Written by  :  Zsolt Pardi (60)
Written on  :  Dec 16, 2004
Rating  :  5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars

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A Fun Arcade Simulation

The Good

Let me start off by saying that this game is not for hardcore simulation buffs. If you are looking for a realistic experience then head on over to Falcon 4.0

If you are looking for a fun and addictive simulation game then look no further. USNF 97 is the ultimate package for a great game. It contains the original, the Marine Fighters expansion and throws in a brand new Vietnam campaign all in one disc! Each campaign consists of over 20 missions to be flown. Operating in the Black Sea the goal is to rebuff a Russian invasion force of Ukraine. The mission briefings are well written and never leave you feeling they were rushed. The hours and weather forecast are all here. The variation of the missions is excellent. Always fresh and bearing that unique sense of importance, each mission in Ukraine is a joy to play. The campaign starts off with a bang as you try to save an airliner carrying good ol' Boris Yeltsin from attack by Russian interceptors. It never lets up.

The Vietnam campaign is a breath of fresh air. The joy of flying those old interceptors amid flak and heavy ground fire is undeniably one of the best experiences in the game.

The plane models are well detailed but the older ones are understandably a bit plain. The Vietnam planes have advanced textures however. Given that there are over 30 aircraft in the game each has a unique body structure and color complexion so you could recognize them from afar. Even if they all handle the same e.g Russian fighters handle same as US fighters their looks separate them well from each other. You would never confuse a Mig-31 with a Mig-29.

Another great thing is the campaign creator, an extremely efficient easy-to-use tool to create your own missions and campaigns. This is an excellent feature and compliments the game very well.

Sound effects are great and chatter among the airwaves is generic but adds to the atmosphere. You can issue commands to your wingmen with the right hotkeys.

Special mention must go to the tutorials. They are excellent and they teach new flyboys the controls and you get a feel for the game right away. The free-fly mode is a breeze to access if you want to practice those hard, hard landings.

Autopilot and the waypoint system work together beautifully and your enemies are smarter than you might think. The ground forces will lay into you if you underestimate them.

So this game is not as simple as you think, it may have the arcade feel because of no complexities however this doesn't make the game any less fun or enjoyable.

The Bad

Kuril, the second campaign, while set off an exotic island chain off Japan puts you up against the Ruskies once again and by this time some of the missions will be getting old. Hope you like CAS (cover and support) missions 'cause you will be flying a lot of them. The fact that the Harrier is overused here doesn't help.

You will only be flying 10 or so aircraft so if you get bored easily this might not be for you. Using cheats does allow you flying the others but the fact that only the handling and model of aircraft change it's not a drastic change. You won't notice much difference in controls when you jump from the agile F22 to a B52 bomber except that the bomber is bigger and turns slower. I would have wanted more options available to me, but then again the designers didn't mean you to fly the B52 since it is only accessible by cheating...

The scenarios, while plentiful are essential broken down into categories. Once you have played the campaigns you might pass up the scenarios in sheer redundancy. The mission objectives are essentially the same!

The Sim-feel of this game might turn off hardcore simmers and Falcon fans. There are no complex controls here, although landing is still a bitch. If you want a challenge try landing on a fast moving carrier at night. You WILL need to practice this one beforehand no matter how good you think you are. Locking a bogey on in the radar is ridiculously simple but there are options to increase difficulty so the AI is smarter.

The Bottom Line

If you want a fun simulation game that you can just boot up and fly without assigning 50 different keys to throttle and navigation specs then USNF 97 is your remedy. This game is still fun 9 years on for me personally, and the recent trash of sims on the market (Lock On is quite good I admit) may compel even hardcore sim fans who missed out on this game to give it a go just for the hell of it. What's the worst that could happen?