You might be tempted to point at Eurofighter Typhoon among the new releases and say, "Hey, look, flight sims aren't dead after all!" But you'd be wrong, because it isn't much of a flight sim. It is, instead, an airplane action game from Rage, the creator of Incoming and Hostile Waters; and Digital Image Design, the creator of EF2000, F-22 Air Defense Fighter, and the Total Air War campaign add-on. Although DID's sims have gotten increasingly complex and sophisticated, Eurofighter Typhoon reverses that trend. It has much more in common with Rage's shooters. This wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing, considering Rage's shooters have kept improving. But Eurofighter's wings are sadly clipped by its cloying campaign.
Eurofighter has only tenuous claims to realism. The actual Typhoon is a collaborative effort whose design and production are shared among Germany, Spain, Italy, and the United Kingdom. It hasn't seen combat yet, but there are several operational models, and it's doing the rounds at air shows, so this game isn't so much outright fiction as it is early speculation. The German consortium that manages the actual plane's development has endorsed Eurofighter Typhoon, but that isn't saying much--considering that Lockheed Martin endorsed Novalogic's completely unrealistic F-16 Multirole Fighter. Eurofighter isn't quite as simple as F-16, but there's still a lot of silliness going on, and it will turn off hard-core flight-sim fans. This silliness includes broadly modeled sci-fi weapon systems, a simplified damage routine that uses hard-coded hit points, an overpowered flight model that will leap off the runway like Tinkerbell and glide forever if you shut down your engines, enemy aircraft that blatantly violate their real-world capabilities, and even the ludicrous equivalent of a boss battle that's waiting for you at the end of the campaign.
The campaign's story involves Russia's attempt to seize Iceland for control of the GIUK gap (the Atlantic passage stretching between Greenland, Iceland, and the United Kingdom), which traditional Cold War thoroughfare gamers know and love from 360's Harpoon, Microprose's Fleet Defender, and early Tom Clancy novels. Because the game is driven by a campaign in which success depends on managing six pilots in real time, there's a Hollywood sense of a handful of men and women out to save the world from Russia. When you move the mouse to the bottom of the screen, a display slides up, showing each pilot's status. Click on a pilot, and you'll instantly jump to him or her. Every pilot is always doing something, rendered in full 3D, whether it's hanging out in the rec room, waiting to be rescued after ejecting, sitting in a pre-mission briefing, or flying a combat air patrol. You can even jump to a view of a corpse drifting in the ocean when a pilot is lost at sea.
When they're on missions, these pilots aren't really capable of anything beyond flying from point A to point B, so you have to jump into the plane and take over if you want a mission successfully completed. This creates a few problems. First, when you jump from one plane to another, pilots will blithely plow into the side of a mountain or fly out to sea until they run out of fuel if you don't switch on the autopilot before you leave. Second, when you jump into a plane in the middle of battle, there's no easy way to find out what's going on. Suddenly, you've got a missile up your tailpipe and you have no idea how it got there. Finally, there are situations when two computer-controlled pilots need your help simultaneously. Missions will fail and planes will be shot down because you can be in only one place at a time. This desultory jumping around from plane to plane gives Eurofighter a scattered feel in which you're fighting timing rather than flying missions.
Then there's all the downtime as you wait for the computer to generate the next mission. You have no control over the campaign, which is doled out in real time as the computer sees fit. It's almost a joke that you can run the game at double time; if you're going to force players to wait 20 minutes, it's some small consolation that they can trim the time down to 10 minutes. Downtime is downtime. If you're going to allow accelerated time, why not allow players to quickly jump ahead to the next mission? You'll easily spend a third of your time in Eurofighter Typhoon sitting on the sidelines and waiting. It's the flight-sim equivalent of spawn camping in EverQuest.
Although there are some dynamic elements, the campaign is worth playing through only once. It's driven mainly by a sequence of scripted events that slavishly repeat each time you replay the game. Russian forces invade Iceland, gaining ground when you fail a mission. Successful missions beat them back one territory at a time. Unfortunately, as a single-player game, Eurofighter is entirely closed off behind its campaign. There are no single missions, skirmish modes, quick-action options, and scenario editor. There are some interesting multiplayer modes beyond simple deathmatch, but without a matching service or a stronger online presence, you won't have an easy time finding other players. Also, it won't work on a LAN unless each player owns a copy of the game.
Although it uses the engine from DID's Wargasm, which played down close to the ground, Eurofighter's graphics look every bit as good as those of DID's past flight sims. Iceland's green hills and rocky snow-covered mountains are nicely drawn under a lowering gray sky layered with cloud cover. The pyrotechnics and aircraft have been given a lot of attention, and it shows. You'll see some spectacular battles with planes letting out streamers of contrails, bursts of chaff and flares, and bright glowing missiles on columns of smoke. Not many post-World War II sims model flak guns, but you'll find them here sprouting deadly airborne flowers of smoke and fire. The aircraft models are particularly impressive, from lumbering transports to Harriers with camouflage paint and the Eurofighter itself, lovingly drawn down to every last "No Step" decal on the wings.
From its previous games, DID has carried over the "smartview" concept, in which a camera jumps around the entire map and shows the highlights of the war in a series of cinematic cuts and sweeping views. This is a great way to make use of your downtime (when you're waiting between missions), but it's not as flexible as the smartviews from DID's previous games, in which you can choose what you want to see. Oddly enough, the external views aren't very flexible either. DID has created a gorgeous game, but it didn't allow the full freedom to admire it.
From inside the plane, the game doesn't look quite as good. The internal cockpit graphics are blurry and low-res against the detailed terrain. Because the Eurofighter uses an advanced "glass cockpit," it is flown almost exclusively using multifunction displays, represented here by configurable inset windows that pop up along the bottom of your monitor. Many of these displays are too cramped (you can't zoom out far enough) or too cluttered (there's too much brightly colored information competing for your attention). Because the controls are so streamlined, it can be an ordeal trying to target the enemy you want. To Eurofighter's credit, there's a lot of friendly activity in the skies around you, but it's not easy to decipher. You can't target friendly units, and there's no theatrewide airborne radar, like the AWACS in DID's previous sims. This means a lot of the activity in Eurofighter feels like an unknown jumble instead of an actual war effort. What are all those MiGs doing swarming around those green contacts 20 miles from your starboard? Is it a helpless C-17 being jumped? Is it a dogfight with local friendlies? To find out, you have to go look for yourself.
Although Eurofighter supposes a lot of new technology, most of it is given to the Russians, who wind up fielding magic cruise missiles and the functional equivalent of UFOs. Your weapons are common to those of most flight sims, but most of them are woefully underdocumented. Pity the poor newcomer who doesn't know how to lead a laser-guided paveway to its target.
Some of the weapon modeling is suspect. Since countermeasures such as chaff and flares are fully automated, it's hard to get a feeling for how effective enemy missiles really are. At any rate, they seem much more accurate than your own supposedly state-of-the-art meteor missiles, which are inclined to lose their target lock at the drop of a hat. Then there's Eurofighter's version of the hellfire air-to-ground missiles, called--get this--brimstones. These nearly useless weapons seem to be outfitted with a dirt-homing seeker head, because they're more likely to plow into the ground beside a tank rather than actually hitting the tank itself. It's aggravating enough trying to plink hard-to-see ground units without worrying about your useless brimstones. It's a sad state of affairs when you'd rather have a rack of dumb rockets rather than the latest hi-tech guided missile.
Because of its streamlined gameplay and suspect realism, Eurofighter isn't going to appeal to hard-core flight-sim players. But considering that it's locked into a campaign that's more about pilot management and cockpit juggling, Eurofighter also won't appeal to casual gamers who just want to blow things up. Rage has done a far better job combining pilot management, a scripted campaign, and graphics-intensive action in Hostile Waters. And DID has done a far better job creating accessible flight sims in its EF2000 series. Eurofighter Typhoon is stranded somewhere between these past efforts, and consequently brings together the least of both worlds.