15 February 2014 | LloydBayer
This new version feels as if the original concept has been stripped down to the foundation and then re-built with major improvements.
Based on my PS3 experience, the story plays out in the perspectives of Colonel William Bishop, the Warwolf Squadron leader and Captain Doug Robinson of the Nomad Squadron; both pilots of the 108th NATO Airborne Division. Through multiple air battles over the US, Europe, Middle East, East Africa and East Asia, Bishop and Robinson must dominate the skies in preventing Russian insurgents from detonating a devastating nuclear device.
For the first time in the franchise, players can experience aerial warfare from piloting fighter jets as well as gunships. However, there is no option to switch between aircrafts, as the campaign mode puts the player in the cockpits of fighter jests as well as attack helicopters by default, as and when the story progresses over various theatres of war. In great external detail, the fleet comprises of a wide range of multi-role aircrafts including F-22 Raptors, F-15 Strike Eagles, F-16 Fighting Falcons, F/A-18 Super Hornets, F-4 Phantoms, Harriers, A-10 Thunderbolts, F-117 Nighthawks and more, while gunships include Apache Longbows and Black Hawks, and a single mission that lets the player switch between ordinance on the high altitude AC-130 gunship.
Another surprise, thanks to hushed production and marketing, is the inclusion of an entire aerial battle over Dubai. The city looks great from the air with all the latest landmarks, including the iconic Burj khalifa. Unfortunately, dogfights are so intense, players hardly have time to admire the artwork or gauge the authenticity of the Dubai map. I did manage to fly between the Emirates Towers without breaking a wing though! Speaking of dogfights, the game-play here can get pretty intense within minutes of starting the game. This new version feels as if the original concept has been stripped down to the foundation and then re-built with major improvements on various aspects of the game. Unlike older versions of the game, you can no longer 'fire and forget' after locking onto an enemy aircraft. Enemy AI is one of the areas that have been tweaked. The enemy will almost always maneuver out of the path of your missile or fire counter-measures just before impact, making it hard to get a single-missile-kill accuracy, irrespective of what type of missile you have fired. This brings me to another new addition to the game, known as "Dogfight Mode" of DFM. This is more of an engagement tactic than anything else, where you have to get within close range of the enemy and activate DFM for an increased success rate of nailing the enemy aircraft with missiles, or the onboard cannon. No doubt, the enemy will try to evade pursuit, but this is what makes the hunt rewarding. Every kill using the DFM mode is rewarded with a slow-motion close-up of the disintegrating enemy aircraft. Unfortunately, players cannot opt out of using the DFM for all kills as some enemy aircrafts can only be shot down using the DFM mechanism. Likewise, if an enemy pilot has you in DFM range, you better try every trick in the book to get out of the kill zone. Sometimes, actual tactical maneuvering helps by instantly decelerating or accelerating in combination with sharp pitching and rolling. However, this is easier said than done, because when facing multiple 'boogies', the only ways to mute a lock-on tone is to either continuously evade missiles or start dropping enemy aircraft like flies. On the other hand, attack helicopters have a lot more accuracy in firepower as compared to the agility and velocity of fighter jets. This comes at a price though, as helicopters are meant for low altitude assault and can pick out multiple targets with one burst of hellfire rockets; but elevating a gunship more than necessary will make you a floating (and stationary) duck for RPG or AA fire. My only complaint with this game is the sticky situations found in certain missions. This causes frustrating repeat attempts if you don't succeed within set parameters. On a particular mission, I found myself re-starting several times only because I failed to exert surgical precession on a timed bombing run. Sure, any gamer will appreciate the level of detail and authenticity gone into this game, but let's face it; we are consumer gamers (couch potatoes if you like) and not veteran air force pilots.
On the whole, this new version is a great inclusion to the franchise with various improvements as well as additions to the combat simulation genre. Graphics and visuals are well rendered, but you may not have the time to appreciate the detailed art work here without an enemy missile seeking the heat from your thrusters. Aircraft responsiveness depends on the player's choice of control schemes. Opting for 'Original' will give you full control, resulting in very high maneuverability. Whereas 'Optimum' controls will give the player added stability at the cost of loosing some of the responsiveness to the auto-pilot. I did find that acceleration in real-time seems to be a bit off. As an example, accelerating with 100% thrust (afterburner) took me approximately ten seconds to get from The Palm Jumeirah to the Burj Khalifa. I'm no fighter pilot and neither have I flown an aircraft, but considering the velocity of these modern machines, shouldn't the said distance be covered in less than half that time? It was until writing this review when I realized that it is probably impossible to mimic real world physics in a simulation, that too a game. Even so, how would you replicate Gs or even the pop of going past the sound barrier into a gaming experience? While we let virtual reality work on those questions, I wholly recommend stepping into the cockpit of an ultra modern flying machine, take to the skies like there's no tomorrow and fire from all cylinders using those itchy trigger fingers
all in the safety of your own home.