"The Long Awaited Return Of The Drunken King"
Queue the Top Gun Soundtrack. Walk in slow motion across the sizzling tarmac. Causally adjust your Ray-Ban aviator sunglasses. Pause a moment. Climb up the ladder into the cockpit of you F-16 Fighting Falcon. Buckle in. Taxi to the runway. Wait for the Tower to give you the clear. Hit the afterburner. Release the brakes. Accelerate down the runway, approaching that golden velocity of 120 MPH. Pull up on the stick. Fly upwards. Proceed to the first waypoint. Suddenly realize that you don't even know how to use the eject button. Get blown out of the blue yonder by a nice Russian MiG-29.
Falcon 4.0 is an incredibly realistic and revolutionary simulation of the Block 50 F-16C Flying Falcon multipurpose military fighter aircraft. Such a condition is purely appropriate to the game's pedigree. Those of you critically huddled game playing masses out there may recall that when Falcon 3.0 was released in 1991, it was an instant hit/classic that featured revolutionary graphics, sound, and flight modeling. The standards that it set became the ruler by which all flight simulations have been graded ever since.
Falcon 4.0 has been in development for almost 5 years, nearly ever since Falcon 3.0 was completed and then patched (it featured numerous bugs). Realizing that fans of Falcon 3.0 would likely try to castrate them if they failed to meet the high standards of realism and inspired design that won them so much praise for Falcon 3.0, Microprose and the designers undertook the creation of what very well may be the most detailed and dynamic simulation ever. Aside from a slight lack of polish and a few bugs, they accomplished their goal admirably.
You should begin your long awaited simulation experience, if you have any sense of self preservation, with Falcon 4.0's extremely extensive training missions. The in-game training, accompanied by the almost oppressively detailed 580 page behemoth of a manual, will take you through every facet of flying an F-16. The training simulation is so extensive and accurate that it has been compared to the actual military flight simulators that prospective F-16 pilots train on before taking the real bird out for a Mach 2 whirl. The training does a very good job of equipping you with the skills necessary to take on the game's campaigns. But be warned, the trainer alone will occupy many hours of you life for over a week, and that's if you're serious about flight sims and have past experience.
Once you have cleared the training, or, if you are a flight simulation deity who can get by with just a glance at the handy quick reference sheet, you can proceed to the campaign or instant action modes.
Although the Instant Action, Dogfight, and Tactical Engagement modes are fairly self explanatory, standard flight sim fare, the campaign is purely revolutionary. Never before has any flight sim, or wargame for that matter, created such a completely dynamic and realistically involving campaign. Everything is fluid and changing, just like in a real war. There are absolutely no canned missions in the Campaign mode.
Behind this simulation of flight, there is a fully active war simulation taking place. Enemy troops attack and push forward with intelligent strategies, exploit weaknesses, advance, withdraw, and react to your actions. You, as a pilot and squadron commander, must make decisions as to which targets you want to hit and what effect you want to have. Do you want to attack enemy production and ground transportation facilities to cut off your opposition? Do you instead just wish to frontally attack the advancing enemy lines before they overrun you? Do you want to spend a mission destroying an enemy air field and SAM sites so that the deep strike you were planning has a better chance of succeeding or do you want to just leave it to you flying abilities? You must continually make these sorts of choices, and they have realistic consequences.
It's this complexity that makes Falcon 4.0 such an engaging experience; you really do feel as though you are having a dynamic and realistic effect on a war. Also, this extends to multiplayer. Any stored-in-progress or new campaign can be played by more than one player. Whole new campaigns can be created and played online with multiple participants making up a key fighter squadron. Or, you could invite someone to join you for a mission in a campaign that you have been playing solo until then.
Beyond the complexity of the campaign simulation, and just as key to the appeal of Falcon 4.0 is the highly realistic flight modeling. Falcon 4.0, simply put, has some of the most convincing flight and world realism modeling ever seen in a PC flight simulation. Everything is here, from how the plane takes off and lands to how thermal conditions in the atmosphere interfere with the targeting and tracking of a plane by heat-seeking Sidewinder missiles. It all simply drips with a feeling of gritty accuracy. Beyond that, the detail of the cockpit and of the avionics is the most complete in a simulation since F/A-18 Hornet 3.0.
One of the most talked about features of Falcon 4.0 (while the gaming public was waiting for 5 years to get it) were the graphics. Quite simply, for a flight sim they are quite good. The terrain, while slightly fuzzy, is easily the most convincing seen yet in a military flight simulation (sorry, Flight Unlimited 2, you don't count). You even get transparency effects in the afterburner flame, vapor streaming over your leading edge flaps, and the reflection of the cockpit instrumentation in the canopy. My only complaint with the graphics is that some of the planes appear to be slightly to angular and are not bilinear filtered up close. Naturally though, in order for Flacon 4.0 to run at any decent speed at fully detailed graphics, you will need one mother-of-all-monsters of a system.
Sound, Music, and Control are all adequate, nothing lacking, nothing exciting. Really, the only serious problem with Falcon 4.0 is that it is buggy. This seems a bit ridiculous, as the game was in development long enough to make it as solid as binary, but there are some definite problems with the release version.
One big concern is that there are memory leaks. This means that the program runs slower and slower, the longer you run it. This causes frame rates to drop as long missions (they all are) go on, and makes it advisable to exit and reboot Falcon 4.0 between each flight. There are a host of other bugs, some of which were already addressed in a patch. Still, after that long in development it seems tragic that this game should be released just shy of true completion.
Bugs aside, this is the most ambitious simulation ever attempted, and one of the best simulations ever made. It combines extreme realism and unprecedented depth to create an experience that any self respecting sim junkie should not be without. For those of you out there with slow systems, the graphics can be fully tweaked, but you will not experience their full glory. And for the rest of you out there in the general gaming public, you can turn down the realism so you don't crash on every landing, but if that's what you're after you'd best be a looking a someplace else.
As for you armchair aces; wanna join my squadron? It's called Industrial Strength Prosac. It's what we all need.