Tom Cruise didn't have to learn all this...
Interactive Magic's newest flight simulator iF/A-18E Carrier Strike Fighter is a juiced up version of their older flight sims with a new cockpit design and one main difference: this game is just way too hard to learn!
I'm sure there are a few flight sim enthusiasts that enjoy a very complex, demanding and detailed flight simulator to satisfy your "realistic" needs in this type of game, but cut me some slack, alright? Who the hell wants to pay money to read a 150 page manual cover to cover just to operate this thing? Trust me. I think I have almost mastered the art of getting a new video game, tossing the manual aside and learning how to play on my own.
However, the learning curve on this game is simply way too steep and cuts out a lot of cheap thrills, like blowing the crap out of something. You're so busy trying to adjust radar scans, locking your own target and telling your brain-dead wingman to be of some use, that you don't even have the time to evade the missile that's coming straight at you! It can be very frustrating, and the only way to avoid getting blown out of the sky every time is to read that damn manual some more.
Let me give you a quick example of the type of complexity that comes attached to this game. In F-22 Raptor by Novalogic, the only thing you have to do get off the ground is open the throttle and pull up. In iF/A-18E, you have to turn on the left AND right engines, open the throttle, turn on your afterburners, and then activate the catapult system. If that's what you have to do just to take off, you can imagine how tricky everything else is.
Let's talk about flight simulation graphics in general for a minute. I don't want to come down too hard on iF/A-18E because most of the competition isn't much better, however flight sim graphics have really gotten worse recently. I remember when the games had 3D buildings, cities, lights, and other marks of civilization incorporated into the landscape. Nowadays, the trend is to have "satellite rendered terrain." Well, in my opinion, satellite rendered terrain looks horrible compared to actual 3D scenes with mountains, valleys, trees, rivers, buildings, etc.
One other thing that you might want to take into consideration: don't be fooled by screenshots, most of them show really nice landscapes. The truth of the matter is that during the majority of any mission, you're flying over an endless stretch of blue (this is a carrier game, remember?) and only on some missions, some of the time, do you ever even see land.
Sound effects, like most flight simulators, are fine. It's hard to hear anything over the engines. Music isn't that great. Even though they could have paid more attention to this area, great sound effects aren't crucial for most flight simulators, not to mention it is very difficult to have realistic sounds for these types of games.
One positive feature about iF/A-18E that also appeared in Interactive Magic's iF-22 release was the "point-and-click cockpit." Everything that you see in front of you is fully interactive. All of the buttons, lights and switches can be manipulated with your mouse. Sometimes this process is a little time consuming (especially in the middle of a conflict), however, for some things such as adjusting the radar settings, and changing MFD screens, this feature is very handy.
If you like hard-core and detailed flight simulators, then you'll enjoy this game. But, if you're interested in something a little less complex, I suggest you look elsewhere, iF/A-18E is definitely NOT the game for you. This is not a "let's blow up things" game. It's hard, complicated, and requires patience, practice, skill and strategy. If you enjoy that in a flight sim, I suggest you download the demo first, and make your decision from there. Unfortunately, I found iF/A-18E to be a little too much work for not enough reward.