It took seven years, a number of false starts, and one of the most devoted fan communities in existence, but the release of Falcon 4.0: Allied Force shows that its potential has finally been realized.
- Improved graphics and sounds
- Incredible dynamic campaigns in two different regions
- Enemies put up a good fight
- Possibly the most accurate simulation ever released.
- Graphics still trail those of newer releases
- 3D cockpit pales compared to 2D cockpit
- Printing the entire manual will cost a fortune.
Ask any simulation fan worth his hands on throttle-and-stick (HOTAS) setup what the best combat flight simulator of all time is, and he's likely to reply "Falcon 4.0." Ask that same person what the worst combat flight simulation of all time is, and you're just as likely to hear the same answer.
Released in 1998, Falcon 4.0 was far from an unmitigated disaster, but the design goals were so lofty that there simply wasn't enough time or resources to climb high enough to reach them. The end result was a simulation that was so far ahead of its time that it feels current to this day, but it was buggy enough to turn off the demanding hardcore audience it needed to cater to for success. Crashes were frequent, the brilliant dynamic campaign system was full of glitches, and multiplayer was practically broken out of the box. As we put it back when it was first released, Falcon 4.0 offered "more potential, more promise, than anything else."
It took seven years, a number of false starts, and one of the most devoted fan communities in existence, but the release of Falcon 4.0: Allied Force shows that its potential has finally been realized and that promise has finally been delivered. This will come as no surprise to longtime fans who have dealt with the innumerable patches, fan-made content, and other fixes and enhancements that have appeared over the years to dramatically improve the original release. The tedious process of downloading the proper files and then installing them all in the correct order is known affectionately as the "dance," and it was enough to keep casual fans as far away from this game as they could get. The dance is finally over, and for the first time ever wannabe jet jockeys can install Falcon 4.0 from a single disc and enjoy nearly all of its numerous features as the designers intended.
For those who are wholly unfamiliar with this game, Falcon 4.0 is an exacting simulation of the F-16 Fighting Falcon. Also known as the Electric Jet, the Lawn Dart, or, more popularly, the Viper, the F-16 is one of the most versatile fighters ever created. Its legendary maneuverability makes it a superb dogfighter, but it also has enough power to carry a respectable load of air-to-ground munitions for "mud moving" when necessary. This simulation lets you try your hand at both roles in instant action, single missions, or several incredible dynamic campaigns that are set in the Korean Peninsula and the Balkans.
The entire simulation has had a graphic overhaul, and the 2D cockpit looks as good as that of any modern simulation. All of the F-16's knobs, switches, and handles are depicted in photo-realistic detail, and the mouse can be used to interact with most of them. A heads-up display rendered on the front of the cockpit provides enough information to perform most tasks without needing to reference the cockpit instruments. The display changes depending on the type of weapon that is selected and the radar or targeting mode that is currently in use. The F-16's two trademark multifunction displays are displayed with terrific detail, and it takes hours of practice to become familiar with their seemingly endless menu pages and settings.
The 3D cockpit allows for smooth-view panning, though it's not interactive and it's extremely crude compared to the wonderful 2D cockpit. Fortunately, it works excellently with the simulation's many excellent padlock views, which smoothly keep your virtual head pointed at a selected target, since your eyes are on the target and rarely need detailed cockpit information. Cockpit reflections and a "lift line" displayed on the top of the cockpit are tremendously helpful in letting you maintain a sense of your plane's orientation in a swirling dogfight.
Terrain graphics are much better than those included in the original sim, although they don't compare to those in modern simulations like Lock-On: Modern Air Combat. Aside from a lack of detail, the terrain is at least very functional for low-level ground attack missions, as it is filled with hills, mountains, valleys, and other features that make air-to-ground strikes exhilarating. Clouds and fog help add to the ambiance, but explosions, weapon smoke trails, and other special effects are severely lacking compared to many other simulations. This doesn't affect gameplay in the least, however, and overall, Allied Force looks unbelievably better than the original release. Best of all it is that it works great with current hardware and operating systems, eliminating compatibility issues that plagued Falcon 4.0.
Sounds can generally be overlooked in a simulation as long as they don't interfere with the game, but here they enhance the action immeasurably. Air traffic controllers direct you around the airbase, chewing you out if you take off or land without permission. The radio is alive with chatter from other units in your operational area, cueing you into the various targets and installations that are scattered around the map. Within the plane the engine, weapons, landing gear, and various warning horns and beeps all sound fantastic, and the infamous "Bitchin' Betty" is there to let you know when you are flying too low (fortunately, a flick of a switch is all it takes to turn her off when you're flying at the nape of the earth to avoid radar and surface-to-air missiles).