JetFighter IV: Fortress America
Windows - 2000
Description of JetFighter IV: Fortress America Windows
The Old Man of the Skies
Fans of the Jetfighter series already know that this is one of the longest-running series in gamedom. The original Jetfighter appeared on store shelves back in 1989 in the dark ages of EGA graphics. Jetfighter II followed, and then Jetfighter III (in 1996) introduced 3D hardware acceleration to the series). Amazingly, each release of Jetfighter has maintained a somewhat familiar atmosphere of West coast scenery and naval aircraft. Jetfighter IV holds true to its heritage in many other aspects as well which doesn't always prove fun, exciting or revolutionary.
Jetfighter IV: Fortress America has been set in the not too distant future where the Russians, Chinese and North Koreans have allied to challenge the United States as a superpower. (The reason is never made entirely clear except for ego.) The world is coming apart at the seams with a new Arab coalition bombing the hell out of Israel, the Balkans up in arms again and Iraq pissing off everyone. The UN is sitting this one out leaving the good ole US of A standing alone to face an apparent Sino-Russian invasion force. (Forget the fact that this is impossible without nuclear weapons.) Not a very plausible story but we're stuck with it. Thought: if this scenario takes place in 2012, will Jetfighter V take place in 2020?
Fans of the flight simulation genre already know that Jetfighter IV won't appeal to hardcore sim fans so you can stop reading here if you preferred Flanker 2.0 to Jane's USAF. Mission Studios has aimed Jetfighter IV at fans that enjoyed F-22 Lightning 3 and other such light-sim fare. These games typically sport easier flight models that make flying less of a chore and more of a "point and zoom" activity. Light sims also provide easier weapons models that don't require stringent launch parameters, display higher than expected hit/miss ratios and cause more deadly damage than in a real simulation. At the same time, the gamer's aircraft enjoys more durable construction and better than average performance. The goal of these compromises is to make the game more fun and less demanding while providing the illusion of real air combat.
Jetfighter IV allows players to fly one of three US aircraft - the F-14, F-18 and F-22. Though these aircraft play very different roles in combat, were built decades apart (the F-14 first appeared in 1973, 30 years before the F-22 is slated to appear) and possess amazingly different flight and performance characteristics, each aircraft looks, feels and flies almost identically in this game. To put it mildly, the Jetfighter IV flight model allows players to fly the aircraft without worrying too much about stalls, spins, energy conservation or gravity. That's not always bad. A dumbed-down flight model allows players to focus on the real issue at hand: killing the enemy while avoiding the enemy's weapons. Though the flight model isn't realistic in every sense of the word it does provide enough predictability to maintain the illusion of flying a high performance aircraft.
The Jetfighter IV weapons systems are virtually identical among the three represented aircraft. The familiar heads up display (HUD) puts all necessary information in front of the pilot. Though this game offers multiple views of the various multi-function displays for radar, weapons and the like, these are completely unnecessary. The game delivers a better than average virtual cockpit that allows the player to pan around the cockpit looking for targets and easily snap back to the front view when necessary. I found that the view moved a bit too slowly to be of any real value and most of the action takes place beyond visual range, anyway.
Visually, Jetfighter IV looks as good as any game on the market. Mission Studios has modeled the enemy aircraft, ground units and naval forces with a bit more detail than you'll find in most games. These detailed models, combined with high-resolution ground textures make this a very attractive game. While it doesn't quite live up to the amazing detail of Jane's USAF for ground elevations, the visuals, when taken as a whole, are notable. Jetfighter IV ships with a second CD of ultra-high resolution ground textures to further enhance low-level engagements. These textures incur a substantial performance penalty at very high resolutions and really don't offer much of an improvement over the existing textures. Still, this option is nice for the lucky owners of 64MB GeForce 2 Ultra cards.
Training Wheels Off
For a game meant to appeal to the light-sim crowd, it is surprisingly bereft of any decent training materials. The training missions completely skip over basic flight maneuvers and only cover the details of weapons and radar systems in the most cursory of ways. Compared to other light sims, this game assumes a bit too much from the true novice pilot. To further complicate matters, the missions range from milk runs to absolutely impossible tasks. In some supposed nod to realism the game depicts aggressive anti-aircraft fire, 10 to 1 odds against enemy aircraft and wingmen that quickly turn yellow and head for home before reaching the first waypoint. The mission objectives aren't always plausible and would only take place under the most dire of circumstances. Sending a single F-14 to take on an array of enemy aircraft and ships isn't only suicidal, its not very realistic - or fun. The designers must have assumed then that most light-sim pilots would fly with the "Invulnerable" setting turn on and utilize the various re-fuel and re-arm cheats.
Though the game boasts instant action, single missions and a campaign mode, the single missions are nothing more than the campaign played one mission at a time. I played through five of the single missions before beginning the campaign and was forced to replay the same five missions again. Random missions provide even less pleasure because they lack the storyline behind the mission. Compared with the campaign of Crimson Skies or Combat Flight Simulator 2, this campaign feels devoid of emotion and story.
Weapons are an entirely different matter. The venerable "fire and forget" Maverick, which in the real world is used against armored vehicles, can be quite good at taking out 50-story office towers, ships and anti-aircraft emplacements. It's the ultimate in "do everything" weaponry. Amazingly you can even shoot the Maverick backwards if you've overshot your target. The Maverick simply flies forwards and turns 180-degrees to re-acquire the target. This is by far the most unrealistic implementation of the Maverick ever. The LANTIRN system is a bit better. This night-vision system allows pilots to acquire ground-based targets and launch the GBU-24 laser guided bomb with precision accuracy. This system is a lot easier to use in Jetfighter IV than other games and strikes the right balance of difficulty, ease of use and realism.
On the more negative side, the use of guns for strafing is practically impossible and just as flawed for air-to-air combat. The training missions don't even mention the use of guns and the HUD doesn't help much either. In fact, this alone indicates that the designers don't anticipate the player running out of guided weapons and assumes the player will always cheat. If they weren't assuming this then they would certainly have included something more descriptive in the manual or in-flight training.
The game also lacks some of the most basic features that casual gamers have come to expect and a few features that made the press release but not the actual game. Online play, made so easy and painless in F-22 Lightning 3, simply doesn't work in Jetfighter IV. Force feedback, though fully configurable in the game, doesn't actually work either. Jetfighter IV is also a bit unstable and frequently drops the player back to the Windows desktop without warning.
Dust Off The Old Ones
Jetfighter IV looks pretty good considering the competition it faces in the coming months. Compared to casual sims released in the past few years, however, Jetfighter IV weighs in as a mediocre sequel that shouldn't generate much interest. Light-sim players are better served by purchasing Jane's USAF or Novalogic's F-22 Lightning 3. If you already own the two aforementioned games then perhaps its time you move up to a more difficult simulation rather than spend your money on this average offering.
Review By GamesDomain
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