A Combined Review and Mission Report for FreeFalcon 3
With the recent release of FreeFalcon 3 (FF3) the Falcon 4 (F4) community has witnessed another amazing leap forward in the evolution of this one of a kind simulation. I tend to leave the politics and strife of the F4 community out of the “big picture” and instead focus on having fun and flying exciting missions with the wealth of user created add-ons and improvements that make F4 arguably the best combat flight simulation available. With the release of FF3, F4 has become probably as approachable to the new-comer as it has ever been before. FF3 is a mixture of stunning flight models, graphics, and the most impressive dynamic campaign ever seen in a flight simulator. To top it all off the FF3 team has bundled it all together into a seamless and easy (did he say EASY?) installer that makes flying a highly modified Falcon 4.0 more hassle free than it has ever been before.
I won’t go into the detailed history of the evolution of F4 or FF3; it’s all there for the reading for those who wish to dig it up on many of the community forums. Let’s just get on with the flying!
As many of you know, I’ve been flying F4 and doing my “mission reports” for almost a year now. I’ve owned the original 3-ring binder of F4 since the day it came out, but it wasn’t until last year that I entered the fascinating (and often crazy!) world of F4. What I found, once I sorted through all the offerings, was a rich simulation, more immersive than any other I’d ever flown, with a rabid fan base consisting of some of the most talented programmers and “modders” I’ve ever seen. After learning the ropes of F4 I started a campaign in September 2003 and have written reports for all of my missions to date (52 missions!). As I flew and reported on my campaign progress F4 continued to evolve. Since many of the improvements to F4 do not allow me to migrate my campaign into new installs, I have been stuck using the same install I started with, which has been incredibly rock solid (BMS .99 & FreeFalcon 2). Over the past year since the beginning of my campaign there have been several new releases that further improve the F4 experience including: BMS 1.03, BMS 2.0, SP4 and SP4 Hotfixes. It has been agony seeing the beautiful screen shots from these latest offerings, but after investing so much time in my campaign I’ve set my mind to completing the campaign before upgrading to a new install.
So with that said, you can understand why I was so excited to get to try out FF3, if only for a little while, to see just what it is I have been missing!
The first thing you need to know is how to get FF3. Unfortunately there is no easy answer to this question other than to say you might have to search a bit for exactly HOW to get it. It was originally distributed via BitTorrent to save server bandwidths.
The FF3 package weighs in at a hefty 214MB, but when you see what it has to offer you will agree that it is worth every minute (or hour) of download time. Take the time to visit the FF3 web site (www.FreeFalcon.com) to read up on the latest issues and download the FF3 manual. There is already a Hotfix that has been released so head over to the web-site and read all about it.
Once you have the FF3 installer, all you need is your original Falcon 4 CD and you are ready! Simply install F4 from you CD then double click on the FF3 installer and it takes you step-by-step through a painless install procedure. Be aware that FF3 replaces and modifies a ton of files automatically so you will have to be patient while your computer churns through all the data. I timed my install on my P4 2.0 Ghz computer at about 30 minutes from the time I installed the original CD to the time I was ready to start flying. Next install the Hotfix, a very painless once click operation, and then you are ready to configure how you want YOUR install to be specialized. The installation will place an icon on your desktop called FF3-BMS Config Editor. Open this and start selecting whatever extra or different items you are interested in, or don’t and just start with the default settings.
For the purposes of this review/mission report, I decided that I was just going to go with a plain vanilla original F4 + FF3 install, focusing on what it would be like for a newbie to get into F4. So this report will not feature skin packages, add-on cockpits or terrain tiles.
After a quick browse through the FF3-BMS Config Editor, I’m ready to fly!
My System Specs:
- Toshiba 5205-S703 Laptop
- Pentium 4 – 2.0 GHz / 512MB RAM
- 64 MB GeForce 4-460Go Mobility graphics chip
- Laptop ported to a 19” Samsung 955DF monitor
- Saitek X45 HOTAS
Note – Although I approached my FF3 install from the perspective of a new user I am, admittedly, a bit experienced with F4 (some would argue that assertion..haha..) so new users should absolutely learn to fly F4 by taking baby-steps and asking questions. F4 is not a “light” sim at all, and I’m pretty sure that the current highly modified F4 doesn’t play very well with “easy avionics” selected (your results may vary!). The bottom line, read the original manual as well as the many excellent supplemental manuals out there (RP5, SP3, FF2 & FF3) and don’t expect to jump into this sim and fly it like you would Crimson Skies. While the install may only take 30 minutes, learning to fly a highly realistic representation of the F-16 takes an investment of time and practice!
After firing up your newly installed F4/FF3 sim take the time to go through the options menus checking off and on things you may want. The graphics and sounds pages have changed a bit from the earliest version of F4 and you’ll want to tailor your selections to your own preferences and hardware. Personally I fly at 97% realism with the only concession being enhanced padlock. I also fly at 1600 x 1200 / 32-bit resolution with no FSAA enabled. With my meager 64 MB graphics card I find the cost/benefit of FSAA not worth the frame rate hit and at such a high resolution the FSAA is a negligible feature anyway.