Written by  :  Maury Markowitz (248)
Written on  :  Sep 20, 2001

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Great flight-sim, but like all modern ones the holes are distracting

The Good

I had heard so much about MiG Alley that I grabbed it off the shelf the first time I saw it. Great graphics! Stupendous physics! Dynamic campaign. Well, sort of.

Perhaps the best executed part of the game is the concept of "detail levels" which allow you to take part in the game either is a "do what you're told" pilot, or as the guy in command of the overall war effort. In the later mode you are given a fixed list of assets (planes of various types) and targets and assign one to the other. As a result of the missions flown, the two lists will change for the next "time slice" which occur several times a day.

Missions occur in four distinct eras: early war strikes during the North Korean advance, close support during the battle for the Pusan Perimeter, and then a series of ground strikes and air missions as the line moves back north during the UN counteroffensive.

Combat takes place over the whole of Korea and up to southern China. The entire area is mapped to a reasonable level of detail although the terrain graphics are only so-so. Simply flying around the game is an amazing experience, as you see roads, railways and cities come into view.

Another well done feature of the engine, largely unique, is the interaction with the Forward Air Controllers. In the "ground attack" phase of the game you will meet up with a controller in a T-6 Texan who's flying around the area mapping out what's going on down below. He will then radio you with instructions on what targets you should attack, and even what weapons to use on them.

Another high point is the communications and mission "advancement" system in general. Via a series of menus you can handle common tasks like advancing to the next waypoint and such, as well as give commands to other planes to attack or return home (etc.). This also handles interacting with the FAC as well as talking to the tower for landing instructions and such. On the downside it can be a lot of menus to navigate through in the heat of combat, but in general I found it well done.

Flight dynamics are passable, but that's all. The physics engine is in no way comparible to the engine in Fighter Squadron for instance. The planes all seem to be running on rails, and other aircraft are "faked" into being able to follow you in formation (suddenly appearing in the right spot and remaining absolutely locked there). Ground interaction is notably poor, takeoffs and landings are clearly scripted to a large degree and felt utterly unreal. I suppose I'm simply spoiled by the superb system in Fighter Squadron, but that's because I value the physics model of the games I play so highly.

Likewise the graphics are only so-so in my opinion, and certainly no match for something like Jane's WWII Fighters or even Fighter Squadron with the updated textures. Terrain graphics in particular are somewhat annoying as they swap in.

The Bad

Its not that there's all that much to specifically dislike. What's annoying is that the game got so close to true greatness, yet some obvious problems make it distracting.

A good example of this concerns the FAC. During the set of missions where you are interacting with them, the FAC is simply relaying a set of pre-recorded mission instructions to you - there's no AI behind it. For instance you can ask the FAC for a different target to attack, but if you do so you won't complete the mission and it will be considered a failure.

In addition the other pilots in your flight will dump all their ordinance on the first thing they meet, leaving you to pretty much finish off everything else by yourself.

Added together these become even more frustrating - in two back to back missions you are asked to take out mortar teams on a hill, and then tanks in the valley below - your AI pilots will drop everything on the mortars and then have nothing left for the tanks. However if you instead ask the FAC to switch targets and go after the tanks, it's almost impossible to get the FAC to declare the mortars dead even when you go back to them - the mission is a failure and the game ends as a result of Pusan falling.

Furthermore I was interested in simply flying and fighting. The mission planning - interesting as it may be - simply doesn't appeal to me. In this mode the game falls completely flat. You will fly three missions in each of the four "time slices" and that's that. There is no variety, there is no dynamic nature, and one of the potentially most powerful features of the game is simply thrown out the window.

The Bottom Line

Clearly a tour-de-force in spite of its shortcomings, this is a flight sim that deserves a look.