By: Pete "Pygmy" Marone
If you haven't heard of Interactive Magic's iF22, you just might have been living off planet for the past two months. The Lockheed-Martin/Novalogic vs. I-Magic battle over the name "Raptor" brought this sim to the forefront. After the dust had settled iF22, with "Raptor" on the box, released to so-so reviews in the newsgroups and flight sim forums. This "initial impression" is the first of a three-part review on iF22. Part two will cover the Bosnia and Ukraine campaigns and multiplayer over the Internet. Part three will be a discussion of the designer notes, concepts of realism, and my impressions after a couple of weeks of play.
My first impression of iF22 came not from the sim itself, but from a deluge of newsgroup and CompuServe forum postings about installation problems, low frame rates, poor 3D support. Initially, these posts kept me from purchasing this sim, and I buy almost every new sim released. I had decided to wait until it hit the bargain bin, if I ever bought it. Along came this opportunity (as reviewer for FlightLine), so I figured what the hell, I'll get it to review since it's the newest thing out.
The comprehensive manual is a welcome departure from the trend of "high tech sim, 10 page manual." There is enough information in the manual for a novice sim pilot to learn the basics, as well as concepts of aerial combat, plus enough detail to satisfy the veteran pilot. An informative appendix of Aircraft, weapons and vehicle data is included for all items found within the simulation. The Designer's Notes section explains the work and ideas behind iF22, and touches on concepts to be included in future I-Magic sims; if you read any section of the manual, you should include this one. It appears the manual was completed well before the sim was finalized, so you'll definitely want to review the manual changes in the iF22 readme file.
Now it was time to face the music and do the install . <deep breath!> After all the problems I'd read about, I wondered how well this would go. My system runs OSR2 with Direct X 5, and MS Internet Explorer 4.0 Beta 2, all in all, a great recipe for disaster. I put the Bosnia/Install CD in, and autoplay worked fine. What I ran into next blew my socks off! You have the option of installing hundreds of megabytes worth of iF22! I selected to install the 300MB or so of the optional high detail terrain for Bosnia, and crossed my fingers. 420MB or so later the install completed, I took another deep breath, and.......started the sim without problems. When installing any sim or game, I cannot say enough for ensuring you have the latest drivers installed for your system devices.
I do not like the non-flight user interface of iF22, which lacks the intuitive feel of almost every other sim on the market. I cannot remember playing a sim where I couldn't figure out how to start a campaign just by looking at the interface. Until iF22, that is. After the obligatory animated intro plays, you are dumped into the iF22 title screen, which contains no buttons or text to prompt user action. I waited for a few minutes for these to appear, thinking they must be loading off the CD or swap file. I ran downstairs to get a drink, and when I came back to the system, still nothing but the title screen. I finally gave up and clicked the mouse. I was rewarded with a brief change of screens, then found myself in flight and wondering how the hell I got here. I exited the sim and tried again. This time I click on a corner of the title screen hoping to avoid an accidental click on a subsequent screen. It worked, and I found myself knee deep in the Personal Digital Assistant (PDA).
The PDA is your interface with iF22, It shows your current pilot, and buttons to select instant action, system setup, training missions, theater setup, pilot editing, and the objects database. It's a bit more intuitive than the title screen, but is clunky and confusing at times. I had to pick up the manual to find the instructions on starting a campaign. (which, I think, should be as easy as finding the Instant Action button) Once into the campaign though, the interface is as strong as any. I'll cover the campaign in the next installment.
System setup doesn't give many options. Pilots have the choice of high or low detail level, option of using Direct 3D acceleration, clouds, smoke/missile trails, and gradient sky, volume levels for sounds and music, control settings, and resolution settings for the user interface and cockpit. Realism settings are a bit more detailed - two flight models, standard choice of "cheat features" (no crashes, unlimited ammo, no redout/blackout, etc.), enemy proficiency levels.
The cockpit is intense, but not an accurate replica of the actual F22 cockpit. Every button, knob, and switch is functional with a click of the mouse. The mouse can also be used to switch views. The HUD and three MFDs (multi function displays) dominate your main view. View manipulation can be done by "snapping" views to the left, right, back, and up, or scrolling views horizontally and vertically. A small red marker appears in the upper left corner of the view when not in the main cockpit view, and points toward the direction to return you to the main HUD view. I like this system, as it affords good situational awareness without becoming disorienting as some padlocks can be. There is also a padlock view, but I have yet to use it since I like the scrolling view method.We'll talk more on the padlock view next time.
MFD modes are preset in the PDA before starting missions, and can be saved to your own tastes. The default master modes (combat, navigation, defense, systems, landing) set all four MFDs to show the appropriate information pages. For instance, selecting the Combat Master Mode will set the left MFD to show the Defense page, the center MFD to the Tactical page, the right MFD to the Attack page, and the bottom MFD to show the Stores Management page. Switches on the sides of the MFDs are active depending on the mode of that MFD, IE. the Attack MFD has push buttons for radar range, weapon arming, weapon selection, target selection, etc. Learning the MFDs and the various information they provide takes a bit of time, but can be mastered quickly. The only thing I don't like is all information on the displays are color coded dots (aircraft are dots with lines). I find it easier to differentiate targets with different icons versus different colors.
Missions start in the air or on the runway depending on your preference selection. There is no pre-flight taxiing on this sim - you start on the runway, engines off. I give iF22 a hit on realism for this, either have us start the engines and taxi, or start us on the runway with engines spooled up. Not mentioned in the manual, you can (if you wish) request clearance for take off from the tower, but since you are already on the runway what is the use? One thing you'll notice about the F22 is its short take off roll, without the need for afterburners. The runways used in the sim are full length Mark 1 Mod 0 runways (9000 ft or so). The F22 with its thrust vectoring and powerful supercruise engines only needs about 1/3 of the runway to achieve take off.
Once at altitude, the photorealistic terrain is amazing and accurate. I-Magic incorporated the UTM coordinate system into the sim, which allows the terrain to match up with the included Bosnia theater ONC, and the optional ONCs and TPCs for the Bosnia and Ukraine theaters. For the hard core among us, this means you could use the maps for mission planning or for back up navigation if the avionics are damaged. For the novice, and for those with no military experience, it's an introduction to what a real pilot deals with on a daily basis. My "long term" review in a few weeks will explore this pre-flight map recon capability to see if it would provide usable information. None of this really would make much of an impact on a mid to high altitude air superiority sim such as iF22, but it holds potential for future sims based on close air support aircraft such as iA-10.
Situational awareness is right in your face the whole time you are in the cockpit. The HUD and three visible MFDs constantly provide enough information to understand the air/ground situation around your F22. Passive sensor capabilities include a radar detection avionics suite on the F22, and an In Flight Data Link (IFDL) to AWACS and other aircraft allows you to pass radar information and text messages, improving your stealth by reducing radar and radio use. You can even use the data link to launch and guide your AIM-120C AMRAAM missiles using radar guidance from the AWACS. You won't get away with flying missions without using your own radar since the AWACS is not always there or close enough to provide timely warning of enemy aircraft.
The AI in iF22 is better than most current sims. Your wingmen form up on your aircraft quickly, and tell you when they are there. They will do what you tell them to the best of their abilities. The enemy will minimize radar use, use team tactics, etc. The proficiency of all AI controlled aircraft is set in the realism panel. Adjusting enemy levels to novice also affects your wingmen, friendly aircraft, and even enemy and friendly ground forces. On top of this, AI pilots also have individual traits. One ace AI pilot, enemy or friendly, might prefer firing all medium range missiles at max range at one target, another might hold his shot until he can achieve a better solution. One might attempt to dogfight with you at close range, another might attempt to extend and run for the cover of SAMS or reinforcing aircraft. Combat, from the missions I've flown so far, is quick and furious against modern aircraft/weapons and ace AI levels. The AI is not perfect though, as is evidenced by enemy and friendly AC flying into terrain - though this might be a mission waypoint designation error.
Graphics are a mixed bag of the good, the bad, and the ugly. The good? As I stated earlier, the terrain graphics at altitude are the best in the industry. Cockpit graphics at all resolutions are clean and clear. The bad? The sim will not adjust your Windows resolution when starting a mission. For those like me who use 800x600 or higher in Windows 95, but prefer 640x480 for maximum performance in Win-based games, iF22 gives you a 640x480 window instead of a full screen. Hopefully this will be addressed in a patch. Terrain gets pixilated at low altitudes. The external views of the aircraft are so-so. 3D support is only through Direct 3D, which doesn't give good performance on many Direct 3D cards. The optimized 2D graphics usually work better. The ugly? According to many on the newsgroups and forums, clouds and missile trails. Neither made much impact for me - clouds are too large a hit on performance, causing noticeable pauses from hard drive accesses during flight. I'm not too worried about how the missile trails look, for once the shooting starts, I want to see the missile trails to start my counter-manuevers. The presence of the trails is what matters - who has time to say "damn! I'm being shot at. Boy does that missile trail look gooaaaaahhhh<boom>"! Personally I have nothing against the missile trail graphics in the sim.
Overall, I'm impressed with iF22 after one week of playing the sim. The graphics, flight modeling, AI, and overall look and feel of the sim give a high level of realism, believability, and fun. I-Magic has a winner here, and a good base for future simulations. I recommend this one for the novice flight sim pilot as well as the aces among us.
The next part of this series will focus on the dynamic campaigns and multiplayer mode. Here are my ratings so far for iF22:
Fox 3 = Outstanding. The top 10 percent. Must have sim.
Fox 2 = Excellent. Highly recommended.
Fox 1 = Average. Recommended, with reservations.
Guns, Guns, Guns = Below average. May be recommended after patches/updates.
EJECT = Trash. Only recommended for my ex-wife.