Perspective: 1st-person, 3rd-person
Vehicular: Flight / aviation, Vehicular combat
Published by: MicroProse Software
Developed by: MicroProse Software
One of the best US Navy aircraft simulator ever made, if not the best. It is difficult to find flaws in this game with all the desire - because this is the very rare case when the flight simulator is maximally (taking into account the genre, of course) adapted for the convenience of the player in terms of control and at the same time remains a very difficult game, but this complexity is by no means does not irritate, but only "spurs" to its further development and mastery of all the intricacies of the gameplay. Due to the fact that this gameplay itself, as in most simulators, is still quite difficult, the description of the game will be quite detailed.
The F-14 Fleet Defender has two main game modes - Campaign (Campaign) and Scramble (single and unrelated missions in any way); the second mode, apparently, is intended primarily for learning and honing basic aircraft control skills, so it is recommended to start acquaintance with the game from it. There are three campaigns in the game, one of them is also a set of strange incoherent and, in fact, training tasks, the other two are based on fictional scenarios of Russia's attack on Norway (!) And Israel on the Arab countries. Naturally, this nonsense should not be considered in detail - this is the only drawback of the game, although the plot component has never been a strong point of simulation games.
To begin with, it is better to consider the Scramble mode in detail, because there are not so many differences from the campaign mode. Before starting the game, you need to choose the type of aircraft from a variety of options (not only F-14 aircraft are available in the game); this choice is not an empty formality, because the control and flight on this or that aircraft are still different. Here you can also select the difficulty level of a random mission, the number of aircraft taking part in the battle, both foreign and friendly (there can be from one to six), one of several types of formation of battle formations (if more than one aircraft is selected, of course) , the flight altitude of our and enemy aircraft, the position in the air relative to the enemy, the time of day, weather conditions (yes, the game is very detailed even in such “trifles”!) and belonging to any squadron.
It is very important to separately note the above-mentioned point about allied aircraft. Fleet Defender is largely a team game, where the role of "partners" is very important, even if they are controlled by computer intelligence. Even if you fail to complete some difficult task on your own, the mission can still be completed thanks to their help. In Campaign mode, the "Squadron" menu item is generally given much more attention, as well as the choice of partners, but this will be discussed below.
After the initial settings, you have to choose the level of complexity, and this task is not so simple, because it is the setting of various parameters, arranged in the form of a table. There are five main modes: training and actually four difficulty levels. However, a surprising feature of the game is that the training mode is not related to these difficulty levels in any way and can be activated simultaneously with them! If the training mode is on, then, of course, you can die, but not from everything that is dangerous in a “real game” (for example, if you crash into water or an aircraft carrier, then nothing will happen!).
There are nine difficulty parameters that determine its level in the game: the degree of reality of handling fighter weapons, the reality of flight simulation (the influence of wind, the laws of physics, and so on), the degree of resistance of the aircraft to damage, the difficulty of landing on an aircraft carrier (at the highest level of complexity, this a real epic, especially if you have to land at night; however, it is possible to fully automate the landing), the degree of participation in the process of the second pilot, the degree of control of the actions of the second pilot, the efficiency of the gun chamber, the efficiency of the radar, the degree of "breakability" of the aircraft on the ground or water. Here, for some reason, the choice of the “native” aircraft carrier takes place (but this does not affect anything).
Then an even more important moment lies ahead - the choice of weapons and ammunition for our aircraft, which is still in the aircraft carrier's hangar. It looks like this. In the upper left corner of the screen is a table with the available set of weapons. There are four types of weapons, of which only the 20-mm M61A1 cannon is permanent, the remaining three types of weapons (various air-to-air missiles) are chosen independently. In total, there are seven options for the layout of the ammunition load, one of which is to put only a cannon in general. Two options allow you to put on board all four types of weapons, but with this choice the total number of missiles will be small. Please note that each of the three types of rockets differs in weight, range and speed, and the cannon's ammunition is not at all limitless - only 675 shells.
After choosing the ammunition option, you can already proceed to takeoff and directly to the beginning of the mission. In the upper left and upper right corners of the dashboard are the firing buttons: on the left - a cannon, on the right - missiles. If, when meeting with the enemy, you do not “unlock” them with a mouse click, then it will be impossible to use weapons. In the upper left part of the panel there is a speed indicator, in the lower left part there is a radio altimeter measuring altitude up to 3000 feet above ground level, and a conventional altimeter, the number on which indicates the altitude in thousands of feet, and the arrow in hundreds of feet; rotating it clockwise means that the plane is gaining altitude, counter-clockwise means it is decreasing. The screen in the center of the panel is designed to track targets and has two modes: radar and using cameras. A little to the right is the so-called horizon line indicator - an absolutely indispensable thing when flying at low altitude and during landing, according to its digital data, you can navigate when leveling the aircraft in a horizontal position. The radar is located in the lower right corner of the dashboard. Finally, on the windshield are navigation sensors - a course scale in degrees and a horizon line, as well as missile guidance systems, gun sights and data on missile readiness for launch.
It hardly makes sense to describe in detail the control of the aircraft in this review. Yes, there are several dozen “hot” keys for performing various actions, which, of course, can become an obstacle for a completely unprepared player, but there are only six key combinations, which is more than unusual for a real simulator of those times, because most often they much more.
The so-called combat map view mode is available in the game, and it cannot be ignored either. With it, you can reread the mission task (this option is available only in the campaign mode), as well as see the location of your aircraft carrier, your fighter, your partner's fighter, and the squadron's fighters. It also activates (or disables) the mode of all kinds of warnings and tips from the second pilot (black line at the bottom of the screen) and there is the possibility of detailing the display of the landscape.
Also, of course, you need to say a few words about the campaign. Its main difference from the Scramble mode has already been mentioned - much more attention to the personalities of the pilots. Before starting the game, you must go to the "Edit Pilot" menu in order to enter your name in the list of squadron members. This is not so easy to do: you need to move the cursor to one of the ten list items and click the mouse so that the labels turn red, then click "Edit Pilot", erase the information there ("Delete") and enter your data in the next sequences: nickname, first name, last name. After that, in the same way, you need to edit the data for the second pilot (“Edit Rio”).
Another difference between the campaign is the presence of the "Status" menu, where you can view data on your participation in it: the number of sorties, downed enemy aircraft, and even aircraft carriers damaged through your fault. There are also three other differences. Firstly, before each mission, you are read a briefing, which must be studied very carefully in order to make the right decision in terms of choosing weapons for the task. Secondly, in the campaign, very serious attention is paid to the choice of a partner (only one pilot can be your direct "partner"). You can choose it only from your squadron, and they differ from each other in characteristics (experience and so on), and here it is also important not to make a mistake. Finally, when forming the ammunition load, you cannot choose the option when the aircraft takes off with only one gun on board. There is also a difference in the map view mode: if the training mode is turned on (and it is also in the campaign, then there is an almost “cheating” opportunity to instantly move your plane hundreds of miles in one second in reality (!) (but it makes no sense to use it - because there is really no point in such a game).
The graphics in the game, especially given its release and genre, looks simply phenomenal - probably the most beautiful flight simulator of its time. Various viewing perspectives are supported: from the cockpit, external views from different angles - but in each of them the environment is executed simply brilliantly: the landscape, ours and other aircraft, and ships are drawn just fine. And what are the weather and other effects here! Ripples on the water in calm weather and huge waves during a storm, clouds of various shapes, the density of which changes as the aircraft passes through them - and this is not fiction, it's all here! How is it possible to fly away from the epicenter of the battle and look at peaceful shores or even settlements, where, of course, there is no special detail, but nonetheless. In a word - visually the game looks just amazing.
The verdict was made at the very beginning - this is the best naval aviation simulator and one of the best examples of the genre in general, which for me, perhaps, is in second place after EF2000, which simply fantastically successfully combines the complexity and at the same time the accessibility of the interface and has an exciting game process. Therefore, if one of the fans of realistic air battles has not yet seen this miracle, then this moment should be corrected as soon as possible.