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PC Preview - 'Lock On: Modern Air Combat'

by The Six Billion Dollar Man on Nov. 3, 2003 @ 12:46 a.m. PST

Feel the power of commanding a modern jet fighter. Fly a variety of combat aircraft in the most graphically rich, audio intense game environment ever created for a combat flight simulator. Lock On: Modern Air Combat combines a broad scope of game play that includes a dynamic campaign system, an immersive combat environment, and in-your-face action. Read more for the full preview ...

Genre: Flight Sim
Publisher: UbiSoft
Developer: Eagle Dynamics
Release Date: December 2, 2003

Pre-order 'LOCK ON: Modern Air Combat': PC

While I was recently browsing the simulation section of the local software shop, I realized that it was next to impossible to find a flight simulator outside of Microsoft Flight Sim and Comanche 4. Luckily, the good people over at UbiSoft seem to have read my mind and forwarded a copy of their up-and-coming flight sim, Lock On. Since there has been an overwhelming amount of FPS, MMORPG and RTS games hitting the stores recently, this was a welcome change. Let’s get down to what makes this game tick, shall we?

The game has been accompanied by a lot of hype about how great and realistic it is, but based on past experience, such titles usually end up being little more than hype. I was skeptical at first, but that changed about 30 minutes into the game. Lock On has certainly pushed the envelope in terms of air combat simulators. Never have I experienced a more realistic feeling since my days of Flight Sim 2004. A simple flight yoke will not suffice, as the controls are too numerous and engrossing for it to be effective. I haven’t heard of some of these controls until this game, and the training missions alone are simply mind boggling.

If you are looking for arcade action, then look some where else because this is about as real as its gets, except maybe signing up for the military and taking a tour of duty. The game play in Lock On is cumbersome at first, especially if you’re a newbie. My fingers danced across the keyboard in order to just maintain air speed and operate the flaps and other doohickeys required for flight. Dog fighting is also far more complex than I have experienced till now; you can’t just slam your flight stick back and to the left and expect to bank at mach 1. If you choose to do the above, you will undoubtedly throw yourself into an uncontrollable spin and launch yourself into the ground. G-Force effects and blackouts are common occurrences, and you really have to think if you want to keep that enemy off your six.

Radar and weapons systems are far more advanced than simply targeting and shooting. Although you can do this, chances are that you will miss, and with a limited ammunition supply, you simply can’t afford that. One aspect of combat that has been overlooked is the feeling you get when you are trying to escape and have been acquired by enemy radar. In Lock On, your jet will let you know if danger arises, whether it is vocal warning of an incoming missile or a warning of maximum angle of attack and risk of stalling. I truly felt that I was flying the real deal.

The beta build I played had a limited amount of options available, although the missions ranged from search and destroy, defend and protect, to bombing raids and sinking of seagoing vessels. There were a bunch of pre-made missions available, but the campaign mode seemed to be disabled, but Eagle Dynamics packed the game with its own in-game editor so you can create your own missions. The editor is nothing short of god like, as you have control over everything from weather effects, time, lists of allies and enemies, as well as control over win conditions and objectives that must be met. You can place any vehicle in the Lock On database, whether it is an anti-aircraft gun, helicopter, or an entire mammoth ship fleet with carriers, battle ships, and destroyers... OH MY! The editor is a bit hard to configure and start making maps, but I am sure the retail version will come with full documentation. The playable nations in Lock On are just about every power player in the world today: Russia, U.S., Britain, and Germany, just to name a few, and the each packs their own aircraft hardware so you can mix and match to keep the action fresh.

Often neglected in most flight sims, one feature that has been implemented in Lock On is the online multiplayer action. It wasn’t enabled in my preview build, but from poking around in the option menus, this feature will be the centerpiece of flight sim fandom for years to come. Multiplayer aspects such as matchmaking will be handled by ubi.com, which allows you to create your own server.

Even though it still uses Direct X 8.1 as the API of choice, the game’s graphics are nothing short of amazing. The graphics engine mimics the real life aircrafts perfectly, and the developers’ meticulous care can be seen in the game play. Engines expand and contract, depending on whether you’re activating afterburners or powering down. The textures that give the look to the aircraft look photo realistic, and weathered parts show the wear and tear. Polished canopy shimmers as the sun reflects off of it, chunks of debris rip off damaged areas that have been impacted by rockets or cannon fire, but that’s not the only eye candy. The game world itself looks beautiful, complete with lush rolling landscapes, dusty and rocky terrain, and ripples of the ocean as you zoom over it at mach 2. The graphics in Lock On can easily bring even the best rig’s graphics hardware to its knees.

The audio portion of Lock On was the only unpolished element of the build; many times, the engine and weapons sound effects would cut out or be muted altogether. For the little bit that did work, I recommend getting a 3D positional sound card because there is nothing that can quite convey the sweet sounds of aircraft action as those do, whether it be the roar of a jet flying by, or the ever-growing whine as you taxi and power up your engines. There was a soundtrack with the beta version, and it had a very Top Gun feel to it, but it was strictly limited to menu navigation and the option screens.

Eagle Dynamics should be lauded for taking the time to create a fantastic game in a genre that has been pushed to the back burner in today’s Sci-Fi and WWII-centered shooter craze. I’m impressed by what I’ve seen in the unfinished copy, and I can’t wait to see the finished product. Although flight sim fanatics will no doubt gobble up this game, it may be a little to in-depth for your average weekend warrior gamer. That’s what the training missions are for, and UbiSoft/Eagle Dynamics have covered just about every aspect required to make you a top gun of the skies.

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