F/A-18E Super Hornet Review
By Roxanne Distefano |
Super Hornet F/A-18E from British developer Digital Integration first appeared in UK stores last November, but it has only now become available in America. Digital Integration is a flight-sim developer with a long pedigree and has produced such simulations as F-16 Fighting Falcon and the legendary Tornado. Thus, Super Hornet F/A-18E can be expected to contain all the elements of a hard-core flight simulation, such as particular attention to the realism of the flight model, weapons modeling, and avionics. And for the most part, the game does indeed deliver on these key elements. The problem is that Super Hornet contains none of the extras that make a flight simulation a complete package, even though there's a good flight simulator at its core.
Super Hornet's flight model is generally good, if perhaps a bit forgiving in areas such as energy bleed in turns. The Super Hornet itself is a particularly stable aircraft, which might lead you to believe that the sim unreasonably prevents departure from controlled flight, but in fact that's characteristic of the aircraft.
The graphics in Super Hornet are generally poor. The dark and generally featureless terrain textures make the game look quite dated and serve to make the graphics the most disappointing aspect of the simulation. Luckily, while the terrain textures are poor, the aircraft models themselves are not. The Super Hornet itself is beautifully modeled, and all its flight-control surfaces are actually fully articulated. Unfortunately, the game's lighting effects are substandard, so the overall visual effect of Super Hornet is simply not up to the standards of current simulations.
Inside the aircraft, Super Hornet treats you to one of the most detailed 2D cockpits ever designed for a flight sim. Almost every knob, switch, and display in this cockpit configuration can be manipulated. Compared with the cockpits and cockpit functionality in Jane's F/A-18, Super Hornet wins hands down. The 2D cockpit can be almost completely operated using the mouse alone, and it gives you an unprecedented level of control. Super Hornet also gives the option of a 3D virtual cockpit, like in Jane's F/A-18.
Super Hornet's avionics are commensurate with the detail of the cockpit and make up one of the best parts of the game. Its weapons modeling is also fairly comprehensive, and includes the standard loadout of missiles, iron bombs, and guided air-to-ground munitions that you'd expect to find in an F/A-18 sim. Unfortunately, the AIM-7 Sparrow air-to-air missile is strangely absent, and the AMRAAM is the only radar-guided air-to-air missile available. Furthermore, the capabilities of the air-to-air weapons seem a little optimistic in Super Hornet, as weapons seem quite effective even at the outer edges of their supposed maximum ranges.
Besides the cockpit and avionics, the other exceptional aspect of Super Hornet is its simulation of carrier operations. Unlike other sims in which the carrier deck is devoid of activity except for the aircraft taking off and landing, Super Hornet attempts to simulate the crewmen who direct planes on the flight deck. Crewmen are even differentiated by the color of their jackets, which designate them as plane directors, catapult crew, or landing-signal officers. They are not just for show: A careless pilot can easily cause an accident on the flight deck by running over a crewman, and following the crew's hand signals gives you a real feeling of being on a carrier deck. Unfortunately the on-deck maneuvers don't have a lot of variety, so eventually you'll get somewhat bored with repeatedly waiting for your clearance to advance to the catapult. Still, anyone looking for complete modeling of carrier operations won't find such detail anywhere but in Super Hornet.The Super Hornet manual is written in a very readable style, and while it sometimes spends more time on general background information than necessary, it does a very good job of explaining, step-by-step, how to use the many systems aboard the aircraft. Its explanations should be particularly helpful for novices, who might feel overwhelmed by the complexity of the simulation. Super Hornet also includes a fair number of training flights, which are full-fledged missions including takeoffs, transit time to target, and landing. Once you have flown the training missions successfully, you'll have a good idea of how to handle the plane. As such, Super Hornet is a great sim for novices.
All of the above would add up to a solid flight sim had Super Hornet been completed. While the basic game framework is complete - for instance, the game is very stable - Super Hornet F/A-18E is missing several crucial elements, as though the game had been ripped from its developers by evil elves bent on releasing it in time to fill Santa's bags of toys. That was certainly the case with the European version, which was released a month or so before Christmas, but it's more puzzling why Interplay chose to sell the game in the US in a completely unchanged state from the one pushed out the door four months ago.
First of all, Super Hornet has no campaign. There are two distinct theaters of operation, the North Cape and the Indian Ocean, and each has a variety of missions, but they are all completely separate endeavors. The only way to link the scenarios together is to keep track of your results on a piece of paper and fill in your own imaginary cutscenes. The theaters in Super Hornet appear to have been originally planned as the basis for two separate campaigns, judging by the types of missions included and their general descriptions. It's a shame they were never completed.
Super Hornet also has no mission builder. There is a mission planner, but it merely lets you make adjustments to existing missions, and small adjustments at that. There are certain waypoints in each flight plan that cannot be deleted, which means you're stuck with the basic mission structure for the missions that are already generated. The mission planner itself looks very similar to that in Tornado (which had a very powerful editor that made it possible to design an endless variety of missions), but it seems like another feature that couldn't be completed before the game shipped.
Perhaps the most unfortunate shortcoming of Super Hornet is that there's no cooperative multiplayer mode available. Super Hornet multiplayer only supports deathmatch, which is far less popular among serious flight-simulation players than cooperative play. Flying as your buddy's wingman or forward air controller is far more rewarding than simply going head-to-head against him in a dogfight.
Digital Integration announced quite some time ago that work on a fully dynamic campaign as well as a mission editor continues (presumably along with the implementation of cooperative multiplayer features), and when they're completed they'll be included in a separate release called Super Hornet Gold. It's great that Digital Integration has chosen to finish the game rather than abandon it, but given the announcement, it makes little sense to purchase the current version when it will soon be made obsolete by the more complete version.