It's all well and good to keep flying modern fight combat sims from the side of the Americans, but let's face it: The Yanks haven't had a good, old-fashioned hot war in a long time. The Gulf wasn't as much a fighter pilot's war as it was a fighter pilot's shooting gallery. But the Israelis and their plucky air force are on the front lines all the time. Since the Six Day War in the 1960s, the IAF has been racking up hundreds of kills and putting some of the hottest combat planes through their paces.
Jane's Israeli Air Force takes on this untapped source. Developed by Pixel, IAF is the latest entry in Jane's "soft sim" line. Unlike the hyper-real and quite complex Longbow and F-15, which model single planes in great detail, IAF models seven fighters with less depth, much like ATF and Navy Fighters. The result is a good mix of planes and action, with better-than-average flight modeling for the upper-midrange sim market.
The seven planes in the IAF arsenal are the F-15C/D Falcon (known as the "Baz" to the IAF), the F-16D (two-seater), F4E Phantom II, F-4 2000 Phantom, Kfir C7 (a low-cost, Israeli-built fighter), Lavi ATF multirole fighter, and the Mirage III. The MiG-23 and MiG-29 are also available for flying in multiplayer mode and custom missions. The planes have unique cockpits and handling properties, but systems and functions work using the same basic key layout, much like the other games in this series.
Flight and weapons modeling are distinct for each plane, so that you feel the agility of the F-16 and the sophisticated power of the Lavi. The more advanced avionics controls and modeling that hard-core flight sim hacks expect are not to be found here, but this is not that type of simulation. Modeling is definitely a step above ATF and Navy Fighters, but still far short of F-15-level complexity, and that's just fine. This type of sim is intended for fun and playability, and it delivers both with a minimum of learning time and fuss.
There are plenty of opportunities to fly all of the IAF planes in the familiar Jane's array of gameplay options. Forty-two hard-scripted missions are offered individually or in six campaigns covering the Six Day War, Yom Kippur War, Lebanon War, and three hypothetical conflicts against Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq. A set of eleven training missions, a quick-combat scramble option, and the standard Jane's mission creator round out the scenario offerings. Missions are heavy on dogfighting, but there are plenty of ground-strike opportunities as well, and most missions involve multiple wings where you can chose air dominance, ground attack, or both. Eight-person multiplayer is stable and smooth via modem, TCP/IP, and LAN, with player matching on Jane's Combatnet.
The problem with missions is that they can be tough and unforgiving. Briefings aren't always clear, and too often you're required to perform a precise series of tasks in order to succeed. Missions are either recorded as utter success or utter failure, and too many times missing one target means failure. This problem becomes more pronounced due to one of the game's most touted features: the ability to hop between cockpits and flights. The AI isn't all that sharp, and even though you can control wingmen, you can't rely upon them to successfully fulfill all the mission parameters. This means some missions have you leaping from one role to another in multiple replays in order to juggle all the requirements needed for complete success. In single-player mode, this simply becomes too much at times.
The graphics engine is effective at high altitudes, with terrain and structures looking fairly sharp. Elevation data has been used to create accurate terrain data, so that low-level flying enables you to use hills and canyons for masking. Unfortunately, the terrain breakup at these low altitudes is pretty pronounced, with a fair amount of pixelization. As usual in a Jane's product, however, object modeling is tops.
Despite some missions that require a little too much cockpit hopping, IAF plays quite well and provides the right mix of flying challenge and accessible gameplay. As a worthy successor to Navy Fighters and ATF, it provides a sweeping selection of planes and mission types for gamers looking for quick fun instead of painstaking realism.