Flight Simulation Review By:
Pete "Pygmy" Marone
Joint Strike Fighter is currently under development from start up company, Innerloop Studios and EIDOS Interactive. JSF promises a blend of realism, fun, and the best graphics engine in a flight simulation to date - From what I've seen they will deliver as promised. Let's have a look at this beta release.

JSF joins the current trend of modeling future aircraft, in this case the U.S. Department of Defense's Joint Strike Fighter Program. The DOD's JSF Program is commissioned to develop a single base aircraft which will replace the USAF F-16 and USMC AV-8B, and will enhance the USN F/A-18E/F role since the A-12 program was shelved (the A-12 was to produce a long range stealth attack aircraft for the Navy). JSF (the sim) models both experimental aircraft competing in the program - Boeing's X-32, and Lockheed Martin's X-35.

The first thing that will grab your attention in JSF is the incredible 3D graphics. The terrain graphics are smooth, detailed, and look just as good at low altitudes as they do at higher altitudes. There is no pixellation, tearing, or "pop up" objects, just smoothly scrolling landscape. Terrain data was obtained from satellite navigation charts, providing for accurate placement of roads, rivers, towns etc. JSF also incorporates weather effects such as rain, snow, fog, winds, and turbulence. Innerloop claims their engine will run on as low as a Pentium 90, at up to 20 frames per second without 3Dfx Glide support, and up to 30 frames per second with a 3Dfx card. On my P166MMX and 3Dfx, I had all the graphic options maxed with a phenomenal frame rate!

Cockpit graphics are functional, but are not extremely detailed. Six Multiple Function Displays (MFDs) and the HUD provide all avionics and flight information. There are no analog displays or controls available. Views include fixed views, a 3D virtual cockpit view, and a padlock view based on the virtual cockpit. Visual cues similar to the canopy arrows in EF2000 assist when not looking forward in the virtual cockpit or padlock modes.

Flight modeling is on par with other futuristic aircraft sims. These new aircraft are designed to take the piloting workload off of the pilot, so that he can focus on fighting the aircraft. I think this gets overlooked when people start comparing the flight modeling of this type of sim with older aircraft such as F-16 sims. You just don't seem to have to work at flying these aircraft like you do in iF-16, Back To Baghdad, Tornado etc. With that in mind, the aircraft handle realistically; the aircraft bleed airspeed quickly in high G turns, and stall, accelerate and decelerate appropriately. I haven't been able to force either aircraft into a spin, nor have I been able to intentionally crash into the ground - there seems to be a minimum altitude limiter that keeps your undamaged aircraft above 2000 feet. One thing I question is the presence of trim controls for the aircraft - I would think such advanced aircraft would self trim for level flight.

Weapons are modeled realistically also. Air to air weapons include the AIM-120 AMRAAM, affectionately known as the Slammer, and the AIM-9X Sidewinder, which you can fire off boresight (fighterjock speak for "not in front of you") just by looking left or right. Air to air gunnery is aided by a "snake" predictor sight, which draws a squiggly line that looks like a snake to show where your rounds will travel. When flying straight and level, the snake will appear as a very small line or a dot, but start banking and the snake will dance all over your HUD, showing the trajectory of your bullets. Air to ground weaponry includes Joint Defense Air Munitions (JDAM) - guided 1000lb and 2000lb "dumb" bombs; Joint Stand Off Weapons (JSOW) - longer range, guided soft target and armored cluster bombs, and a 1000lb bomb, CBU-97 Wind Corrected Munitions Dispenser, AIM-88C HARM missiles, and LAU-3 rocket pods. Ground targets can be designated by GPS system, infra-red sensors, and active radar.

JSF has three gameplay options - an instant action mode, head to head multiplayer, and single player campaign. Four dynamic campaign scenarios are provided - Afghanistan, Kola Peninsula, and Korea against real world military threats, and Columbia, against a hypothetical drug cartel threat. Your choice of aircraft (X-32 or X-35) is limited to the pilot selection screen, forcing you to fly only one during a campaign. Mission planning in the campaigns is quick and easy. You can choose one of the campaign generator's preplanned missions or create your own by choosing a target on the map, then placing waypoints as easily as clicking your mouse on the desired location. Other options for mission planning include setting waypoint altitudes as either high or low, selecting wingmen's aircraft (X-32, X-35, or F22), general selection of wingmen's ordnance to maximize stealth or maximize weapons, and selecting your own ordnance.

Wingman AI is uncharacteristically well done in JSF. I've yet to see a wingman fly into the ground at low levels, nor have I had reservations in sending them off on their own. Given your command through a detailed and easy interface, they'll act with intelligence and efficiency unseen in most other sims. When in formation with two F22's as escort, I know I an tell them to intercept at will, and they will sort their targets by threat to the flight, and take them out (or attempt to) one by one. Enemy AI is controlled by the same code as your wingmen, so watch out!

JSF has quite a few good things going for it with its graphics, AI, and varied dynamic campaigns. I believe it will do better with the "fun" crowd than it will the the "hard core" simmers due to its "arcadish" looking cockpit and its ease of interaction. Funny thing is, aircraft cockpits are becoming increasingly "arcadish" in real life, with color MFDs replacing single function displays and analog instruments. If you are looking for a fun simulation, relatively accurate and easy to hop in and play without having to spend an hour in mission planning, take a good look at JSF. In fact, take a look now and download the demo at ftp://ftp.eidosinteractive.com/pub/pc/JSF/Demo/jsf_demo.zip .

-Pete Marone-


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