The F-22 is the next generation of high-tech, front-line American fighter jets, packed with high-tech equipment and weaponry and set to enter active service shortly. So it's no surprise that no fewer than four developers - NovaLogic, Digital Integration, Mission Studios, and DID - are working on F-22 sims. The first out of the chute is NovaLogic's F-22 Lightning II, and while its claim to be a realistic flight model is spurious at best, it is still a visually stunning, often entertaining title.
NovaLogic's past forays into simulation included the best-selling Comanche and the notable flop Armored Fist. Comanche featured impressive graphics for its era, but suffered from arcadish gameplay and a total lack of realism or flight models. F-22 is a step forward for NovaLogic in terms of flight modeling, though it's still off the mark in flight modeling.
F-22 has enough to it to lure you in and get you started. An extensive video intro shows the F-22 in action, then drops you to a menu full of familiar choices. Several single missions are available, beginning with a set of ramped training missions that will help you familiarize yourself with the plane and its functions. In keeping with the Comanche tradition, single missions are not based on any real world scenario or conflict, but are designed to show off various types of terrain. The mission mix is fine for a sim of this type, with plenty of fast air-to-air action as well as escorts and ground strikes. A campaign game strings these missions together, but there's no real feeling that your performance affects the dynamic of the campaign in any way. A simple custom mission creator and eight-player network and modem play fill out the features.
On the whole, enemies seem pretty smart and challenging, though there were some conspicuous failings. On several occasions I found myself flying circles around hot SAM and AAA sites without drawing fire, but other times I was downed by AAA. It's a crapshoot. Still, the furballs fly plenty, and in the end, there is enough action and interest to keep gamers coming back.
The F-22 is a new plane, with flying dynamics, avionics, and airframe properties that sim fans are unfamiliar with. NovaLogic claims to have worked for a long time with Lockheed Martin to make this realistic. Nonetheless, users already have complaints about the realism of this title, the first being that the cockpit and HUD look all wrong. NovaLogic have said they developed their design from actual photos, and I'm sure they did: the F-22 is supposed to a radical step forward in aircraft design. Still, some of its handling properties don't feel right at all. The rudders are simply too powerful, radically yawing the jet in a way no rudder could possible yaw a plane in the real world. Handling in high-speed turns, drag effects, altitude effects, and weapons effectiveness also seem very simplified. Landing and take-off are also far too easy. You can soar into altitudes over 65,000 feet, climbing all the time (Jane's specs the ceiling at 50,000), with enemies following you right up there. Dropping dumb stores while inverted makes them fly up. You can execute extended 90-degree climbs at 300mph with no speed loss.
In the end, F-22 can't make any effective claims of realism, and it falls somewhere above Silent Thunder yet below USNF or ATF. What sets F-22 apart from every other sim, and every other game, though, is its graphics engine. From a distance, terrain graphics are simply the finest ever seen, better than Flight Unlimited, better than ATF. The various environments - jungle, desert, snowy peaks -are rendered in remarkable detail. The objects in the world itself jump out of the screen, from enemy aircraft and ground facilities to the F-22 itself. Though the effect seems to fade at the horizon and the pixels show at low altitudes, it is still a stunning visual achievement.
I enjoyed F-22 on a simple, mindless level: it was fun. The action is good, the graphics awesome, and it is far better than Comanche. But NovaLogic has made the mistake of plastering claims for realism and accuracy all over the box and ad material. They must be judged by their own standards, and in the areas of realism and accuracy, they fail.