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Ups:Good graphics, engaging gameplay,  shallow learning curve, nice weather effects.
Downs: Fog; not for hardcore flight simmers.
System Reqs:
With 3D card: Pentium-133, 32 MB RAM, 4X CD-ROM
Without 3D card: Pentium 200, 32 MB RAM, 4X CD-ROM.
f22e.jpg (5463 bytes)Third in the NovaLogic F-22 series based on the Lockheed fighter which will not see active service until 2005, F-22 Lightning 3 is a flight-sim geared toward combat recreation. Hard core flight sim fans beware: F-22 is not the ullta-realistic Falcon 4.0.  F-22 Lightning 3 does not require the investment of study that such games demand. That said, this game is for the aviation or combat fan who wants to jump right into the action without the steep learning curve, and without having to consult the manual every five minutes. F-22 presents an excellent gaming opportunity for anyone not concerned with ultra-realism, or for those not yet thoroughly indoctrinated into the flight sim world. The game is readily accessible to almost any player, and features an impressive array of options to expedite gameplay.

f22f.jpg (6471 bytes)First of all, the game offers both "Quick Missions" and campaigns located in various locales such as Nevada (for training), Sudan, Algeria, Syria, Russia, Indonesia, and the Phillippines. The plots of the campaigns are based upon fairly realistic hypothetical situations in the above areas.   If followed in order, the quick missions offer a sort of tutorial as they lead you through the steps of piloting and fighting in the F-22. A narrator provides useful hints and instructions to the gamer at the beginning and throughout the first few missions. I found this to be extremely useful as opposed to pausing the game and examining the short though concise manual. Further information on the disc includes a tactics manual, which offers general descriptions of flight maneuvers and strategy. The disc also contains a mission editor for those of us enamored with the idea of constructing our own heavily modified dream battles.

f22d.jpg (5595 bytes)Once a mission or campaign is chosen, the player is given a mission briefing which features an obligatory map and loadout screen, the latter which allows you to view and modify ordinance for the mission. Default Load chooses the appropriate ordinance for the specific mission, whereas the Double Mode loadout gives the player twice the ordinance without taking into account the reality of the physics. Once a mission within a campaign is completed it is added to the "quick mission" menu for later replay.

f22b.jpg (6453 bytes)Ordinance includes AMRAAMs and Sidewinders for air-to-air combat (which can be used in caged or uncaged modes), HARMs for disintegrating radar installations, JDAM guided bombs, BLU-109 unguided bombs, and the B61 10-Kiloton Tactical Thermonuclear Bomb, as well as the M61 A2 20mm canon which can be operated in strafe or EEGS modes. The Nuclear option presents an interesting dilemma, as it is required to complete several missions. Some gamers may find the prospect of unleashing "over 20 square miles of radioactive devastation" morally difficult, though it does look pretty--from a distance.

As far as flight physics go, no one in the gaming world can really contemplate the true characteristics of the F-22, an aircraft with the "computing power of equivalent of two Cray supercomputers." It is in part the culmination of the trend in military aviation to maximize the distance at which the enemy is engaged and minimize risk, a trend which tends to deemphasize piloting the plane itself.  This game portrays that ideal well, though it necessarily stints on the fun of dogfighting that so many gamers crave. Takeoffs and landings are relatively easy, and are not required for the pilot to master. Auto-controls abound: auto-follow target, auto-follow route, auto-takeoff, auto-landing, auto-level, auto-match speed (with target), and auto-refuel (with the closest KC-135). Other realistic features such as blackouts and redouts can be disabled, landing gear can be set to automatic, and an easy target cue which places an arrow on the screen which points to the target if it is offscreen can be enabled. Pretty standard stuff.

f22a.jpg (6377 bytes)The cockpit of the F-22 is well laid out with digital readouts of stores, status, navigation, defense, and attack displays, all navigable in the virtual cockpit through the mouse or number pad. The heads up display, or HUD, is as well nicely presented, giving all relevant data to the pilot without being too confusing. All the customary views are available including flyby and wingman views.

The exteriors are quite nice, especially the well-rendered atmospheric effects such as wind, rain, hail, and lightning, which add a good amount of the realism which other areas may lack.  However, on lower-end machines fog may be a problem. The Texture Distance slider, located in the options, can be used to alleviate some of the fog that can permeate the game, but on slower machines fog is inevitable. The sensation of movement doesn’t seem quite up to par either. Controls are straightforward and are mapped out logically; the placement of keyboard controls become second nature after a while.

f22c.jpg (4508 bytes)Multiplayer with up to 128 opponents on NovaLogic’s NovaWorld is free with the purchase of F-22 Lightning 3.  NovaLogic presents their new Voice-Over-Net voice communication system with the game, though I was not yet able to check it out at the time of review.  The game includes headphones with a built in microphone for use with muliplayer games.

Overall, I feel that F-22 Lightning 3 is a great game for the flight sim novice or the average gamer interested in accessable, fast-paced combat gaming.  The visuals are beautiful, specifically the weather effects, despite the fog problem.  I marveled at the lightning effects for quite a while.  The locales are varied enough to keep you looking out the window whenever you have a spare second.  Missions are well designed and engaging, and offer enough variety to keep the disc in your machine for quite a while.   And the variety of enemy aircraft is impressive--if you have the chance to get close to them.

--Thomas Hoff