There was a time, not too long ago, when you could count on one hand all of the civil and combat flight simulations released within any given 12-month period. In fact, ardent flight sim enthusiasts were known to snap up every simulation that cruised down the runway, regardless of its perceived faults. Gaming has certainly changed over the past few years, particularly in the realm of modern air combat sims. Case in point: In the past seven months, no fewer than four F-22 simulations have surfaced, each purportedly marketed as the definitive portrayal of America's latest low-observable, stealth technology-driven aircraft.
In F-22 Air Dominance Fighter, Digital Image Design has crafted the latest and perhaps the most exacting reproduction of the USAF's all-new air supremacy/strike fighter. Incorporating lessons learned from EF2000 - F-22 ADF's critically acclaimed predecessor - data gleaned from various declassified sources, as well as notional depictions of certain next-generation avionics systems and weaponry, F-22 ADF may be, as DID proudly advertises, the most sophisticated yet equally absorbing air combat simulation ever to be conceived.
The F-22 aircraft portrayed in the game seems responsive and accurately modeled, dutifully illustrating every important facet of the actual aircraft. A wide array of internal and external viewing perspectives has been included, not to mention several EMCON levels, which are intended to automatically monitor and adjust the aircraft's in-flight stealth profile. Heck, even a few UFO's manage to put in a cameo appearance, vying for the dubious distinction of being called the preeminent air dominance fighter!
Furthermore, F-22 ADF has an awful lot of enticing features that are sure to make a few heads whip around in awe. For starters, you can slowly immerse yourself within the overall framework, learning all of the intricate aspects and capabilities of the F-22 - as well as its present and future adversaries - thanks to a rich, full-featured simulator; a comprehensive, well-written manual; and an equally impressive World Air Power journal. If you prefer, you can kick the tires and light the fires of the F-22 that much sooner, tearing up the skies over the troubled Middle East in the "kill-or-be-killed" quick combat mode. Here, you are initially confronted by a litany of inept enemy ground and air defenses, which become increasingly more adroit - and obviously more lethal - as time wears on, perhaps spanning an incredible five-hour timeframe. For the more adventurous, you may enlist in one of three tours of duty, each depicting a simmering hotbed of tension - ready to explode in the not-too-distant future - in and around the perilous Red Sea region.
Although you assume command of several superstealthy F-22 fighters, there are several missions in which you must hand off your responsibilities as a squadron commander and step aboard a loitering AWACs aircraft operating miles behind the FEBA. On these occasions, you are charged with monitoring air and ground activity within the immediate battle sector, eventually vectoring friendly air, land, and naval assets to troubled areas in the most timely and efficient manner. In addition, you can, for the first time, experience the trials and tribulations of engaging in midair refueling with high-flying KC-35 tankers. Even the Air Combat Maneuvering Instrumentation (ACMI) is excellent.
Unfortunately, there are several troubling issues that warrant some cause for concern. For instance, although radio chatter is made out to depict English-speaking foreign nationals, the audio seems especially distorted, even during relatively low-intensity moments. If it weren't for the inclusion of accompanying onscreen text, I dare say most players would deem these messages virtually unintelligible and utterly ineffectual. Furthermore, the utilization of canned missions means that you must continually fight and refight the same pre-scripted battles over and over until you somehow manage to meet the mission goals. The omission of a mission planner and the inability to alter an aircraft's weapons loadout prior to mission startup only serves to compound rather than correct these oversights. Lastly, the lack of a customizable mission editor for hypothetical air-to-air combat setups and the exclusion of a mission builder are, at best, inexplicable, especially when one compares and contrasts F-22 ADF with other simulations competing for the same consumer dollar.
Undoubtedly, DID's upcoming F-22 Total Air War - the sequel to F-22 ADF - will address most, if not all, of these shortcomings, integrating a host of important upgrades and other "on-the-drawing-board" enhancements to this near rock-solid simulation. For now, though, you will just have to smack your lips and remain patient as you strap into the most engrossing F-22 simulation to roll down the war-ravaged tarmac.