fighters has to offer, eh?
Strike Fighters features several modes of play for the budding military pilot. There is instant action for those itching for combat, single missions, and campaigns. The single missions can cover a multitude of different mission types: fighter sweep, combat air patrol, intercept, escort, strike, close air support, air defense suppression, recon, anti-ship, and forward air control. All of these are variations on the "find an enemy and blow it up" theme, but it's nice to see some variety in the way you go about doing this feat. The campaigns cover linked missions for the Navy, Air Force, Marines, and mercenary forces. You can also engage in multiplayer matches against friends across the landscape of the Internet.
No flight simulation would be complete without some planes to fly, and Strike Fighters has them. In this preview version, there are four flyable American aircraft from the 60s: A-4E Skyhawk, F-100D Super Sabre, F-104G Starfighter, and F-4E Phantom II. You can take these glorified jet engines out to battle MiGs of all kinds, Su-7BMs, and IL-28s among other things. There is also a great variability in ordinance, including a bunch of bombs, rocket pods, Sidewinder missiles, and, of course, napalm (it's the smell of victory). Strike Fighters seems to have enough different options to keep most aspiring pilots occupied for quite some time.
The sound that came with the preview version of Strike Fighters is actually not what's going to be in the final version, as it's being replaced before release by another developer. So, I can't really discuss the sound, now can I? Or maybe they are just saying that because the sound that's in place right now is pretty rudimentary. But I think not. Generate those sounds, ladies and gentlemen!
Strike Fighters tries the appeal to both hardcore and casual flight simulation fans with scalable flight options. From what I've played, it seems that Strike Fighters leans a little more towards the arcade end of the spectrum, although this may be due to the nature of the game: slightly technologically advanced aircraft which were not too hard to control and weapons and guidance systems that, because of their infancy, were also straightforward to deal with. I can't really come to a clear conclusion on whether Strike Fighters will appeal more to either part of the crowd until the game is finished, and we can check out all the options in their full glory. I can say with pretty good confidence that novices should find no problems with the game, and I expect the developers to add some more difficulty before this game hits the shelves. You are usually never left with long periods of time where something isn't going on in the skies or on the ground, so most people will be kept glued to the screen. Strike Fighters is typical of a flight simulation these days, and is quite fun to pilot these aircraft around the maps and blow things up.
The graphics in Strike Fighters look pretty darn good so far, even with some more time left to polish it up. The plane models are very nice looking, with good textures that show details such as individual sections of the wings and things along those lines. The explosions are really neat: you can see a plane disintegrate, then blow up into several pieces that fall in different directions. Sweet. Smoke and trails are done quite nicely, as the sky soon becomes covered by the paths of past planes (you can see this in a couple of the shots). And the ground textures are nothing to sneeze at: they fall slightly behind those found in IL-2, but certainly compete with any other flight sim on the et. I really like the detail used in the time of day effects: you can see the sun set, and the sky turn several colors, and the stars eventually appear into the sky. Very effective. I think with a little shine here and there, the graphics in Strike Fighters will certainly be in the upper echelon of flight simulations.
Strike Fighters appears to be a fine attempt at an action-oriented 1960s flight simulation. Although the sound is AWoL, the features are plentiful, the graphics are well above average, and the gameplay will hopefully appeal to all kinds of gamers. In case you were wondering, the game is being headed by the person responsible for European Air War and Jane's Longbow 1 and 2. Apparently, these games are pretty good, so I think Strike Fighters will be in good hands. Make sure to keep this one on your radar (get it?) when it's released in early July 2002.