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For the casual simulation junkie, of the three titles, the most immersive and forgiving was Jane’s F-15. With it’s easy-to-use GUI, coupled with an infinite number of realism settings, it’s this simulation pilot’s opinion that this title does the most in attempting to satisfy every sim pilot’s needs, from the rank amateur to the hardened veteran and every skill level in between. Graphsim’s Falcon 4.0: Allied Force has been the first title since to come as close. Either of these would make a fine choice in attempting to take the next step and ramp up the difficulty in the hobby we love. LOMAC, doesn’t quite meet the mark and let me detail why.

Jane’s F-15 lacked a completely dynamic campaign, but made up for it with video from President Bush’s speech announcing the start of combat operations in January of 1991. Add engaging mission briefings that sucked you into the simulation and gave you the sense that you were just one more fighter pilot in a larger war, and the tension is that much more heavy. Falcon 4.0 took that feeling and went a step further by featuring a fully dynamic campaign with hundreds of units in play at once. You now could watch the battle unfolding around you. Ubisoft’s Lock On: Modern Air Combat, while visually the most stunning, sort of feels a bit hollow. It’s attractive but artificial, like Astroturf.

The reason I think these three giants are so dissimilar can be found in their budgets. Jane’s F-15 was an Electronic Arts title, made when flight simulations were featured prominently on the PC gaming aisles of Best Buy and Circuit City. Origin had Andy Hollis on the staff at the time (he doesn’t work cheap) and I would guess that EA threw a lot of money into JF-15, the evidence being the sheer rock-solid stability and versatility. It still runs on Windows XP. Eagle Dynamics and Lead Pursuit are much smaller in scope and funding, making what is already a difficult and costly enterprise that much harder.

Jane’s F-15 isn’t found very often in retail stores. Your best bet for securing a copy would either be eBay or a used software retailer like Half-Price Books. LOMAC and Falcon 4.0 are both easily found on the shelves of most entertainment retailers and online.

Casual sim pilots have their options, though few. In order to stem the tide of consoles (or at least slow them down) more hardcore ‘study’ sims will need to offer people the ability to change difficulty settings to something more forgiving to the new user, giving appeal to much larger audience. This might help secure the future of all sims, casual or hi-fidelity. After seeing the Xbox 360 demonstrated during day-after-Thanksgiving sales all over the D/FW area (while avoiding the stiletto elbows of the grandmother of six next to me), the PC gaming market has their work cut out for them. First person shooters are still far easier to play on a PC. MMORPGs are slowly trying to make their way to consoles and Microsoft is making the transition that much easier with Xbox Live. We’ll soon see what Sony has up their sleeve with the Playstation 3, but you can bet it will be competitive with whatever will be on the market. Simulations are becoming harder to find, and many people on our forums have said that if a console ever came out with a decent sim that used a HOTAS, they’d buy it. After watching the Xbox 360 demo, I’d have to say it’s entirely possible. PCs have a better chance at running a good flight sim as they have more horsepower and are adaptable, but the demand isn’t where it needs to be in order to convince titans like Microsoft Games and Electronic Arts to give us a new air combat simulation. It’ll be up to people like Lead Pursuit, Eagle Dynamics, and Third Wire to get the job done and offer all simmers, hardcore and casual, the flight simulator that suspends their sense of disbelief and puts them in the cockpits of today’s and yesterday’s flying machines.

System Specs:

Falcon 4.0 Allied Force. Lock On: Modern Air Combat

  • Windows XP Home (SP2)
  • Intel 3.0 GHz Pentium 4 (800MHz FSB)
  • 1GB PC2700 DDR RAM
  • Asus P4P800S-X motherboard
  • FIC 128MB Radeon 9800 Pro
  • Creative Audigy 2
  • 16X DVD-ROM
  • 52x32x52 CD-RW
  • Saitek X-45 HOTAS

Jane’s F-15

  • Hewlett-Packard Pavilion 8760c
  • Intel 600MHz Pentium 3 (133MHz FSB)
  • 320MB PC100 SDRAM
  • 3dfx 32MB Voodoo 4500 AGP
  • Creative Sound Blaster Live!
  • 16X DVD-ROM
  • 24x20x32 CD-RW
  • IOGear KVM switch (PS2 model)
  • Saitek X-45 HOTA

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