F-22 Lightning II
Arcade flight modelling keeps Lightning II firmly grounded.
Typical flight games from Novalogic tend to be somewhat technical action games, a trend first started with their flight model for the original Comanche, which was – by the companyâ€™s own admittance â€“ quite simplistic. Despite the shady box cover, Lightning II is neither a sequel to anything nor a realistic take on the F-22, but a tried-and-tested, self-sufficient action game with shinny jetfighter wrappings.
First of several advancements are the polygonal graphics, marking the company’s partial transition from their primordial voxel-based engine. Even so, the graphics are considerably more detailed than rivaling F-22 games could produce at the time, and the explosions and fog are some of the best in any ’96 game. Lightning II is one of several titles attempting to cash in on what was then a high-tech and wildly high-profile next generation aircraft, namely the F-22. Although primarily an action game, it’s worth admitting that the simulation aspect here is better represented than in, say, Comanche – the look-down MFD instruments mimic the real F22â€™s cockpit, even if the instruments themselves are relatively rudimentary. The glide slope and targeting reticles leave nothing to desire for detail, the HUD is all there with some notable retrofitting to suit gameplay (such as a pop-up map that tracks enemy threats or an ‘Airframe’ counter that essentially measures hitpoints).
Where things go downhill is the flight model, which, although not the worst ever made, comes off as notably half-baked. The rudders are ridiculously effective and the rolling sensitivity is off the charts. Banking the plane on either side will give way to a temporary nose dip but doesn’t turn your heading one iota. Taking off the ground feels artificial as well, as if the flight mechanics instantly transfer from ‘take-off mode’ to ‘flying mode’. The micro-second your wheels leave the ground you’ll pitch the aircraft like crazy, where two micro-seconds before you had to pull hard just to raise the nose. The aircraft seems unusually slow as well, requiring some 60% of the runway to get airborne, where the real plane can make do with half of that space under normal conditions.
There are a total of 41 missions that take you through several conflict zones, including Kamchatka, Iraq and the Ukraine. The missions are completely linear and your performance on one assignment bears no difference on how the following one is played. It’s all standard fare, and although exciting and rewarding at first, missions and objectives do tend to get repetitive around the halfway mark, shifting between air superiority and bombing missions all the time, or a combination of both.
The AI here is pretty good – enemy planes try to avoid your missiles and aren’t shy of shooting you down every now and then – but too often the game relies on overwhelming odds to compensate for what are okay-ish but not revolutionary dog fighting skills. You’ll also have a useful wingman on your tail during assignments and can choose to order him around. The command system isn’t that complex, but it gets the job done nonetheless, and although your wingman will fly extremely close to your aircraft in formation, he’ll almost never obliterate you in a mid-air collision when things get hectic.
All in all, Lightning II is more about fun than accurate controls or hardcore realism. It ranks poorly in terms of authenticity, but manages nonetheless to be enjoyable in the long run, offering a fair take on the modern jet fighter that you can learn and start blasting in as little as one afternoon.
System Requirements: Pentium 90 Mhz, 16 MB RAM, 32 MB HDD, SVGA Video, MS-DOS