If Digital Integration's iF-16 feels about a year old, there's a good reason: Essentially, it is. DI splashed big two years back with Apache, a clean-looking, tightly modeled helicopter sim. Hind stretched the engine out a bit further with some solid flight modeling and good gameplay. Both have since been blown off the radar by Longbow, but that didn't keep DI from trotting out essentially the same engine for iF-16. It's a decent package, but compared with the current bleeding edge, it's showing its age.
iF-16 has the benefit of being the only real Falcon sim on the market right now, and since it is generally well designed, that's enough to sell it to many flight hacks. After such a long development cycle, gamers have a right to expect that the released product will be stable and run smoothly. This is not the case. The graphics - textured polys - look decent, but they're a far cry from Flying Corps, EF2, Longbow, or the other new titles. Lean graphics wouldn't really be a problem if the trade-off were silky performance and good frame rates (a la Hornet 3.0). Such is not the case. For a game that looks this mediocre, it runs like a dog, with rates under 10fps. A 3D patch is in the works to smooth graphics and boost frame rates, but it may be too little too late. Frame rates show no appreciable improvement in native DOS mode over Windows 95.
The feature set and front end are almost identical to previous DI games and as such are self-recommending. There are plenty of play modes, with a very thorough tutorial, numerous scenarios, random missions, and three campaigns set in Korea, Cyprus, and Israel. The mission editor is second to none, allowing a great degree of control over mission planning. Disappointingly, the campaign system is random but not dynamic, meaning there's some replay value but no feeling of a "live" battlefield. Realism settings are limited to no crashes and full loadout, which isn't really enough. Multiplayer modes are clean and allow up to 16 players for co-op or dogfighting via IPX or modem. Internet play is not supported.
Inside the cockpit, things look pretty good. The F-16C is modeled in admirable detail, including the LANTIRN infrared system. Flight performance will please the most strident realism hounds, with all the nuances one would expect in a realistic flight sim. This realism doesn't extend to the avionics, however, which have been simplified. A general track-while-scan (TWS) radar mode is included, complete with slewing and cluster targeting, but Falcon fliers expecting SAD and SAM won't find them here. Why the omission? Most egregious of all is the lack of the multiphase autopilot mode. The F-16 has a quite excellent autopilot, and its exclusion is not merely puzzling but downright irritating.
Enemy AI is decent, but wingman AI is sorely lacking. This is even more problematic since wingman commands are limited to formation and "attack my target," which are not enough. The patching date has fixed some of the initial bugs, including some joystick and graphical glitches and a few crashes. A "check six" view has been added, and the viewing system - including a smooth virtual cockpit and effective padlock - is quite well done.
On the realism scale, iF-16 falls towards the very top in terms of flight performance, but closer towards the middle in terms of avionics. Despite this, and the dated, choppy graphics, it delivers a generally solid sim package. Its omissions are annoying but not fatal. When measured against the quality of the competition, however, it suffers by comparison, and DI needs to play catch-up if it's going to continue to be a force in simulation.