Game Over Online ~ Falcon 4.0

GameOver Game Reviews - Falcon 4.0 (c) Microprose, Reviewed by - Umax / Pseudo Nim /

Game & Publisher Falcon 4.0 (c) Microprose
System Requirements Pentium-166, 32MB RAM, 800x600 video
Overall Rating 92%
Date Published Monday, December 28th, 1998 at 10:51 AM


Divider Left By: Umax Divider Right

Well well well... look what Microprose FINALLY decided to release. And just in time for X-Mas no less! How convenient! I suppose before I delve into the infinite detail which Falcon 4 brings to the flight sim scene, I should give you a little background on the game. First off, the F-16 Fighting Falcon is the USAF's primary multirole fighter/bomber. They use it for everything. There hasn't been a single 'offensive' (I use that term lightly) military action in which the US has participated in the last 15 years that the F-16 wasn't an active part of. (It was the backbone of the air campaign against Iraq in Desert Storm, making more bombing and air interdiction missions then the F-117 Stealth 'Fighter' *snicker*.) The aircraft has had actually quite a few games based around it, contrary to popular belief. There was MSI's "Back to Baghdad" and Virgin's short-lived "F-16 MultiRole Fighter". Novalogic is also poised to enter the Fighting Falcon market with the upcoming "Viper". You may have noticed that it is actually called Falcon 4.0 and not just Falcon. This is because, you guessed it, it is the next iteration of a series of games by Microprose. The series actually gained real notice after v3.0 (and its numerous add-ons including Hornet and Mig29), which came out what seems like aeons ago. Falcon 3.0 brought a huge amount of detail to the flight sim scene, more then any other single sim had in the past. It combined cutting edge technology with "make your eyes and ears bleed" graphics and sound. However, by today's standards, it is less then outstanding. Falcon 4.0 was originally conceived about 3 or 4 years ago. It has been "in progress" and "coming soon" for a long time now, and you'd think that Microprose had worked out every bug down to the last one. Hell, by now you'd expect that they had got it to run on Macintosh using PC code! Well, let's just see about that...

I'm not going to start with the graphics because everyone does that, and with a game like Falcon 4.0 they are not really as important as, well everything else. The game is very broad ranging in its appeal. It has many different settings for difficulty and realism which allow the user to vary the degree of AI, and how the plane handles. Obviously the higher the realism setting, the more realistically the aircraft will fly. There are lots and lots of training missions to go through dealing with everything from how to roll the aircraft, all the way up to using short, medium and long range offensive weaponry in both air to air and air to ground roles. I definitely suggest playing the training missions before even considering the campaigns. It will make your life a heck of a lot easier. One thing I feel the game could have benefited from was having an in-flight voice of perhaps an instructor, a-la Team Apache, which guided you through each mission. This may have detracted from the overall realism in some peoples opinions, but when training to fly an F-16 in real life, the USAF does not just send you out and say 'blow this up'. They send you out with an instructor, either in a chase plane or in a dual seat F-16D. Still, the manual for this game is more then adequate and if you refer to it enough and remember to use the pause key in flight you can make your way through the training missions fairly briskly. The game really takes shape after you complete these rather arduous training sessions. You have the choice of beginning your active military career in one of three imaginary campaigns based in Korea. (I won't summarize the campaigns because it's more fun to hear it in the form of video and audio news reports that Falcon 4.0 uses.) When I first looked at the campaign selection screen, I got the feeling that the designers intentionally left space for more missions and campaigns to be added, perhaps even downloaded. Not only this, but add-on aircraft like Falcon 3.0 had. (Carrier pilots and Russkies do not fret!) After choosing your campaign you get to pick which squadron you wish to belong to that is operating in that area. The campaign generator is totally dynamic. You won't really ever fly the same mission twice, and if you restart the campaign you won't fly the same first mission. You aren't limited to campaign missions though, there are also single missions available along with a mission editor. Basically that is the concept behind the game.

The game works extremely well. What do I mean by "works"? Well, I don't mean that it loads well or anything like that, I mean that in a certain mission, everything falls into place very well, or so I thought. The enemy aircraft aren't exactly genius aces, but they aren't idiots either. They have what I would call a basic knowledge of advanced flight combat maneuvers, but nothing that a relatively experienced simmer can't handle first time. The ground forces I found to be a real problem. The anti aircraft and SAMs were very well hidden; hard to find in amongst ground clutter and deadly accurate. To complete a mission you MUST, and I mean MUST have a mastery of all the skills: flying, combat, evasion, navigation, and detection, or you can't complete your objective. There is no one mission which requires only one or two of these skills. For example, you decide which enemies to engage, but you can't completely avoid all aircraft, sooner or later they are going to be arriving on your six.

Falcon 4.0 had been rumored for the longest time to have amazing graphics and sound, but no one had seen proof. Not long ago Microprose released screenshots and the drool began to flow. There is one thing you must keep in mind when looking at these screenshots, and the ones on this page for that matter. I took these screenshots on a very powerful computer, which probably 1/20 people have at home as a personal computer. You cannot expect to get stellar performance on anything less then a PII-266 with at least 64 megs of ram, and obviously a powerful 3D accelerator such as TNT or even better yet; Voodoo2 (again, even better then that is Voodoo2s in SLI mode!). Don't worry though, not all is lost if you have a less then bleeding edge computer; the customizability of the graphics in Falcon 4.0 is excellent, and you can chose which video card to use, in which mode (Direct 3d or Glide etc.), in which resolution, and then chose which detail levels you wish for the different elements of the game. A nice feature they included is the ability to generate a screenshot of what the game will look like with the settings you chose without having to start a mission, so you can customize them for efficiency, without completely compromising looks. The accuracy of the objects in Falcon 4.0 is great, but the cockpit detail, and functionality of your own aircraft is staggering. I have never seen anything so beautiful in 1024x768 as the cockpit in Falcon 4.0 with padlocking on. You have about 340 of lateral vision, and when your helmet hits the head rest there is actually a thud noise made! Everything from 60% of the buttons in the cockpit being functional down to the reflection they make on the curved gold-laced armored canopy around you in different light levels is amazing. All of the MFDs are fully functional too, which is a very nice change, and don't give you that unrealistic 'god's eye radar' which other sims allow. Just for all you propeller heads out there who want proof, I believe this is the Block 50 F-16C cockpit, so go find a picture and check. It will make your head spin. The sound in the game is also excellent, not only in abundance but also in quality and the atmosphere it provides. During a combat mission there is constantly radio traffic between aircraft. It can be very haunting to hear something like "Viper one engaging Mig-29s Bullseye 26 at 290" and then 5 minutes later hear "Viper one has been hit, repeat Viper one has been hit" and again a moment later hear him punching out and seeing a puff of smoke off in the distance. Everything else has very realistic sounds like the engine, the afterburner, the weapons (especially the cannon) and the explosions. This level of detail is presented to the gamer throughout each mission, and gives us a bit of an explanation of just why it took Microprose so long to release the game.

Other points of interest about the game include its manual. Or should I say documentation. Yes, documentation is more accurate seeing as this game is so chock full of what can be at times mind numbing detail. The manual is literally huge, and encompasses every element of ACM and GCM you could ever need to know. It is very informative and Microprose gets big marks from me for caring enough about the game to go the distance and give it more then adequate documentation. Another important thing about Falcon 4.0 is the multiplayer. I have as of yet only tried it once, but I found it extremely simple to use, very efficient, and it supported 4 players over Internet TCP/IP play with no noticeable lag. Very impressive.

The only real drawbacks or limitations I could see Falcon 4.0 having would definitely be the steep system requirements, and the sheer detail the game presents to the gamer makes this truly a simulation. Those of you looking for an experience similar to F22 Raptor or the likes look elsewhere, this game can easily become a way of life. Also, don't even consider this game unless you have a joystick. Trying to play this game with the arrow keys is about as useless as trying to steer a race car by sticking your leg out the door and using it as a brake. It just won't happen. The amount of detail in this game does make for some serious key punching in game and you have to be prepared, but luckily there is a 'quick' reference chart made available, and it may be wise to look into getting a keyboard template.

To summarize, Falcon 4.0 is a worthy addition to the series, and accomplishes what it set out to do well. It is by no means an arcade game, even on its lowest detail setting, and should be avoided by fans of games like Incoming. If, however, you are still playing EF2000, Falcon 3.0 or Tornado (for those of us old simmers who remember!) this game may be for you. I can't emphasize enough though that the detail in this game will make your head spin!

Pluses: Excellent gameplay, amazing customizability, excellent graphics, ability to alter difficulty without compromising realism, accurate sound, cockpit plans straight out of the Pentagon, great multiplay, good campaigns and more then just one, good replay value, excellent documentation.

Minuses: Steep system requirements, joystick absolutely required, appeal limited to only serious simmers who enjoy spending time training on a video game (*sigh*), the manual might as well be a Tom Clancy novel.

 

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Rating
93%
 

 

 
 

 

 

Divider Left By: Pseudo Nim Divider Right

The concept of vaporware is rather curious. Many great projects are started, and the gaming (in this case) community sits drooling at them for a year, then another one, then two more... then they give up and move onto better things. Sometimes vaporware makes it to the markets, but if and when it does, it usually feels like a product wrapped up within the last ten minutes just to make the Christmas deadline. Case at point: Battlecruiser 3000AD. This could have been an excellent game, in fact, one of the best games of all time - had it been produced and coded correctly, because the idea was there, and the talent was there. After being put off for a couple of years, though, it did come out - but none of the original promise showed, and the amount of bugs was so high the developer had to release a dozen patches, then charge about $15 - $30 for a "v2.0" patch. Regrettable, really. Not all is bad, however - some vaporware games actually do finally come out, and actually play and feel quite well - like, in the present case, Falcon 4.0.

First, a bit of history. The original Falcon 3.0 was released in 1991, and was an instant hit, with superior graphics, physics and expansion possibilities. Many add-ons were released for it, with the most notable ones being the F18 Hornet and the Mig29 Foxhound. An updated Falcon, dubbed 4.0, was then promised to the gamers, and, considering how good 3.0 was at the time, expectations were high. However, as time went on, Falcon 4 was continuously put off, and eventually, it went away from the front lines and most people figured it'll never come out. Then, not too long ago, Microprose started promising Falcon 4 anew, and even released a demo less than a year ago - which left me dumbfounded. Even though there were many problems with the demo, it looked and flew so incredibly well, I couldn't believe this might come out one day. Then, even though the ads in PC Gamer and the like said "Falcon now cleared for final approach," nothing of the like was to be seen - it was still somewhere behind the glass windows of Microprose's HQ. And then, all of a sudden, not two weeks ago, Falcon 4 went gold. Truly an unusual flow of events - but it's here, and we're about to take it apart to figure out how well it performs and whether it was worth the ultra-long wait.

To paraphrase Umax, I won't start with graphics, 'cause that's what everyone does. I won't start with the gameplay, either, 'cause that's what everyone does, too. I'll start with something many don't consider to be the prime thing to look out to, but when looked more closely matters much more than graphics, music, sound and all the other eye- and earcandy. The issue at hand is control - how controllable is the plane, and how are the physics in it? To start off, this is the first sim that truly made me wish I had the ultra-expensive Thrustmaster F16 WQS. The amount of control keys is astoundingly large - I'd say most of the keyboard is used, in Alt, Ctrl and Shift combinations. There are two good things: any and all keys can be remapped, and a lot of the functions can be accessed through the mouse-clickable cockpit. I'm unsure as to when the original idea of a clickable cockpit was introduced, but I believe it was either JetFighter III or one of the DiD games. The designers recreated the F16C Block 50/52, and the cockpit is therefore represented accordingly, with over half the visible buttons working. In my view, though, in the heat of battle I doubt you'd go about clicking buttons rather than hitting them on the keyboard, especially since mouse sensitivity seems to be somewhat low. However, if one were to play in what Thrustmaster refers to as the HOTAS mode (Hands On Throttle And Stick), I believe all the commands one may need in the worst-case scenario could be mapped to all of the buttons on the joystick and the throttle. Incidentally, as Umax mentioned it, don't even think of flying this with the arrow keys - but that's fairly obvious to mention, so there's no need. A very neat thing, which isn't unexpected (but still cool) is that when I first played the game, I looked around the cockpit, and when I looked down at my pilot's right hand - what was he holding in it? No, not that. He was actually holding the exact same joystick I happened to be holding in my hand, the F16 FLCS by Thrustmaster. Only mine was a replica, and his was real.

And now to the eyecandy part. The visuals of the game are incredible - the terrain texture is great, and the overall feel of the world is incredibly detailed. Of course, down close to the ground, the texture is pixelated, but there isn't much one can do about it. I found that flying at 10 meters above the ground wasn't an easy task, as I couldn't always precisely judge the height I was at - for some reason, it was harder than in the other flight sims I've played. Landing is not hard, however - you can actually feel the asphalt moving close to you (especially if the lights are off and you're really "in" the game.) An interesting variation on the landing theme was, I thought, that when you land badly you don't necessarily blow up - often your gear will break and you'll end up doing a belly landing, even if you didn't intend to. Or one of your wheels can break, in which case it becomes incredibly hard to keep the plane going straight as you brake. The controller also makes some sarcastic remarks if you land badly, which is a neat added effect. To spice up the realism, many graphics modes are available - and the neat thing is, everything ran quite smoothly on my Pentium 200 with a 3Dfx Voodoo card. Amusing is the fact that there's no Voodoo option in the menu - there's Software rendering, Direct3D and Voodoo2, and setting your 3Dfx Voodoo 1 adapter to Voodoo 2 settings works beautifully. You can tweak the graphics settings quite extensively, too, and even turn on a "preview" mode which displays roughly what the final game screen will look like. And, I must say, at 640x480, with medium-to-high detail settings, the frame rates were more than acceptable, and never did I feel like I was playing on an old and outdated computer. On a downside, while being a minor complaint, I was somewhat unhappy with outside camera angles - I was only able to find a satellite view and a chase view, which spins around so wildly you'd think it's being filmed by someone tied with a rope to the exhaust nozzles. The inside camera views, however, are extremely varied, with HUD views, cockpit views and so forth.

I didn't find the training missions to be as bad as Umax believes them to be. There was a mission, for example, in which my wing commander would tell me where to fly, at which height to rendezvous, which heading to take, which airspeed to accelerate/decelerate to, and so forth. I have to admit, though, that I can't ever properly execute such maneuvers, so I just ignored him - that's, I suppose, one of the things that differ a real pilot from a wannabe gamer. Just the same as in-flight refueling... All kinds of training missions are available to the aspiring pilot - formation flying, basic takeoff and landing, OCA sweeps, OCA strikes, AG weapons training, AA weapons training, countermeasure use, et cetera et cetera et cetera. They do come in useful, as well - while the airborne targets in the game are relatively easy to spot and destroy, SAM sites and other unfriendly folk on the ground are masqueraded (probably) better than in real life, so they end up being quite a nuisance during missions, especially if you finished the mission and are heading home. While I'm on the subject of missions and campaigns: the war in Falcon 4 is truly dynamic, that is, not only are you extremely unlikely to fly the same mission over and over (short of restarting), but losses carry over to subsequent missions and mission results affect the war positively or negatively.

The plane physics and world realism are incredible. The work was cut out for the designers beforehand, since the C variant of the F16 has multiple enhancements over the A used in Falcon 3. For one, it has an AN/APG68 radar, capability of launching AIM120 missiles, and the Wild-Weasel-roll-capable Harm Targeting system. The radar is capable of operating in over 10 different modes, those including, but not limited to ACM, RWS, GM and GMT (Air Combat Mode, Range While Search, Ground map and Ground Moving Target, respectively.) Everything is accurately represented, such as stalls, MFDs, radio chatter, visuals and even the plane breaking up as it hits the ground (as opposed to the standard round explosion). And if you're really thirsting for a challenge, try spinning or deep stalling the plane... even that is possible. Not to mention boring little things like landing on two gears, or gear up, or weather effects (with the weather fronts progressing as the war goes on, rather than appearing and disappearing.) The way the plane breaks up is quite neat, actually - and not always does touching the ground mean the end of the journey; quite often you can still take off, albeit extensively damaged. All this attention to the minutest of details justifies the 3-year wait, and definitely makes Falcon 4.0 a worthy successor to the original. And hey... if you think this review is late... this game deserves it.

Highs: incredible graphics and physics, dynamic campaign, documentation and music, multiplayer options and expansion options

Lows: array of controls truly daunting, system requirements somewhat high

 

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Rating
93%
 

 

 
 

 

 

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