• Falcon 4.0

    Falcon 4.0

    By Michael Hewitt (16 February 1999)


    Got a good tone and the missile is on its way, the smoke trail is nicely done. Some of the buttons can be seen here.
    Ah, Falcon 4.0, this is one game that I thought would never be released, but the development team from Microprose have managed to complete it, but not exactly on time. I remember hearing that Falcon 4.0 was supposed to be ready back in 1994! Well, better late than never. I played Falcon 3, by Spectrum HoloByte, on a friend's computer for the first time in 1993. The graphics were pretty good, and introduced one thing that people wanted and made it that much closer to the real experience of flying the F-16 in a combat role: Multiplayer. It had a very steep learning curve and I didn't have the patience or the time to really explore it then. But I love complex sims now and I eagerly anticipated the release of Falcon 4.0, a simulation based on one of the world's most recognized combat aircraft: the F-16 Fighting Falcon.


    The Fighting Falcon

    The F-16C Block 52, developed by General Dynamics, is one of the best multi-role fighters in the world. It is capable of doing air-to-air or air-to-ground missions equally and with deadly accuracy. The F-16 is armed with a 20mm M61A-1 Vulcan 6-barrel cannon, has 9 hardpoints (1 on each wingtip, 6 underwing, and 1 under the fuselage) able to hold various A2A and A2G weapons, and the AN/APG-68 pulse-Doppler range and angle track radar. The F-16 can carry a weapons loadout of up to 12000 lbs (5443 kg) and can travel at over Mach 2.


    Full loaded and lookin for some action.

    Getting Started

    Don't be scared by the nearly 600 page Flight Handbook. There is a 40 page Cadet's Guide that is designed for the novice pilot to get up in the air without having to know all of the detailed information contained in the Flight Handbook. The Cadet's Guide reviews the basics of flying and fighting in the F-16. There is a Communications Handbook which describes the steps necessary to play the various multiplayer modes in Falcon 4.0.

    Falcon 4.0 takes place on the Korean peninsula that has more that 786,000 square kilometers of terrain. Included is also a large glossy map of Korea, which adds a nice touch to the game.

    Pop the CD in, follow the installation instructions and you will be up in the air in no time. Now, before you start flying, the first step is to go to Setup in the main menu and select your desired settings. From here you can change aspects about the Simulation, Graphics, Sound, and Controllers. The number of things that you can change here are too numerous to list but are well detailed in the manual. For the graphics setup, the manual has 2 charts with recommended graphics settings for systems with and without a 3D graphics accelerator in order to provide a compromise between frame rate and gameplay. This is very useful so that you don't have to experiment with the different settings to determine what they should be.

    After this is completed, you can choose either Instant Action, Dogfight, Tactical Engagement, or Campaign.

    Instant Action

    Instant Action puts you right in the war zone with your choice of either an air-to-air or air-to-ground mission. You can choose the enemy difficulty level, air defenses, and the location where you want the battle to take place.

    Dogfight

    The Dogfight option gives you the chance to fight head-to-head with other aircraft, with up to 4 teams (computer or human controlled, in any combination).

    Tactical Engagement

    Tactical Engagement allows you to fly one of 31 training missions, fly a tactical engagement, or create your own mission. The training missions were designed by Pete "Boomer" Bonanni, a highly experienced F-16 instructor pilot who provided input to the Falcon 4.0 development team. He designed these training missions to those that the US Air Force uses to teach new pilots how to fly the F-16. These training missions include takeoff, landing, A2A radar modes, A2G radar modes, AIM-9 Sidewinder, Dive Toss with unguided bombs, and others. You can design various types of missions for solo play or muliplayer (co-op or H2H); the possibilities are endless. The manual provides very thorough instructions on how to develop a mission through the Tactical Engagement editor.

    About the training missions--landing the F-16 is damn hard, bottom line. Out of 8 landing attempts, I successfully landed once. Every other time I blew out the landing gear. Practice makes perfect......sometimes.


    The Frag Order has several types of missions that are available in the campaign. You can choose the mission you want, not one choosen for you from a scripted campaign.

    Campaign

    Once you have completed the training missions and are up for some real combat, strap yourself in and go into the Campaign mode. The Campaign is what sets this combat sim apart from any other on the market. The campaign is not scripted, like almost every other sim, but it is generated by the campaign engine, which provides a number of randomly generated missions that you can select from. All of this takes place in real time, which means air and ground movements happen simultaneously and continue even if you are not in your aircraft. You can view the news, information, and events that have happened during the campaign. You can even watch the war go on, watch the balance shift to one side to the other, without ever flying a mission. The Campaign can also be run through multiplayer mode, which can accommodate a number of people equal to the number of available of planes, while those who do not have a plane to fly can watch the war progress. If someone has a permanent Internet connection, they could act as a server and host a non-stop campaign, so people could come and go as they please.

    A word of caution, running the Campaign on a system that meets the minimum requirements will be extremely slow and virtually unplayable due to the vast amount of information that has to be processed.

    The Cockpit

    The real F-16 has hundreds of switches, gauges, and other instruments, many of which work in Falcon 4.0. Unless you are a real F-16 pilot, it is going to take a while before you master all of these. The good thing is that instead of having to remember numerous key commands, most of the switches, knobs, etc, can be activated with the click of the mouse. The 2 MFDs (Multifunctional Displays) have 20 OSBs (Option Select Buttons) located around each one. A Quick Reference Chart is included that has a keyboard chart and a list of key commands.


    Ripple pulse some bombs on the air field to do some serious damage.

    Graphics

    Even though I had the graphics set to the lowest setting, the graphics are incredible. The level of detail of the F-16, buildings, ground, water, structure, etc, are the best that I have ever seen. Even the weapon effects are superb, the way the bullets from the Vulcan hit the water, to the concussion rings that emanate from bomb explosions, it almost looks real. The only thing is that in order to get great graphics and acceptable frame rates, you will need a beast of a system.

    ACMI

    The ACMI (Air Combat Maneuvering Instrumentation) records everything that goes on in the area of your plane so that you can review the action, like a VCR. Turn the ACMI on when in combat or on a bombing run so that you can relive the moment and see what you could have done better. Also, during the game you can take screen shots, and they will be saved in RAW format on the hard drive.

    System Requirements

    The minimum requirements are a Pentium 166MHz, 32MB RAM, 175MB HD space, Windows 95 or 98 with DirectX 5, 800x600 16-bit color, 4x CD-ROM, joystick, and a DirectX compatible 16-bit sound card.

    Recommended requirements are a PII 266MHz, 64MB RAM, 400MB HD space, Windows 95 or 98 with DirectX 5, 3D graphics accelerator (D3D or 3Dfx Voodoo), 8x CD-ROM, joystick with throttle, and a DirectX compatible 16-bit sound card.


    Goin out with a bang. The explosions are pretty good for being on the lowest graphics setting.
    If you want to play Falcon 4.0 to its true potential you will need a PII 450MHz, 128MB RAM, 600MB HD space, Windows 95 or 98 with DirectX 5, 3D graphics accelerator with 8MB for texture memory, 24x CD-ROM, fully programmable joystick, throttle and rudder pedals, and a DirectX compatible 16-bit sound card.

    For multiplayer mode, you will need one of the following: Null-modem serial cable, Windows-compatible 28.8kbps modem or faster, or a Local Area Network with TCP/IP protocol.

    I played this game on a Pentium 200MHz, 32MB RAM, 4MB video card, 16-bit sound card, CH F-16 Combatstick, and Thrustmaster Elite Rudder Pedals. With the detail on the lowest settings, the game ran considerably well, although the frame rate suffered dearly when the number of objects on screen increased, and when viewing explosions and smoke trails.

    Conclusion

    This is by far THE best combat simulation that I have ever played and I would say it is going to be around for a while. If you are an experienced jet jockey, this is definitely the game for you. On the other hand, if you are a novice or someone who doesn't like in-depth simulations, you can change the flight model to simplified and the avionics to easy,
    so you can still enjoy the game without having to know all of the complex radar and weapons systems contained in the Flight Handbook. Some people would argue that they released the game when it was not completed and it was still buggy. I agree, there are some big bugs that still have to be ironed out before the game will be virtually bug free (wingman AI, AWACS, multiplayer problems, etc). But, this game offers so much and I, for one, don't mind a few bugs, just as long as I get to play this great game every free moment I have. Within the past 2 weeks, a new patch has been released, which is supposed to fix many of the problems. The patch and general information about Falcon 4.0 can be found at www.falcon4.com


    Michael Hewitt
    michael.hewitt@mailcity.com