Jane's Combat Simulations: Attack Squadron
Windows - 2002
Description of Jane's Combat Simulations: Attack Squadron
Jane's Attack Squadron is a title with a chequered past. Its beginnings can be traced to the late lamented Looking Glass, which hit on the idea of introducing some guns into its popular Flight Unlimited line, and thus attracting the cash of the more bloodthirsty contingent of simmers. Alas for the folks at Looking Glass, insufficient cash flow saw them falling back to Earth before their new combat sim could make it onto the shelves. A pity, because Combat Unlimited, or whatever it was going to be called, looked like it could have introduced a breath of fresh air into the sim scene, spurning the fighter-on-fighter approach of most WWII sims and concentrating on high level bombing.
The demise of Looking Glass did not mean the end of the fledgling sim, though. Mad Doc Software took over development, while Xicat Interactive, whose previous simming release was a full price re-release of GSC's aging Hornet Korea with a tarted-up graphics engine, acquired the rights to publish games with the Jane's name attached. Somewhere, a connection was made and the sim was reborn as Jane's Attack Squadron.
Unfortunately for the title, the simming landscape has changed in the last couple of years. For a start, it usually has trees these days, something which Jane's Attack Squadron has a singular lack of. As a three year-old sim, Jane's Attack Squadron should probably be compared with such titles as European Air War, Fighter Squadron and Jane's World War II Fighters, if not for the hefty price tag. The mighty IL2 Sturmovik has raised the bar considerably both in terms of realism and appearance since those games, however, so has Jane's Attack Squadron got what it takes to match the pace?
Jane's Attack Squadron is a simulation that concentrates on low level ground attack according to the blurb (just like IL2, in fact), so when examining the list of flyable aircraft included, you would expect to find all the famous ground pounders of WWII, right? The Typhoon, the Mosquito, the JU87 and, if the authors are feeling a little flighty, the Hs129 maybe? Well, you would be disappointed. The selection of aircraft provided with JAS had me scratching my head trying to work out some rationale behind it. Along with providing more aircraft than advertised, the strange selection of three high level bombers and the Spitfire and Bf109, which stands out against the rest of the mid-war hardware, we're probably seeing the legacy of the original concept of the title.
Whatever, the presence of the B24 at least is very welcome and, I think, is the first time this sadly neglected aircraft has appeared in a mainly single-player sim. The player has the option of manning any of the gun turrets and the bomb aimer's position in the bombers, which adds to the scope of the sim.
Playing Jane's Attack Squadron was a humbling experience. We thought appearances didn't matter in sims, but our first impression was that the aircraft models looked rather like caricatures of the original aircraft. And the Spitfire! Where to begin? It's wearing desert camouflage, has been inflicted with a bright blue spinner and considering it's the one of the most graceful and curvy aircraft ever built, how could they dare to model it using a few straight edges? It really is dreadful.
We simmers are a breed that likes to see little details done right and this is also where JAS is lacking. I could run off any number of mistakes in how the planes are represented for the time period. One would have expected "the next generation of flight sim" to get these little details right.
It's a pity that the aircraft look horrible because by and large the scenery outside the cockpit doesn't look too bad at all, even lacking some features we've generally come to expect. There's only one in-cockpit view provided - a virtual one that can be controlled with the mouse or the cursor keys. The cockpits are nice looking and the ability to zoom in on individual gauges is useful. The cockpits aren't interactive so minor controls such as the propellor pitch have to be adjusted via a plethora of shifted keyboard commands which the player can redefine as they please. The player can also choose between fixed views out of the cockpit, similar to Warbirds or a smoothly panning view.
Jane's Attack Squadron offers a large range of options both before and during flight. Before take-off, the player can choose whether they wish to be bothered by such annoyances as overheating engines, black and red-outs and the abrupt departure of the wings after a particularly robust yank on the joystick. Once in the air, the player can opt to have a pitch ladder, flight information for their own aircraft and any locked-up targets and a navigation HUD displayed. In addition, there is a picture-in-picture option and targets can be surrounded by a target indicator, or have an aspect caret attached showing in which direction the target is moving and can even display a lead indicator showing where the player should shoot to maximise the chance of scoring a hit. All of these can be turned off, though it should be noted that turning off the nav display will leave the player with no idea of which direction to fly in to reach the next waypoint.
The flight model feels fine in the middle of the envelope but seems to go a bit pear shaped at the extremities. The sim models the relationship between G and stalling speed but since the inevitable result of pushing things a little too far is a flick roll, no matter the speed, altitude or indeed type of the aircraft, this is more of an annoyance in the middle of a dogfight than something to be admired.
JAS makes a big thing of its damage model and by and large this seems justified. The player can opt to be notified of any damage they cause to other aircraft or incur themselves via pop up messages at the bottom of the screen. An impromptu assessment of this damage modelling carried out from the tail turret of a B24 with the unwilling assistance of the following aircraft had mixed results, though. Shooting at an engine resulted in that engine catching fire as you would expect, but puzzlingly, when shooting out both engines on one side, the other, undamaged wing dropped before the Liberator fell into a fatal spin.
There are two campaigns on offer, Kanalfront in which the player joins the Luftwaffe and carries out hit-and-run raids on various targets in the south of England, and Fortress Europe in which the player defects to the allies and carries out various missions in support of the forthcoming invasion. Unfortunately, the campaigns are somewhat unsatisfying, mainly, because there is no sense of any involvement in the broader sweep of what is going on. There is no sense of continuity, the player doesn't play a single character during the campaign but jumps into whatever body necessary for the current mission. The campaigns are also linear, and missions can be recorded as a win as soon as objectives are completed, without having to return to base.
On the bright side, the variety of mission types available in Jane's Attack Squadron is admirable. If dogfighting grows wearisome, the JAS pilot can opt to turn their attention to low level ground attack, high level strategic bombing or even torpedoing hapless shipping.
Because distances are reflected accurately in the game (making the complete absence of a map even more bizarre), the player taking off from an English airfield to have at the Hun will be faced with the prospect of having to fly over one hundred miles before reaching the scene of the action. For those who prefer the action to be a little more immediate, there is an option to teleport between waypoints, though this option is disabled when on the final leg to and from the target area. This system reminded me more than a little of the old Wing Commander games.
So far, the picture painted of Jane's Attack Squadron has been pretty bleak. Duff graphics, substandard campaigns, indifferent flight models... yet I cannot bring myself to hate Jane's Attack Squadron, mainly because if you can forgive or forget its numerous failings, it's actually quite a lot of fun to play. The ground attack missions are interesting enough, but the star of the show is the bombing missions where you can dash from turret to turret blasting away at incoming fighters then move to the bombsite to administer the last rites to some hapless ball bearing factory. The visuals are at their best here and seeing the bomber behind you in the formation wreathed in smoke from flak explosions, and failing into a long spiral earthwards while parachutes blossom around it is a rather special moment.
Many silk purses have been manufactured from sow's ears by the amazing support of the simming community; Falcon 4, European Air War and Fighter Squadron being three of the most obvious examples. I mention this because if ever there was a title begging to be taken in hand by those who care about it, Jane's Attack Squadron is it. The publishers have made a very smart move by including both a missions editor and a utility allowing the physics of any aircraft within the sim to be altered. Sadly, neither of these packages come with any documentation, but there is now a manual available at the publisher's web site.
As it stands, we can't recommend Jane's Attack Squadron at a full price purchase for the serious simmer, as it has too many defects and omissions. If the ultra-hardcore simming community takes interest in bringing about the same improvements they have to other titles, the game may yet end up deserving its place on the simmer's shelf. This would be a joy to behold as Jane's Attack Squadron has the core of a good sim. It just needs about 6 months more work.
Review By GamesDomain
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