Joint Strike Fighter, EIDOS Interactive and Innerloop software, $49.95
EIDOS Interactive and Innerloop software bring to life the first PC simulation of the Joint Strike Fighter, the U.S. military’s planned strike fighter for the year 2000 and beyond. Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), like all simulations based on future weaponry, must extrapolate to materialize its flight models. Modeling the future fighter meant that JSF had to model two aircraft, since both the Boeing X-32 and the Lockheed Martin X-35 are contenders for the final production contract. The aircraft’s stealth characteristics, speed, avionics and range are superior to those of modern fighters, yet the JSF maintains maneuverability comparable to the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet. The aircraft modeled in the software is indeed nimble, though it cannot escape the laws of physics. The flight model is good, featuring stalls, damage, speed bleeds in turns, and angle-of-attack effects.
The impressive performance of JSF’s aircraft may leave many virtual pilots feeling as though they are playing more of a game than a simulator. Fortunately, a few crashes and hits by surface-to-air missiles have been added by the developers to convince users that there are realistic threats in the virtual battlefield. These deadly landscapes are deceptively beautiful–backdrops of bald sand dunes, forested mountains and dense cities. Skies brim with clouds, missile trails and colors that change based on the time of day of the mission.
Sadly, several disappointing lapses make JSF needlessly difficult and sap its realism. Interface problems with the otherwise fine mission planner are sure to frustrate some users. The planner allows the player some control over logistics, such as target selection, ingress and egress routing, wingman selection and ordnance loads. During tactical execution, however, wingmen engage only air targets and ignore ground targets. Since prerequisites to completing a campaign involve the obliteration of ground objectives, the player must win the war alone. Single-handedly slogging through four campaigns filled with SAM sites, factories, convoys and hangars can make for a long and dreary virtual war.
Campaigns are interesting in that they feature some dynamic elements. The player’s performance in missions can affect the state of the campaign at the start of the next mission. For example, a supply convoy may be a viable target, and the user may choose whether to strike it earlier or later. If such a convoy is ignored, however, its destination may later sprout SAM launchers.
JSF is a wonderful simulation that is hypothetical rather than historical. Its excellent graphics and futuristic avionics make it a great game for novices, while retaining sufficient detail and new features to interest experienced players. Some omissions cause JSF to suffer from unrealistic gameplay, but it is ultimately an entertaining look at America’s future airborne workhorse. JSF requires Windows 95 and a Pentium 133 processor.