Lock On: Modern Air Combat - game review

Date: 2004-01-28 11:16:00
The review was based on the PC version.

Lock On: Modern Air Combat, a new military plane simulator, has certainly become one of the games that, for some, become a classic or a legend, even before they hit the shelves, thanks to the media hype around it. Fans of air simulations were regularly fed numerous few-minute-long films from Ubi Softu, presenting short, very effective scenes from the game itself, which only heated the atmosphere around the production and raised dozens of questions in the minds of future buyers. These types of marketing activities, however, are a weapon with two blades - although they perfectly stimulate the appetite of fans waiting for the premiere, it also causes higher expectations, and buyers place a barrier for the product that sometimes cannot be overcome. What was it like for Lock On?

Everything would be fine if not for the policy of Ubi Softu, the game's publisher. In order to make the premiere for Christmas, it somehow forced the creators to finish the work faster, which resulted in a product - not without exaggeration - full of flaws. Of course, these were not some glaring errors that prevented the fun, but most of them were noticeable at first glance by experienced players, and their scale is evidenced by the patch, the list of corrections after printing takes up more than three pages. Did Lock On meet buyers' expectations? After all, I think so. The fans of the previous, very realistic simulator - Flanker 2 (and its subsequent modifications) were waiting for the new Ubi Softu simulator. However, while Flanker 2 allowed to fly only the title plane (and in the later version - the MiG 29), Lock On increases the number of available machines to eight and does not limit us to planes produced in Russia. This time, the hangar houses both American-made F-15C Eagle and A-10A Warthog aircraft, as well as the Russian Su-27 Flanker, Su-33 Flanker D, which takes off from the Kuznetsov, Su-25 Frogfoot aircraft carrier and three MiGs 29 - two Russian and German versions.

After launching the program, we are greeted with a typical menu (by the way, probably the times when simulators greeted us with an effective intro are gone), enabling immediate flight on a selected plane (in a combat configuration), training, individual missions, campaigns and two mission editors (the first one is the editor typical dogfight, the second allows you to elaborate the mission in detail). After waiting for the tens of seconds to load the game, we see one of the most vivid ways of presenting the terrain we have dealt with in flight simulations. As the action of the game is set over the Crimea and the Caucasus, we will see both beautifully modeled mountains and unusual water in which the rays of the sun are reflected. This is exactly the same terrain over which we were able to fly in Flanker, but the difference in performance is shocking. I suspect that, like me, most virtual aviators start their adventure with the new simulator by jumping out of the cabin and seeing the machine from the outside. The planes available in the game look fantastic and this does not only apply to the planes we can fly - other objects are refined with equally amazing precision. What's more, we immediately notice that the world around us lives its own life - vehicles drive at the airport, planes take off and land, it's just a pity that everything is scripted, it always looks the same and does not result from the previously announced dynamic campaign in which the fate of the fighting forces can change in different ways.

Each of the available planes is realistically modeled and painted (well, maybe with the exception of the German MiG 29s, which do not exist at the moment, because they went to ... Poland) and has a cockpit in line with reality. The cabins are perfectly made, you can see all the elements available in reality, and a look to the side may surprise us with such details as the effect of the light refracting on the fairing, or various cracks and dirt. A trifle, and very, very happy. Also, the sound layer of the program cannot be faulted. Airplane engines sound great, especially when we start them. From the high tones of the working engine to the hum of the boosters being turned on - everything here sounds exactly as it should be, including faithfully reproduced warning signals and the so-called Betty, a voice warning system that warns the pilot against various anomalies. Interestingly, Betty will speak to us in English, Russian and German. In the sound layer there is everything that should be and not a gram more.

Once we have a glimpse of our plane and the world around it, we will definitely want to fly it. And here many people who expect simple and effective fun may experience a disappointment. Lock On is a really difficult program and requires both a thorough reading of the manual (which unfortunately only exists in the electronic version on CD. Signum temporis? Certainly, but is it more convenient?) And a lot of practice. If you believe that you can take off a plane the first time, destroy enemy targets, and land, you may be severely disappointed. The flight model is excellent (although there are exceptions - why is it so hard to fall into a flat corkscrew?), But its realism requires a perfect understanding of the aircraft's avionics. The multitude of radar modes, flashing colored lights here and there, and beeping sounds that do not speak to beginners can be confusing. It's really not easy, but the hours spent learning how to use Lock On will reward us handsomely. It is worth using the training option at the beginning, which I did not like very much. It has the character of not very dynamic lectures in the pilot's cabin, which we can only listen to and observe, without the possibility of any interaction. The plane is then guided by the instructor's hand, and when we decide to take the reins to try what we have just observed, it turns out that you cannot return to the interrupted lecture and you should listen to everything from the beginning. It's not very well thought out, in my opinion. In general, I would suggest that you start your studies by simply flying from one airport to another. So what if we will master shooting at enemy machines, when the only ability to safely find ourselves on the ground will be not landing, but catapulting? By the way, there is a little "free flight" mode, where, not disturbed by the enemy, we can find any machine at the airport. The "Fly!" Mode, i.e. a quick transition to the machine, places us in the air, so the implementation of such a free take-off from the airport without weapons requires playing with the mission editor. The advantage, in turn, is the fact that we do not have to learn how to use all available machines and at the beginning it is enough to focus on one. Changing the plane is not as obvious and simple as it might seem - planes differ in purpose and equipment, and the memorized radar modes in the F-15 will not be of much use after switching to the Su-27.

Of course, it is easy to change from the Su-27 to the Su-33, because it is its maritime development version, or to the MiG 29; in the shock Su-25 we can also find many familiar devices. This last plane, by the way, is quite a challenge - the design is quite early and has as much advanced electronics as the Soviet Volga. We won't even find the well-known HUD in it. When it comes to American planes, converting the F-15 and A-10 is not very easy. If we are with airplanes - I am struck by a bit of polarity in the selection of American machines - just the impact only A-10 and only the interceptor F-15C. There is a little missing link between them (like the MiG-29, which can fulfill both functions to some extent). I think the introduction of the F-15E Strike Eagle would be a good example. Built on the F-15C airframe, it would not require that much work on the part of the in-game model designers.

Once we have mastered flying one of the machines to the extent that we can effectively fight the enemy, we can choose either a single mission (5 missions per machine) or a campaign. Here, however, there is another disappointment - why are there no campaigns available for all types of machines? The MiG-29 and Su-33 did not live to see their campaign, which forces us to design missions on our own, or to wait patiently for some additional campaigns. Serious mistake!

Lock On: Modern Air Combat is a program that requires extremely powerful hardware. The minimum requirements indicated by the manufacturer are a 800 MHz Pentium III or Athlon class processor, 256 MB RAM, and a 32 MB graphics card. Running the simulator in such a configuration will make us bite our clenched fists helplessly, and the only method of obtaining a smooth image will be a significant reduction in the level of displayed details, which will not be without impact on the appearance of the excellent terrain in which we will fly. Lock On got out of breath even on equipment with an Athlon 1800+ processor, 1 GB of RAM and a Radeon 9700PRO card with a resolution of 1024x768 pixels. It seems that Eagle Dynamics, the program's development group, could still work on optimization if, of course, the publisher had guaranteed adequate resources and time. In addition to a powerful computer, a decent joystick will also be useful for stress-free flying. The view control mushroom and the throttle are the obvious minimum and need not even be mentioned. Joystick richer in the number of available buttons can be configured for more convenient operation of the plane, which in the heat of battle can be of great importance, and thanks to Force Feedback, we will feel how much force should be put into controlling such machines from time to time. Having access to the local network or the Internet, we can also launch the multiplayer mode, which, combined with the large possibilities of the built-in editor, will allow you to experience unforgettable moments when we aim at a human-operated plane or fly wing with it against enemy forces. The aforementioned editor significantly enriches the game's values (in the absence of a dynamic campaign, creating additional missions is basically the only way to extend its life) and allows you to create virtually any combat situation in the available theater of operations. The compilation of alliances of individual countries and the intuitiveness of operation will allow you to create not only a simple mission, in which several objects will participate, but also a huge battle on land, land and in the air. Interestingly, we can create not only individual missions, but a whole sequence of them combined into one campaign. If we lack the creative forces, let's wait for the missions created by others to appear on the Internet.

Lock On: Modern Air Combat is undoubtedly an outstanding and extremely realistic flight simulator program. As soon as we master the initial discouragement of having to break through the manual (by the way, I would like to add that the game does not contain a full manual, and one, over 300 pages long, is available for a fee from the manufacturer and costs $ 15 in the electronic version to download and 40 (!!) dollars in the paper version! That's nice, gentlemen ?!), we will completely delve into the conflict over the Crimea and we will enjoy the mere pleasure of communing with this amazing game. Hardened fans of the hyper-realistic F-16 flying in Falcon 4, or orthodox fans of Flanker will complain about Lock On anyway, but for the rest it remains the best simulator of modern military aircraft currently available on the market.

Adrian "Red Scorpion" Napieralski