Jane’s Advanced Strike Fighters review
Imagine for one moment you are sitting in a worn but familiar cockpit, strapped down tight and gazing through the sun dappled scratches on your Perspex canopy. The heavens await above, cumulous strata clouds moving like ships of the sky awaiting you to join them. Your headset crackles into life; the tower announces your clearance for departure – ready when you are. Your left hand tightens on top of the throttle control and your right wiggles the joystick almost imperceptibly. After the briefest of moments you push down hard on the left, almost feel the obedient blades of the exhaust fan open as the twin turbo fans push out seventeen thousand pounds of thrust fifty feet behind you. Your peripheral vision becomes a blur of colours whipping past, your G-suit struggles to match the afterburners rate of acceleration, whilst your right hand nudges the joystick back and the blur of industrial grey and green becomes a blur freedom blue…you have arrived.
Jane’s Combat Simulations attempted to do just that in the nineties through to the break of the twenty-first century in the form of video games on DOS and Windows. Licensed by EA Games, it has always been a goal to bring some of the excitement, skill and aptitude needed by Navy and Air Force pilots and attempt to translate it through sheer accuracy on the home computer. Most of the time the developers did their real life inspirations credit, other times due to gruelling development cycles not so much.
It is with some surprise then that after a hiatus of over a decade, a videogame carrying the heritage of Jane’s is released seemingly out of the blue and under the proverbial radar. A quick play through illustrates why. It’s not The Jane’s simulator of old, but rather a poor homage to yesteryears Ace Combats.
Destroying the tension
It’s a familiar plot: An economically backward eastern European country struggles against the Goliaths that have surrounded it, and aided by the West in return for the oil that swills beneath its land. The story is not complicated, and even with some twists and turns the story still plods along. Not that one minds of course as a flight game is all about flying, shooting down bogeys and destroying installations at breakneck speed. And this is where Jane’s has an identity crisis. The tactical aspect of the missions are sound in the most regard, but compromises such as a ‘health bar’ and over generous checkpoints siphon out the tension of what could be thrilling missions.
An early example is the requirement to fly at breakneck speeds through mountains under the radar in an attempt to cripple the enemy’s radar posts. Each has to be done in succession and having to eliminate three of them without raising the F-18’s nose above 1500 feet was exhilarating. Except on route to the third I slammed into a mountain wall. I shouldn’t have worried however as it become apparent that the checkpoint was set immediately after the second radar station was destroyed. Thus it came to pass, every time you destroy something vaguely important, a checkpoint shall be set, destroying any tension of making sure you do it right the first time.
That’s not to say that Jane’s isn’t pretty to look at because it is. The thirty planes on offer not only handle differently, but have been recreated beautifully for the home screen. The visual effects of missiles streaming through the air towards bandits and the ensuing explosion could give Ace Combat a run for its money. The varying vistas of fictional Azbaristan offer mountainscapes, deserts and industrial areas, each lovingly rendered and pretty to look at from ten thousand feet down to a thousand, though the disappointments are the actual buildings themselves, offering little detail on close inspection and instead only show as textured boxes.
A lone fighter?
A campaign that lasts a solid 4-6 hours and offers replay value for perfectionists may be seen as a little light, but the big selling point of Jane’s is 16 player online matches and a rather hidden 4 player online co-op mode – any mission from the campaign being playable.
Trouble is, whether down to the fact that America had their copy of Jane’s 6 months ago or whether Mass Effect 3 completely eclipsed its launch last Friday, no one is playing this game online. I could not find a single match to join and sat alone in my own hosted match for half hour before giving up. To play online you really have to search some flight friendly forums and beg a few friends to join in the experience with you.
In all Jane’s is a solid performer but only that. A mixture of what the developers would have liked in accuracy has only been translated into how the planes look and fly. The rest is very arcadey and likely to disappoint purists. With online play being nigh on impossible to experience either – Jane is a distinctly average purchase. Think of it as more Iron Eagle and less Top Gun.