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iF-22, Interactive Magic of Research Triangle Park, N.C., 1997, $49.95.

The Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor is the future star of the U.S. Air Force, but thanks to the efforts of flight simulation developers, users can take a virtual test flight in the fighter today. The iF-22 simulation has some rough edges, but it is a respectable first in-house product from a firm that has published flight simulation packages before, but through outside development teams.

There are a few more F-22 simulators on the way, but as of this writing iF-22 is the most realistic product available. A good flight model that handles all the requisites, such as speed bleeds in turns and performance limitations, is matched with a terrain graphics engine that looks superb at high altitudes. Low altitudes, unfortunately, reveal a more blurry earth, and the lack of translucent smoke creates bizarre visual effects–long funnels seem to streak from missiles and damaged aircraft.

The cockpit graphics, however, are excellent. The Raptor’s multifunction displays can be controlled by using a mouse and clicking on the square buttons framing each panel, just like those in a real cockpit. The displays also support multiple colors and are legible even as the pilot’s vision is panned around the cockpit to track a bogey. Be forewarned that iF-22 requires Windows 95, 16 megabytes of memory, a quad-speed CD-ROM and Pentium-class processor. I recommend at least a 150Mhz machine for best results.

Another strong point of this simulation is what Interactive Magic calls a dynamic campaign. This refers to the series of related missions the user flies in a tour of duty. Most flight simulations have used a set of static missions that had the user stepping through canned paths. Each time a user flew a particular mission, it was exactly the same whether it was the first iteration or the 20th. Opponent defenses, bogeys, target locations and objectives were always the same. If a user failed during a mission, he could remember the location of trouble spots; in a retry, the user was as much phenomenal prognosticator as virtual pilot. iF-22 generates missions with some random elements, so that each replay is a new experience.

Other extras in the package add to iF-22’s realism, such as a map of Bosnia that can be used to help plan missions in the Bosnian theater offered in the game. A second CD includes more missions set in the Ukraine. A fine military-style manual completes the package. You’ll find prettier simulations and some with better selections of flyable aircraft, but if you want to get seriously into the F-22, iF-22 is worth a look.

Bernard Dy