The Complete Guide to Computer Aviation
by Steve Smith
PHOTOREALISTIC URBAN SPRAWL
But the cinematic concept of the game is not the feature attraction. As with Wing Commander, it's the graphics. Aircraft are rendered in incredible detail, with fantastic resolution. Unlike the polygonal views of aircraft in other sims which jump unconvincingly from one perspective to another, the flow here is smooth and seamless. You can recognize a C-130 Hercules at a mile, an F-22 looks like an F-22 and not a generic "future fighter," the light source shading is convincing, even the camouflage paint schemes are flawless.
The scenery below is only slightly less perfect. PC Entertainment's Stephen Poole describes it in a typical review: "As you fly in low on a ground strike, you can actually see rolling hills, deep valleys, snaky rivers, and azure lakes. Fly along a coastline, and you'll spot whitecaps on the water; head over a mountain range, and you'll see fantastic snow-covered peaks." The only scenery that comes close to being this good is in Nova Logic's Comanche Maximum Overkill, a helicopter sim (see Chapter Twelve), where the scenery is confined to a few square miles. Strike Commander's covers hundreds of square miles.
Strike Commander also renders vast urban and suburban areas for the first time in a game. Unlike wilderness areas, which can be "randomized" with fractal generators and smoothed with gouraud shading, the cities have precise, man-made shapes: rectangular blocks, buildings, parking lots, roadways. Getting a desktop computer to do this right is an enormous undertaking, and designer Roberts has almost—but not quite—pulled it off. It's only when you get very close, at an oblique angle, and moving quickly, that the urban scenery starts to "smear" as you move past.
Still, for anyone used to the sterile, arid landscapes of, say, Flight Simulator 4.0, it is breathtaking.
Finally, the cockpit graphics. While not nearly as detailed, informative, or—to the uninitiated—intimidating as the cockpit in Falcon, the view from the pilot's seat of Strike Commander has one terrific advantage. Instead of having to punch keys to flip around the cockpit views as in Falcon, Strike Commander allows you to use the keyboard, "coolie hat" (on a ThrustMaster joystick), or—my favorite— the mouse to pan smoothly around the cockpit in one continuous, almost-360degree sweep. It's quick, easy, and intuitive. As you overfly a target, for example, you can pull a hard turn with the joystick in one hand, and with the other pan back and down to assess the damage you have wrought.
Of, if you lose sight of an opponent during a dogfight, you can scan the sky to find him.
This isn't as omniscient as Falcon's continuous, 360-degree "Padlock" view, but it's a lot more natural … and realistic. (Also easy: returning to a straight-ahead view—you don't have to pan wildly until you find it, just click the mouse and you're back to the HUD view.)