iF-22 was greeted with a resounding chorus of mixed opinions upon release last year. Interactive Magic had been doing well publishing sims like Apache and Hind by UK developer Digital Integration, but with iF-22 it decided to move development in-house and begin work on its own proprietary engine, dubbed DEMON-1. The sim had equal portions of crummy and outstanding elements that are too complex to reiterate here (for a detailed report, see the ). Short version: good campaign game, flight model, and avionics, bad performance and graphics problems.
The good news is that version 5.0 brings iF-22 perilously close to being a quality product, but there are still problems to be resolved. The biggest sticking points in the original release were a host of issues related to graphics. Show-stopping disc access, choppy graphics, muddy terrain, and huge hard drive requirements all conspired to make a good flight engine very difficult to fly. Much of this has been addressed. Terrain files have been pared down to about one-third their previous size. Perspective correction, dithering, and stronger 3D support have been added to smooth the rough spots. Smoke effects are less cartoonish, and translucent smoke has been added for 3D card owners. Disc hits are less frequent and egregious, but they are still there and still cause chopping graphics that interfere with flight maneuvers. It's better, but still not completely there.
Cockpit and avionics have been tweaked slightly with the addition of Flight Weapons Status and Engine Status MFDs. There's still no moving map display in sight, however. Three new views - bogey padlock, missile padlock, and "free" - are welcome additions and help pilots keep a grip on the situation. Wingman controls are still cumbersome, but wingman performance has gotten a much-needed shot in the arm. Two of the most frustrating radio calls were "My missile's gone stupid!" and "I've gone Winchester!" Both were the result of very stupid wingman AI, which has been largely fixed (as has the annoying overtalking). They're still not the brightest pennies in the jar, but they're better than they were. Verdict: improved avionics and wingman AI.
With the inclusion of the Persian Gulf add-on disc, the total number of theaters is now three, and all feature some of the strongest campaign play and mission structure outside of the Jane's line. Some of the kinks have been worked out of the campaign and mission-planning sections, making them strong examples of what sim developers should aspire to.
The final verdict? A good repackaging and enhancement of a promising game. It shows that Interactive Magic is serious about improvements and is well aware of the areas in which improvement is needed. Owners of the original really don't need iF-22 v5.0, since most of the fixes have already been issued in patches, and the Gulf add-on is available separately. But those who were wary of the initial, flawed release may want to try iF-22 this time around. It is by no means perfect, but it is in many ways very interesting.