The Complete Guide to Computer Aviation
by Steve Smith
PRELUDE TO A DOGFIGHT
In the head-to-head mode, you and your opponent (in identical F-15Es) start eighty miles apart, hurtling toward each other at a closing speed of almost 3,000 miles per hour. There is a bizarre aspect to modern air-to-air duels that would be akin to Burr and Hamilton knocking each other's hats in the creek. When you and your opponent get within striking distance of each other, if you both simultaneously loose a missile like the AIM-7 Sparrow, which is not a fire-and-forget weapon (you have to keep its target centered in the HUD), you're both dead … or you break away, spewing chaff and flares, and lose the radar lock, without so much as a tally-ho.
Thus, by gentlemen's agreement, the proper procedure for initiating a dogfight is that both of you keep on flying straight at each other, and only when you pass each other (IPs suggest half a mile; I like to brush wingtips) does the battle begin. (Two hints: one, don't lug anything like ECM pods or extra fuel tanks with you; and two, if you pass each other at close quarters, you won't need the twenty-eight-mile range of the Sparrow; stick with short-range Sidewinders.)
In the cooperative mode, one player should fly CAP (Combat Air Patrol) while the other goes for the ground targets. Aye, but here's the rub: all primaries and secondaries are ground targets. If you don't take them out, you don't score the big points (far fewer points are given for downing planes; no matter that one Ilyushin II-76 Mainstay—the Russian AWACS—is worth a dozen "suspected truck parks"). Thus, whoever flies CAP sacrifices getting his ticket punched, his career advanced.
But that's not all.
In the front seat/backseat multiplayer mode, the hapless WSO doesn't earn any points for slaving all day over a four-burner MPD console. No medals, either. Hell, he or she doesn't even get to punch out—when the pilot goes through the canopy, the mission is over, buddy. And when they're picked up by the SAR chopper and brought back to base, the poor WSO doesn't even rate his or her own locker. Is this job discrimination or what?
Still, any other player is better than none at all. Without multiplay, you feel isolated, alone on a solo mission over hostile territory. Hunting after Scuds, no "Wild Weasels" go in ahead of you to take out the SAM sites. Even your orbiting AWACS, which should—but never does—contact you to let you know when ground controllers are vectoring bogeys in your direction, rarely replies with more than a laconic "Situation unchanged" if you query it. And if you try to contact the AWACS too often, it clams up altogether. Thanks, guys….
In short, Eagle III's campaign mode doesn't add up to a campaign; each mission is a victory or loss unrelated to any other mission. Unlike Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe (see Chapter Nine), where the success or failure of each mission is vital to subsequent missions, Eagle III's campaign mode might as well be a laundry list of unconnected objectives. There is certainly no collegial sense of group involvement.
I find two other major flaws.
First, in the air-to-air mode, when you jettison all ordnance and your drop tanks to tangle with one or more airborne threats, it's not much of a contest. The only aircraft capable of going one-on-one with your F-15E would be the Sukhoi Su-27 (at a distance, anyway; close in, a MiG-29 could give you a run for your money), and in none of the three original theaters does your opposition field the formidable Flanker. Everything else is shooting blanks compared to the Eagle's long-range AIM-120. Even at the highest difficulty level, AIM-120 launches rarely miss—not because the missile is infallible, but because the threat aircraft takes no defensive measures (they don't jink and dive, they don't hide behind mountains, they don't seem to have any effective ECM or know any fancy dance steps at all).
(On the other hand, if you don't drop your bombs to deal with enemy aircraft, the sim is so realistic that your bird can barely get out of its own way, even on afterburner.)
Second, the interface is vastly overcomplicated. There are over eighty keyboard commands to learn (mostly by rote; few are intuitive or even mnemonic—to jump to the WSO's position, for example, you hit the apostrophe key). The "SA" (Situational Awareness) views are promising but poorly implemented—the WSO, for example, can look forward, where he can't see anything, but not sideways. The pilot can swivel his view around the cockpit, but with none of the grace of Strike Commander's smooth, continuous panning motion. The only mouse command implemented in the cockpit is the jettison-stores "Panic Button"; I would have appreciated more.