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A New Pilots First Look at Falcon 4.0: Allied Force

by Guest Writer Brett "Bert77" Palmer



Ok, let's start at the beginning.

I have only had my PC about 18 months. The main reason I got it was because I wanted to get back into flight sims having been a fan back in the early days. Someone showed me Falcon 4 on their PC and my mind was made up.

My system is as follows:

  • Athlon AMD 2200
  • 768MB DDR RAM
  • GeForce FX5200 - 128MB
  • 130GB hard drive

Not the most up-to-date or powerful system, but seems more than capable of running F4:AF on full settings and a reasonable frame rate of about 30fps (and upwards).

My experience of Falcon 4 up-to-now has been of a completely unpatched and unmodded version (I can hear the gasps of horror from here!) so after reading the development notes at Lead Pursuit and speaking to people at various forums, I was expecting a lot from F4:AF.

The thing which always attracted me to Falcon was the realism, depth, and attention to detail so I was keen to see if some of the annoying bugs from the original had been ironed out. I had never really had any big issues with CTD's — but more just with annoying glitches in the game play and the AI.

So, my disk arrives in the post and I install it. Put the disk in the drive, a couple of mouse clicks and it's done within minutes. Very painless. I'm greeted by a great new video intro and a new menu screen. All very well laid out and simple to use. When I played the original Falcon 4, I only used the simplified avionics as I never really got around to learning it on full realism. This time I am starting from scratch and wanting to work through the training missions one-by-one. I realise that this is going to take some time as there is a lot to learn. But I also realise that to appreciate this sim to the full capability, it's the only way to do it.


I am familiar with the basics of flying the F-16 and as far as I can see, a lot of the controls are the same in F4:AF as they are in the original version. I decide that the first thing I want to try out is the new ramp start feature before I move on to the radar modes and weaponry lessons. I load up a campaign mission on full settings and select "ramp start". Following the step-by-step instructions is relatively simple considering the complexity of the procedure. I find a couple of the switches a little tricky to locate and it takes a while for me to work out that the idle detent is "alt-I" not "shift-I" as stated in the manual. Eventually I get there and hear a satisfying roar as the jet comes to life. The rest of the procedure amounts to switching all the equipment on.

The navigation system needs to be left for several minutes to calibrate itself so the whole process does take up quite some time (as highlighted to me by my wife who came in to see what I was doing — an hour after I disappeared with the disk — only for me to inform her I hadn't even left the tarmac yet!). I suspect the ramp start option will be only used regularly by the real die hard simmers as it takes about 25 minutes from start to finish and I don't always have that sort of time-to-spare. But it is a very nice touch and quite satisfying. I then attempt to taxi to the runway and it is at this point, as I careened towards and then into the control tower, that I fully appreciated the "shift-/" joke I have seen so many times on the forum! I'll leave you to discover this one for yourself if you haven't already!

Having accomplished the ramp start, I decide its time to plough onward with the training missions.

Being familiar with the basic flight manoeuvres, I skip them and start working through the section on navigation and timing. All very easy to follow thanks to the basic step-by-step nature of the tutorials in the PDF manual. Although I am keen to work through these, there is still a part of me that wants to do some mud moving so I also set up a campaign using the simplified avionics so I can get a feel for the campaign element in between my lessons. For any newbie reading this report, I do suggest that this is a good way to approach AF as you can learn at your own pace whilst also getting a bit of campaign action at the same time. At this point I would also like to add that there are a number of people in the SimHQ F4:AF Forum who can offer great advice to us newbies, and also offer links to training guides, which I myself have found very useful. BeachAV8R being one of these persons.

So far I have managed to work my way through the training missions which cover radar modes (both A-A and A-G), A-A weapons, and A-G weapons. This has taken me the best part of two weeks, but now I am at the stage where I'm running a campaign using realistic avionics and have a realism rating of 95 as opposed to 20 using simplified avionics. Okay, so I'm not an expert yet, but I am about 20 missions into the campaign and coping quite well with the enemy skill set to rookie.

One area I am finding a little tricky to get to grips with is targeting moving ground targets. Static targets seem to be a reasonably straight forward process. Generally, the steerpoint is over the target and you can find it without a problem. Moving targets however are a completely different proposition. I have found that when you get to the steerpoint, nine times out of ten there is nothing there. I have the radar in GMT mode but nothing shows up. If you deviate out from the steerpoint you may find some moving targets but are they the ones you were sent to destroy? Let's hit them anyway. On many occasions this has happened to me only to find out on my debrief that I haven't touched my assigned target. Where were they then? Maybe they were not moving and that's why they didn't appear on my radar? I'm not sure, but I suspect this is some sort of "pilot error". I need to go back to the tutorials and read up a little more.

Another area which can be daunting is the number of controls and different key combinations. Flying towards a target with AAA flying up at you, a couple of MiG-29's lurking in the area, and trying to look at the key command list to see which keys you need to press to perform a certain function is VERY difficult. Before you know it you are either on top of the target — or dead! I appreciate that this is because of the level of accuracy in the sim that all these controls are necessary — but from a newbie point of view it can be frustrating sometimes... especially when you are trying to pull off a 4-key combination with everything going off around you.

Because of the complexity of all these key combinations, I have found that it is a little easier to try and use as many of the actual switches in the cockpit as opposed to pressing keys. But even this can be tough when you are changing views in the cockpit to find a switch in the heat of the moment. This is the kind of situation where the freeze function comes in very handy. You can freeze the game but still use all your instruments and radars etc. I know its cheating a bit, but sometimes I find it's the only way to cope with a hectic situation!


One of my most satisfying missions so far was an attack on a bridge (at this early stage in my F-16 career I prefer these types of targets as they are: a) big, b) pretty easy to find, they don't move when I try to bomb them, and d) don't shoot back!). Intelligence informs me that enemy forces are moving towards a NATO stronghold in preparation to launch an attack, and are trying to overrun a particular town. A 2-ship mission pops up on the schedule requesting that a bridge just outside the town be destroyed. It's expected the enemy forces will be crossing it so needs to be taken out before they get there. Sounds good to me. so I load up with some iron bombs, make sure I've got a couple of AIM-120's and AIM-9's just in case enemy fighters should try bothering me on the way, review my flight plan by checking for threats en-route, and then commit to the mission.

Once in the air, I set my bird up at 22,000 ft and adjust my air speed to get me to my second steerpoint on time. Then I go through my pre-battle checks. This is something I have trained myself to do whilst things are quiet and includes things such as switching off the external lights, making sure my A-A radar is set to 4 bar 40 mile (my preferred default mode... I suspect everyone has their own favorite) and clicking the master arm switch. There is nothing more frustrating than executing a perfect ingress and bomb run only to find the cue to hit the flight path marker — and nothing happens! Time is precious and having to swing round and line up a second run is not always advisable when people are trying to knock you out of the sky!

As I approach the ingress, I call AWACS one last time to make sure there are no bandits close enough to bother me. All clear. I call up my bombs on the SMS and opt to drop them as a pair. CCRP is my chosen method for this sortie. Don't know whether CCRP is better than CCIP or vice versa at this point, but I seem to get on well with it. I am certainly open to advice on this subject. I line-up the steering cue with my flight path marker and hold the pickle button down until I hear the bombs release. Using the weapons view I follow my bombs down and see them obliterate the bridge at the first attempt. Success! But whilst I revel in my glory and stupidly ignore everything else around me, a MiG has crept into the picture and is out to cause me some hurt. I switch over to AIM-9M and we enter a twisty-turny fight. I manage to get on his tail and using the boresight mode, I lock him up. The AIM-9M tone turns from a low growl into a shriek and I dispatch the MIG into the green stuff.

I realize one area still needing to be read up on is how to evade missiles. My dogfight has dragged me quite some way off course and way too low. I'm into a threat area now. I see the launch warning light up along with a warning tone. Not really knowing what to do — and not wanting my "perfect mission" spoiled — I go into what can only be described as a "panic". Dropping countermeasures and wrenching the stick back and left to try and roll my F16 around the sky, I hear the airframe creaking and a loud popping sound. A red light appears on the right eyebrow panel, but I'm too busy being ham-fisted to investigate. Thankfully, my luck is good this time and as I switch to an external view to see the trail of the missile streaking just behind me. I got away with it, but I certainly don't claim it to be through skill or know how!

I set myself back on course and decide to investigate the red warning light. It is the FLCS warning (still not too sure what this is...) but the plane seems to be okay and I don't notice anything that's not working, so I set myself up on a heading to return home. With all the previous action side-tracking me from my original flight plan, I notice I am a little lower on fuel than I would like so decide to jettison my remaining bombs (does this help when trying to use less fuel? Seems logical to me...) and gently try to cruise back home. By the time I reach my home base, it is now early morning and there is a gentle mist rolling in through the hills. It looks stunning. I contact ATC and they talk me in for a landing which I execute without any problems, and exit out to the debrief screen where I am informed that the enemy units have been held up due to me destroying the bridge! There you have it. I actually made an impact on the war, and that is what makes the campaign so great. My one mission only played a small part, but it counted for something and that's where the feeling of satisfaction makes it all worth while!

Nice Touches

There are some really nice touches in F4:AF that just add that little something to it — especially in the ATC aspect — which I feel has been greatly improved over the original Falcon 4. For example, one mission where I was taxiing out to the runway, I called ATC for permission to take off. I was told to hold short due to incoming traffic so I stopped just short of the runway. As I was sitting there, a huge transport plane cut across my nose and touched down right in front of me. Another example is the stack feature when landing where you have to wait for other traffic to land or take-off before it's your turn. You can see it all going on beneath you. It all adds to the feeling of being there and being part of something real.

So far as AI goes, it does seem much improved in Allied Force. So many times in the original F4, my wingmen would not attack targets when instructed, would hopelessly drift towards me and crash into me when flying in formation and generally just didn't seem to be of much use. In F4:AF this seems to have been rectified and I feel much more like they are alive and part of the action. They don't hit their targets every time (of course, neither do I) but that's true in real life also.

With regards to graphics, there isn't a huge advance on what I am used to, but they are not poor by any means and if I had to pick on anything it would be the terrain detail. It could be improved and given a bit more variety, but it is good enough not to detract from the gameplay. I appreciate that Lead Pursuit's primary aim was to improve the stability and AI of Falcon 4 — rather than play around with the "pretty stuff". As far as I am concerned, mission accomplished.

While we are on the subject of stability, I have had one CTD and two lock-ups. All three happened in the first two days of use. I am not sure the problem was with F4:AF. I have had problems with other programs and when you consider the amount of time I have spent on F4:AF — pretty much solid for over two weeks and running for ten hours at a time — I really can't grumble.

The one big advance I can see over the original version of Falcon 4 is the cockpit. This is stunning. Every little detail such as the rivets with the flaking paint on them and the texture of the pilot's legs and hands is incredible. I also love how "interactive" the cockpit is. By this I mean the endless switches and buttons that you can actually use. All are mapped out with key commands but I find it much more involving to move around the various panels and consoles and physically click on them. I also find that actually clicking the switches helps me keep track of what I have pressed. This is far easier than trying to remember key combinations (some of which feel like you are playing "Twister" with all the fingers on one hand!).


At this stage I realise I've only really scratched the surface of this sim and that there is still a huge amount for me to discover, but my first impressions are excellent and I know for sure that I personally will be spending a LOT of time on F4:AF. I am hard pushed to pick on anything as disappointing and really at this stage I can't fault it. The only thing, as I mentioned earlier, would be a bit more variety in the ground detail and possibly to build in some visible damage modelling for the aircraft.

It is very difficult for me to try and cover every area of F4:AF in this review, even after two weeks on it. But that is the nature of this sim... because that's exactly what it is. It's a sim, not a game. You can't just learn it overnight. It takes time and patience and the more realistic you set the options, the longer it takes. But that is part of the enjoyment and it is far more rewarding. The first time you manage to successfully lock-up a target and hit it is a great feeling, and suddenly all those different radar modes and OSB switches seem a little less daunting. Gradually it all falls into place and becomes second nature. The more you fly it the better you get and the more you understand the how the systems function. Once you have mastered one area you can move on and learn another. Before you know it, you can fly this thing, hit targets, control your flight and get it home safely. It is only now I am using the realistic settings that I realise just how much I would be missing out on if I were still using the simplified settings. I would certainly say to any newbies looking to get into combat flight sims that this is the one, and in my eyes it is certainly a vast improvement over the original Falcon 4 that I'm used to.

Just remember that you can go at your own pace, learn what you want to when you want to. If you want some action in between lessons, load up a TE or campaign on easy settings as I did. AF caters to all skill levels, so if you are a novice (like me) you can easily get into it. I know the 716 page PDF manual looks daunting at first sight, but after 2 weeks it doesn't look quite so big to me any more!


We want your Feedback. Please let us know what you thought of this article here.

Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5 and Part 6 of our Falcon 4.0: Allied Force Review Series.

Read our Interview with Lead Pursuit's Executive Producer, Joel Bierling here.

BA_Dart's parody on Part 1 can be found here.


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