Like Paul McCartney, the Jetfighter series just won't go away. Debuting in the late '80s and morphing through oodles of iterations since then, Jetfighter has alternately been fun (the floppy-ensconced original), semiauthentic (Jetfighter IV and V), and disappointing. Now in its sixth incarnation, the futuristically titled Jetfighter 2015, the game has seemingly given up any and all pretensions of being complex or appealing to simulation fans. Indeed, the latest in the lineage hearkens back to the glory days of the arcade coin-op, when authenticity and flight dynamics took a very distant backseat to blowing up virtually everything you see as soon as you see it, lest the colossal swarm of bad guys gets you first. But while Jetfighter's throwback style of high-speed hijinks is moderately good fun over the short term, it quite likely isn't enough to keep most players playing over the long haul. Its bargain-basement pricing and inclusion of Jetfighter V on a separate disc are definite draws for certain folk, but the repetitive, simplistic yet manic gameplay and matching retro graphics will rightfully drive many more away. It's not a bad game per se; it's just old and disappointing.
Jetfighter certainly won't worry flight-sim developers. Each of the game's missions starts you off in the air, so there's no worry about takeoffs and landings. There's also no need to fret over midair stalls, redouts, fuel problems, waypoints, weapons loadouts, or any of the other trials and tribulations that befall "real" pilots. Heck, you won't even need a joystick. Like a midair shooter, Jetfighter is best operated with a mouse and a few keyboard keys. "Strafe," "Hover Up," and "Hover Down" are all commonly accessed commands.
The game opens on the premise that terrorists are very, very bad. Nothing new there, but in this case, the blighters have been pushed into the backwoods of South America. There, they plan to make their final stand, making and selling their drugs, annihilating anyone who gets in their way, and quite possibly developing USA-destined nuclear weapons. It is your duty, as the sole pilot in the sole airplane America is able to spare, to bring an end to their aspirations.
Jetfighter does not offer a lot of gameplay options. There's a short but informative training session, a free-flight mode that lets you flit about various locales without firing a shot or seeing an opponent, and the game's main event--a nondynamic campaign consisting of 15 individual missions. Each will take you farther toward your final goal and toss more and more enemies at you along the way. A typical scenario involves locating a drug plantation, blowing it to smithereens, discovering other targets and destroying them too, and annihilating the horde of flying machines sent to end your run. Prospective targets include buildings and structures, ships and submarines, and assorted aircraft such as fighter jets, bombers, helicopters, and the like.
It can become insanely busy out there, what with mobile antiaircraft vehicles zipping about below you, dozens of fixed gun placements, and wave upon wave of various aircraft. Note that each mission begins in exactly the same fashion every time you attempt it. Note also that each enemy enters the fray from exactly the same position every time you go back to that mission. At least their combat movements are in reaction to your own. Moreover, some missions do add an extra element, such as protecting a fleet of ships or offering cover for a friendly helicopter that's just picked up a Very Important Person.
However, the game operates on the tried-and-true arcade principle that if enough enemies are thrown at you, you will repeatedly fail and be forced to replay said mission a zillion times until you know everything that's going to happen in advance and are quick enough to deal with it. Some missions are very tough indeed, and at times you may throw your hands up in the air, stomp your feet, and curse the occasionally sadistic difficulty.
There isn't a lot of straight-up flying in Jetfighter. You'll usually begin in or very near the center of the action, with very little countryside to traverse to do your deeds. Hovering like a helicopter and twirling about to obliterate the bad guys, keeping the gun button depressed the entire way, and firing the guided weapons even when they're not fully locked on an enemy are recurrent themes. Another favorite pastime involves sourcing an armed plantation or encampment, sitting back at a safe distance, and unloading your bombs or air-to-ground missiles until all nearby structures have blown up real good.
Jetfighter delivers an acceptable visual exhibition but certainly won't win any graphic achievement awards. In short, it looks dated. Video effects are limited, and you shouldn't expect to see modern accoutrements such as environmental or time-of-day variables. On a more positive note, you can play the game from several camera perspectives and take advantage of inset missile cams, rudimentary radar, and weapons indicators. Wispy clouds are evident, as are rather pretty missile trails and contrails.
Near each level's hotspots, the action heats up with lots of nifty stuff to see--including animated jeeps and trucks; the peripheral terrain, however, is hilly and crisscrossed by waterways but otherwise seriously bland. When something explodes--and most everything does in the hotspots, including buildings hit by just a few bullets--it does so by breaking into several large, predetermined chunks. That's not to say explosions aren't good clean fun. Indeed, they're fiery and cataclysmic--yet the realism and variety therein is most definitely wanting.
Outside the designated hotspots, terrain and objects are unaffected by your weapons, and missiles and bombs that miss their prospective targets mysteriously vanish in midair or evaporate on the ground. Indeed, the game won't even let you suffer damage by colliding with the ground. One of the more annoying aspects of the game is the sequences of cutscenes that appear every time you discover an enemy base or an important but unexpected target. Even if you've visited that particular level a hundred times, you must once again endure the dreaded cutscenes. And though you can pound escape to get through them, you can't get rid of them.
Jetfighter's multiplayer mode is based on a simple deathmatch format and predicated by the fact that someone else is ready to play when you're ready to play. There is no matchmaking service, so good luck with that. The game's audio engine fares only marginally better, delivering big, booming explosions and clear, concise voice-overs from your unseen bosses and the robotic onboard computer. Yet cockpit and engine sounds are almost nonexistent, and everything else seems subtle and muted.
The fact is that Jetfighter 2015 is an entry-level title geared toward undemanding, budget-conscious pilots who are quite happy in its throwback arcade environment. There is, after all, something to be said for shoot-now-ask-questions-later explode-o-fests. Moreover, the inclusion of the previous Jetfighter title, the more authentic Jetfighter V, is an added bonus. That said, it's not particularly good at what it's attempting to accomplish. Also, it's curious and quite disappointing that this Jetfighter is so far removed and so much more simplistic than earlier games in the series.