Flight simulators have a special place in gaming, since no other genre made better use of the personal computer’s raw power. It gave developers a viable platform to simulate a whole range of avionics, scenarios, AI and weapons systems like never before, and Falcon 3.0 was possibly the most influential in this regard. Its developers set out to developer the most realistic combat sim on the market, and make the product playable for a whole range of consumers.
The simplified flight model makes the sim more approachable to trainee virtual pilots. Step up the realism level and the aircraft starts behaving more and more like a real F-16. Thrust is not excessive as in the simpler flight models and the roll rate becomes more realistic. Load ordnance affects flight characteristics. A clean air-to-air configured F-16 flies far differently than one loaded wall to wall with fuel tanks and missiles.
Although the VGA graphics in Falcon 3.0 seem basic, at the time they offered some of the best 3D in a flight sim, surpassed perhaps only by Red Baron. Depth of field and draw distances were excellent. Just about everything – from tanks to allied and adversary aircraft and even people – were rendered in full 3D. The first time successfully bomb an enemy airport and spot individual soldiers on the ground scattering for cover is unforgettable.
Falcon 3.0 provides three levels of radar control – Situational Awareness Display (SAD), Situational Awareness Mode (SAM) and High Fidelity Radar (HFR). SAD provides 360 degrees of coverage around the player’s aircraft and gives range, relative altitude and heading in relation to your F-16. The second mode, SAM, covers 60 degrees off the aircraft’s nose, while HFR puts the pilot in control of the radar, with changable azimuth and elevation levels.
As with the avionics, the weapon systems is just as accurately simulated. Sidewinders, AMRAAMs and the Vulcan are provided to handle the various airborne adversaries, while dumb bombs, smart bombs, rockets and air-to-ground missiles allow you to mop up terrestrial threats. The weapons interface is smoothly handled. Employment of air-to-air missiles, tied with the various flexible viewing modes is especially well portrayed. Falcon 3.0 was one if not the very first example of a sim using the padlock view to track enemies.
For launching missiles, the interface is pretty much identical to the real F-16. The player has to hold the target near the center of the HUD long enough for the missile to uncage (target) on the hostile aircraft. To defend against enemy missiles, you have chaff (for radar) and flares (infrared) countermeasures. These are very effective and timely use can prevent a long walk home. Enemy planes are also provided with countermeasures, and the realism meter dictates how effectively they make use of them in a dogfight.
The 20mm M-61 Vulcan is easily the most entertaining if difficult weapon to use, and while the other weapons can be clumsily employed using the keyboard interface, the cannon is exclusively reserved for joystick users. Lowering the realism will make the cannon more usable, but will still require you close in to your target before firing. Finally, air-to-ground ordnance comes in both guided and unguided forms.
In all, Falcon 3.0 was milestone flight simulation that raised the bar for such products by quite an impressive margin. It might not have been the most graphically advanced game for its time, but the incredible attention to detail and countless hours of work poured into Falcon 3.0 nonetheless make it a superb example of its genre.
System Requirements: 80286 CPU, 1 MB RAM, DOS
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