The original Su-27 Flanker was released in 1995 and was almost immediately recognized as having one of the most outstanding and realistic flight models to date. While the game was repackaged in 1997 with all the accumulated patches and a mission disc, Flanker fans have never seen an update to the graphics engine. The Flanker series always had the advantage of running well on lower-end machines, providing an uncompromising flight model without compromising your wallet. But with the arrival of Flanker 2.0, this circumspect approach to system requirements has been jettisoned in favor of more eye-catching graphics. Was it a fair trade? For the most part, yes.
Like its predecessors, Flanker 2.0 quite obviously models the Su-27 Flanker (and its naval variant, the Su-33). Just like previous versions, Flanker 2.0 is not a sim for the occasional flier. It is incredibly detailed and will seem daunting at first, even to reasonably experienced sim fans. For cautious players or those without previous Flanker experience, there is an excellent set of tutorial missions that covers every meaningful aspect of the aircraft in some way. Nevertheless, it will take you many hours to become proficient at this game.
The first thing veteran Flanker pilots will notice is that the controls are similar enough to the original Flanker, such that they can quickly get into the game. There is also a wonderful joystick configuration tool in the setup options that allows for very flexible joystick customization even if you don't have a programmable controller. The in-game cockpit lacks a 2D view, but the 3D view is easily readable and quite functional. The only problem is that while the HUD can be toggled to display in English, the cockpit instrumentation apparently cannot, despite the manual's assertion to the contrary.
Discussing the accuracy of flight models seems presumptuous coming from a reviewer whose real-world supersonic jet experience is limited to one ride on the Concorde. That said, Flanker 2.0 feels as tough and realistic as its predecessor. One way this realism comes across is that the plane feels quite sluggish to the novice, yet the twin engines pack a lot of punch and can move the plane remarkably nimbly if the pilot knows how. Weapons are also difficult to judge, but Flanker 2.0's weapons model is more realistic than most other sims - perhaps too realistic, because SAMs are incredibly hard to defeat, and their kill ratio seems unusually high. This adds to the difficulty level of the game and can be very frustrating. One reason might be that SAM-tracking radar can maintain a lock even through mountains, which is clearly a bug.
One of Flanker 2.0's most attractive features is that it lets you fly the naval variant, the Su-33, which means operating off an aircraft carrier. While carrier operations basically consist of takeoffs and landings, they can be challenging. As with all things in Flanker 2.0, practice improves performance, and in addition to the tutorial missions, the game includes an adequately comprehensive manual that will help you overcome such challenges.Even so, Flanker 2.0 has several problems. For one thing, the aesthetic appeal of the visuals is achieved at the cost of some hefty hardware requirements if you want to experience the game fully. While the game allegedly runs on a system as down to earth as a Pentium 166 with a 3D card if you turn down all the textures and detail, this really robs Flanker 2.0 of one of its best features, which is the marriage of a superb flight model and great graphics. However, even on a fast machine like a P2-450 with 128MB RAM (with a 32MB TNT2 Ultra video card), gameplay was choppy at 800x600 with the detail levels suggested in the manual. As such, you'll need serious hardware to run the game smoothly at 1024x768 with all the detail on, although the result is beautiful.
Flanker 2.0's sound also falls somewhat short of the mark. Veterans of other sims will find the radio chatter to be conspicuously sparse, and the aircraft sounds are also quite subdued. This is a strike against the game's ability to immerse you in the game environment, although simply becoming proficient at flying the aircraft and not being shot down with regularity should be enough keep you involved. The sparse audio is most likely due in part to realism issues (in a tightly sealed cockpit, sounds you might expect to be loud are probably muffled) and in part to Flanker 2.0's concentration on modeling the aircraft first and the environment second.
One of the things that made the original Flanker so attractive was its superb attention to detail. For example, radar lock was established not just by pressing the Tab key but by holding it down, because apparently there was a delay in the real Flanker's radar lock-on as well. In Flanker 2.0, this detail is evidenced by the padlocking system. Padlocking, the continuous visual lock on an enemy aircraft or missile, can be the most realistic or the most frustrating aspect of Flanker 2.0 depending on your perspective. First, there is no way to automatically padlock like in many other sims: You must visually acquire, or "tally" your target before you can do so. This can involve some slow panning, which can be aggravating. On the other hand, it is arguably more realistic. There also does not seem to be a way to padlock enemy missiles at all.
The out-of-the-box campaign also isn't anything spectacular if you've played Falcon 4.0. There is no attempt to model the real-time dynamic campaign present in MicroProse's game; Flanker 2.0's campaign simply consists of one mission after another like its predecessor's. The campaign once again takes place over (and on and around) the Crimean Peninsula. However, the mission builder is extremely powerful and ensures that the game will not go stale in single-player mode.
Considering all the features Flanker 2.0 offers, the game has shipped with fairly few bugs. There are some problems, like the fact that in-flight refueling doesn't actually result in any fuel being transferred, but these are outweighed by the fact that the game is incredibly stable, and almost everything works as it should.
It is inevitable that this kind of hard-core simulation will be compared to Falcon 4.0. There is certainly no reason to try to determine which game is simply better than the other, if such a determination were even possible. However, with the amount of time necessary to become proficient at a game like this, it is reasonable for aspiring pilots to wonder which game is more appropriate for them. This is where the unique philosophy of each game becomes apparent: Falcon 4.0 tries to be a simulation of what it's like to be an Air Force fighter pilot. The fact that the simulation involves an F-16 is only one of the many facets of the game that collectively make it so ambitious. On the other hand, Flanker 2.0 is purely a simulation of the Su-27 Flanker aircraft. The game exudes a pride in the aircraft that is palpable even to the uninitiated gamer. Just observing the aircraft in flight, especially at high altitude with contrails streaming, is enough to evoke admiration for what the developers have achieved. Flanker fans now have a simulation that they can embrace wholeheartedly, without having to apologize for the graphics.