A semi-realistic alien flight sim with a pulse.

Can a flight sim succeed when it doesn’t simulate anything real? The answer is mostly ‘yes’ with Buka’s unsung Echelon, a sort of flight / hover craft sim set in the distant future. The mechanics of it all are no more technical than I-War 2 or any Novalogic sim, so if you enjoy that sort of experience then this is something to look into.

12_1Echelon’s plotline, with a last stand on a hostile alien world (really just one huge island level), provides players with a truly luxurious but still alien setting to battle over. While the craft are advanced, the development team, who also did a lot of work with Microsoft’s Fighter Ace, have created a flight and damage model that’s on the semi-arcade side of things. Forces like inertia and drag seem to be there, while a detailed enough weapons and AI system highlight the often chaotic action.

Different aircraft have their own advantages and drawbacks; a fixed-wing aircraft is the fastest and can thus outrun and potentially out-maneuver a hovercraft or helicopter but it won’t be able to stop and hover in one point. Nor is it as likely to be as well armed or armored as the slower hovercrafts, which are more like floating fortresses. Both the “human” Federation and “alien” Velian craft are covered in the campaign.

The game is tailored for both experienced simulation fans and casual gamers. If you’re the latter, you will have the option of using an “autopilot” system to take over some of the controls. You can tailor a lot of the game controls and mechanics to make it more friendly, including enabling infinite ammunition or disabling crash damage. Of course if you’re looking for more of a simulation experience, you will be able to try your hand with all the realism options enabled. The AI in these dogfights are capable enough to make things interesting.

Echelon’s campaign and gameplay aren’t as interesting as more mainstream sci-fi sims like Freespace or Freelancer, but for an entry-level and budget priced game from a small development house, it really does shine.

System Requirements: Pentium II Athlon, 128 MB RAM, 750 MB HDD, 32 MB Video, Win95

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