capsule review

F/A-18 Operation Iraqi Freedom

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If watching news coverage of the Iraq war isn’t enough for you, Graphsim Entertainment can help you feel like you’re part of the action—albeit from the safety of your office chair. In F/A-18 Operation Iraqi Freedom, the company has repurposed its jet-fighter flight-simulation game to put players in the skies over Iraq.

The game offers an abundance of flight missions, which are as varied as the roles performed by the F/A-18 Hornet—everything from close-range air support to dropping guided missiles or bombs miles away. Flying can sometimes be a lonely experience. The game’s missions aren’t as action-packed as barnstorming in a biplane or dogfighting Zeros in a Hellcat, for example. By far, the most challenging aspect of this sim is landing your F/A-18 on the deck of an aircraft carrier. It’s a harrowing experience at the best of times—let alone if you’re having any system failures caused by battle damage.

One thing that I found disappointing was the game’s mission-selection system. Instead of a campaign-based mission system—which requires that you complete specific missions before you can take on more-challenging assignments—Operation Iraqi Freedom has a linear mission selector. So you can play (or replay) any mission you want without completing other tasks first. Although this system gives you the flexibility to focus on specific tasks, I found that it also drained some of the challenge and sense of accomplishment from the game. However, Operation Iraqi Freedom does rank you on the success of your mission and whether you (and your plane) get back in one piece.

If you’re playing with a joystick, I highly recommend downloading the beta patch from Graphsim’s Web site. It greatly improves joystick performance; without it, you might tear your hair out in frustration.

If you’re playing on hardware that supports a wide-screen aspect ratio—such as an iMac, a PowerBook, or an Apple Cinema Display—you’re bound to run into another problem. The game doesn’t support those products’ resolutions—so graphics appear stretched. It doesn’t make the game unplayable, but it is annoying.

The game provides more than 160,000 square miles of terrain generated from satellite imagery, so you’ll see realistic coastlines, desert, and mountain ranges. For the most part, the game’s OpenGL effects look nice—although details are less spectacular when you get up close. The game adds to the realism by incorporating atmospheric effects including sun, clouds, fog, and haze.

If you’ve played Graphsim’s earlier F/A-18 simulation, you won’t find a lot of new challenge in this one. Its graphics have improved and its setting is Iraq, but this is largely the same game you’ve played before. To help shake things up, the game does include a mission editor that lets you build your own challenges. You can also dogfight against other F/A-18 pilots over a LAN or an Internet connection.

The Bottom Line Graphsim’s F/A-18 Operation Iraqi Freedom gives players a taste of American military action over the skies of Iraq. But experienced virtual F/A-18 pilots will likely find little challenge here.

The mission editor in F/A-18 Operation Iraqi Freedom lets you pursue your own goals.
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