One of my all time favorite combat sims
Janes F-15 puts you in the cockpit of one of the most well respected jet fighters of all time. The Janes people are well respected for their role in documenting military weapons information. I would expect a game of this caliber, delivered by an icon in these circles to be top notch. They do not fail to deliver.
First of all, the cockpit interface is truly remarkable. Just about every button or switch performs a function of some kind which is accurate to it's real life application. You could play this game, learn the F-15, and then be able to sit in a real F-15 cockpit and point to a switch and say, "this does x" or "that does y". Furthermore, as in real life, one cannot view all of the switches, knobs, and buttons by staring directly forward. Fortunately, a view change is as simple as a key press away, or you may switch to a free look mode that allows you to look all over the cockpit and even in various directions around your aircraft (up, left, right, back, 45 degrees forward, whatever). Using the mouse you can activate the various switches or buttons for the desired effect.
Various control schemes are widely supported and customizable. If you only have a keyboard, or if you have a fully decked out flight control system, you'll be able to configure the game to work for you.
Gameplay consists of two single player campaigns, training, and a skirmish mode where you may select the types of targets to engage, their skill level, and the like for those that require instant satisfaction. The atmosphere of realism provided for in the cockpit doesn't stop there. You get a sense that you are really a part of a much bigger operation. The Iraqi campaign contains real missions that were flown during operation desert storm, and the fact that you can call and command wingmen, talk with an AWACS, and other parties makes you feel that you're not alone, even though you're in one player mode. What's more, different parties to the war sound differently. For example, your co-pilot's voice sounds like he's right next to you, a wingman may communicate with a flat sound like he's on a radio, and the AWACS, far away tells you about potential enemies while radio interference makes them hard to understand at times. Really good stuff.
The missions are quite varied, and you'll find yourself playing multiple roles involving air superiority, bombing runs, interception, or just plain recon where little or nothing happens. Also, there is quite a bit of explanation behind each mission. It's fun to read the lengthy text before taking off, as it makes you familiar with the task ahead while developing some level of rapport with your instructors which in turn makes you want to do well. You get a good sense of purpose by taking the time to read the background behind the missions.
This is not an arcade style flight game. Rather, you'll have long periods of boredom seasoned with short bursts of excitement, just like a real war or a live combat patrol may be like.
I just can't begin to explain all of the things that make this game so realistic, from the computer systems and functional switches inside the aircraft, dropping a bomb while your altitude is too low which results in causing damage to your plane, to the real life gulf war missions and awesome flight model which accounts for real life physics, to the capability (or lack) of the Mig 23 when compared to the F-15 while factoring in enemy pilot skill, this game is a testament to the desire and success of the game's developers to make a truly accurate combat flight sim. If I was an intelligence agent for another country, and I was assigned to get information about the F-15, I'd just hand deliver this game to my superiors.
Communication with your wingmen and other entities is also a nice addition. You can tell your wingmen to cover you, attack specific targets, fall back, change formation, the works. You may also communicate with other entities for information and planning purposes. Wingman get shot down? Ask for a search and rescue to the area. Sometimes you get a response saying that it can't be done, other times they say a search and rescue team is being dispatched. When you receive this message, you can hear the sound of the propellers from the communicating aircraft in the background. So exciting!
The graphics and sound are superb, the level of realism rich, and the replayability excellent.
Having said that, this game is for the F-15 and military enthusiast. Button mashers, action junkies, most console gamers, or those that want quick fix gaming should look elsewhere as you'll spend the large majority of your time flying to a location. Probably less than 1% of the mission times involve any hair raising combat, and some provide 0%. This can be a negative or positive attribute of the game depending on your perspective.
On flying to a location, it can take a very long time to get there. Remember, this game is about realism, so if a target is 400 nautical miles away, and you're going 200 knots, it's going to take two hours to get there. Along the way there are waypoints, and you have the option of instantly jumping to the next waypoint. The problem with this however is that there may be an encounter on your way to the next waypoint, and you'll either arrive at the next waypoint lacking wingmen, with damage, or dead.
Finishing the campaigns is not rewarding. You expect for there to be some big finale for all of your efforts. This doesn't happen, and it's a let-down.
This game only supported 3dfx cards. If you didn't have one, you were out of luck. You could play the game in 2d mode but it was buggy, especially on the interface screens. There is a patch now, I hear, which allows the game to be played in D3D but I haven't done that as I have multiple systems and just play the game on a voodoo 2 card.
The Bottom Line
If you want combat flight realism, accuracy, and excitement, Jane's F-15 is for you. I can't think of another combat flight simulator that can do what this title has done.