|Its somehow fitting that I found
myself reviewing Microproses flight sim magnum opus, Falcon 4.0, during the
same week that saw the release of Terence Maliks film The Thin Red Line.
Theyve got a lot in common; both are ambitious, beautiful, lush and detailed.
Unfortunately, after viewing one and playing the other, you cant escape the feeling
that both of them are not quite finished, and could have used a couple more months of
But first let me say that
Falcon 4.0 is in many ways a hardcore simmers dream; from the spot-on interactive 2D
cockpit to the astonishingly accurate radar modes to the games detailed flight
model, this is the most precise and realistic flight sim ever. If you want to know what
its like to fly an F-16, this is as close as you can come without enlisting.
And itll take a while to get comfortable with
this bird; it aint no ME-109, and learning how to fly the plane and control its
various subsystems will take a significant investment of time. This and the games
extraordinary complexity may well turn casual gamers off; if youre just into jumping
into the cockpit and blasting away, Id advise you to avoid Falcon 4.0. For those
willing to invest the time, however, the payoff is well worth itthe game models everything
realistically--from flight to navigation to communications to the planes dizzying
array of weapons systems. Fortunately, the games weighty manual (almost 600 pages)
includes a thorough 31-lesson tutorial that does a fine job of introducing the player to
the planes capabilities and limitations. Hands down, Falcon 4.0 has the best, most
detailed flight sim manual Ive ever seen. Of all computer game genres, flight sims
tend to be the most mandarin and uninviting to neophytesvery often, their manuals
assume a great amount of knowledge that newbies just dont have. Falcon 4.0s
manual gets it just right; with surprisingly few lapses, its neither too arcane for
beginners nor too patronizing for hardcore types. The game also has nicely scalable
realism settings, so you can gradually work your way up to the full realism this game was
meant to be played at. I actually enjoyed playing through the training
missionstheyre pretty open-ended, and you can spend a lot of time practicing
maneuvers and learning radar capabilities. Also included is a terrific ACMI feature, which
allows you to play back your missions in detail.
Of course, one of the reasons its so easy to
spend training time in the cockpit is because the game is just gorgeous. Falcon 4.0s
cockpit and terrain rendering are second to none, and even with some pixellating at low
altitudes, the games graphics combine with its rigorous detail to create a very
realistic feel. At its best, when youre looking over a battlefield filled with
burning tanks and buildings while navigating a sky filled with rocket trails and
desperately maneuvering planes, Falcon 4.0 more than exceeds the expectations that even a
game delayed as long as this one generates. Its simply sublime.
Unfortunately, the games potential magnificence
is undermined by a host of faults that just cant be overlooked. Since Microprose has
committed itself to fixing these shortcomings, theres hope yet that this game might
achieve the renown of its predecessor, Falcon 3.0 (which was also initially plagued with
problems). But right now, the game is hamstrung by glitches that render what should be the
sims centerpiecethe dynamic campaigns set in Koreavirtually unplayable.
In fact, Falcon 4.0 can almost be seen as two gamesa flight trainer that works
exceptionally well, and a flight campaign game that is fatally flawed.
First among these flaws is the toll the games
graphics engine and dynamic campaigns recordkeeping takes upon your CPU. I run a P2
300 with 128 megs of RAM and a Voodoo 2 cardnothing spectacular, but a pretty sturdy
system nonetheless. During the campaign I ran into a lot of chop. And I messed with the
graphics settings, I turned off all background programs, I defragged my harddriveall
with pretty limited success. Dont get me wrong, the game was still playable, but I
had to compromise graphics more than I wanted to get smooth rates; and I cant
imagine this game running silky-smooth on anything less than a hog of a computer.
More distressing is the campaign games unfinished code;
though youre offered three dynamic campaigns wrapped in a wealth of detail, all this
goodness is unfortunately swamped by a sea of bugs. Problems include clueless wingman and
enemy AI, odd mid-flight amendments to ones mission by AWACS controllers, mission
reports that dont jibe with mission results, and curious flight model and graphics
glitches. These problems add up, and the only conclusion you can come to is that the game
was released before it was ready.
This is a shame, because as it stands this is a great
trainer sim, and has the potential to be the definitive modern combat flight sim. But
its not right now. The bottom line is that if youre the sort who is intolerant
of bugs and has a low threshold for frustration, youd best steer clear of this game
until its fixed. Its also not for the casual gamer; learning to play this game
requires the kind of commitment one usually reserves for stuff like marriages.
Nevertheless, I cant bring myself to unconditionally damn Falcon 4.0. When and if it
gets fixed, itll be a beauty. So for right now, Im going to give it an
"incomplete," with a reminder to Microprose that at my university incompletes
revert to Fs after six months.