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Simulations usually fall into one of two categories, survey simulations or study simulations. The survey simulation is a product featuring multiple aircraft, delivering variety at the expense of some detail. The study simulation focuses on one aircraft in greater depth. Although there have been several flight simulations focused on the Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon, enthusiasts generally regard

 Falcon as the pinnacle of F-16 study simulations.

Falcon has a storied history. Its first version debuted in 1987, and successive versions grew increasingly complex and more visually impressive. The most recent commercial release from the original development team was Falcon 4.0 in 1998. This release suffered from a premature rush to market, but the simulation showed promise even though it was “buggy.” The original development company endured ownership changes and eventually closed down, leading to what appeared to be the end of the venerable series.

The herculean efforts of third parties kept Falcon 4.0 unofficially alive through patches and enhancements. A formal resurrection of the title appears in a retail release called Allied Force ($30, requires Microsoft Windows 98/Me/2000/XP, a Pentium 4 1.5 Ghz or Athlon 1.2 Ghz processor, 1.5 GB hard drive space, 64MB 3D video card, CD-ROM drive, www.

The seven years that have passed since the original release would have been too much for most titles to overcome. The technology advances since 1998 have left several generations of video cards in their wake. Indeed, the graphics in Allied Force are not what most gamers would consider cutting edge. The development team, Lead Pursuit, deserves credit for guiding some graphics updates into the game. Although some would consider Ubisoft’s LockOn a more visually pleasing simulation, Allied Force’s graphics are hardly primitive. Considering the challenges the simulation faced in just staying alive, the artwork is actually quite attractive.

The strengths of Allied Force go far beyond its graphics. The artificial intelligence is also competent and provides plenty of challenge for fliers, and the game truly does a fine job of illustrating the F-16’s multirole responsibilities, featuring air-to-air and air-to-ground missions.

The superior cockpit replication features highly interactive panels. Players push the same display buttons and twist the same dials a real F-16 pilot would be using when managing the “electric jet” and its myriad avionics.

Mastery of Allied Force’s F-16 is subject to a fair learning curve due to the simulation’s complexity. The operating manual is an updated version of the original Falcon 4.0 manual, spanning more than 700 pages. It’s unfortunately only offered in digital format with the game. Serious players will likely foot the cost of printing this documentation even if they own the Falcon 4.0 manual, because Allied Force uses some different keyboard commands and cockpit panels.

The game cockpit is authentic enough that after experience with it players could sit in the seat of a real F-16 and almost feel at home. The game also supports joysticks, and these peripherals are nearly a must for satisfactory play as some commands involve depressing three or four keys at once. The ability to remap these to buttons on a joystick is paramount to pilot efficiency.

The many training missions, the mission builder and the simulation’s exhaustive detail in Allied Force give players considerable depth to manage. This would be enough for some, but the dynamic campaign adds an additional level of complexity and play style.

Allied Force includes two arenas to fly in, the Balkans and Korea. The dynamic campaigns for each of the arenas track the progress of a virtual war in which the player is only one participant.

Other simulations have attempted to deliver a dynamic campaign, and some came close, but none quite match the sophistication and scale of Allied Force. In it, the player becomes a strategic commander, planning strikes and evaluating the force strength of each side as the war progresses.

Because the battlefield is a simulated live environment, the simulation’s missions are not scripted and predetermined. Instead, they are dynamically created by the user or the computer based on the changing situation. The player specifies what he considers the highest priorities, such as strikes on enemy airfields or close air support, and the computer creates missions to apply assets accordingly. When missions involve the F-16 aircraft, the player can jump into the cockpit and take a hands-on approach in leading the flight.

Again, Falcon 4.0 is not for the fainthearted, and neither is Allied Force. The commitment required to develop proficiency in the game’s F-16 is similar to that needed for Dangerous Waters, the hardcore antisubmarine warfare simulation from Sonalysts Combat Simulations that “Airware” covered two installments past. It’s unfortunate for historian gamers that Allied Force bypasses a chance to study the F-16’s real-world resume in the Middle East, but with its sharp realism, the simulation is not without educational benefits.

Flight simulation players should be thankful for Allied Force’s release. This is the most thorough F-16 simulation anyone can buy for $30, and that price also includes a chance to see Falcon 4.0 as it was intended, without having to hunt down piles of patches and user-made content.


Originally published in the January 2006 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here.