“Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”
- John F. Kennedy, January 20, 1961
With these words, the newly elected 35th President of the United States laid down a gauntlet at the feet of the imperialistic socialist state, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Our war on expansionist Communist states would be unlike the devastating world-wide and regional conflicts of the previous two decades. Rather than suffering further losses from head-to-head combat, this new "Cold War" would be fought by the bean-counters in the Congress and Politburo, feeding billions of dollars to their respective military/industrial complexes. In a years-long game of technology leap frog, battles would be won by developing complex and deadly weapons to meet both known and unknown threats from weapons development on the other side. And as in traditional battles, strategy would play an important role. Was the rumor of a new high-altitude, supersonic bomber true, or was it a clever feint? If it was, what would need to be procured to address the threat, and more importantly, what would it cost? More than anything, this war would be won by budgets rather than bullets.
While this technological battle occured in all facets of military procurement, none was as intriguing as the battle for presumptive air supremacy. Emerging from the virtual air battle were timeless airplanes such as the YF-12, originally built as a supersonic interceptor but later converted to the SR-71 reconnaissance plane. In fact, during my own Cold War years in the US Air Force, I worked on the powerful ground mapping radar system housed in the nose of the Blackbird. On the Soviet side, the US threat was matched with the powerful MiG-25 Foxbat and nimble Su-27 Flanker. In turn, these fighter/interceptors were countered with the American F-15 and F-16.
When it comes to PC military simulators, this historical period is almost completely ignored. Until now, that is. Graffiti Entertainment, a division of Signature Devices which is itself a development house that specializes in 3D graphics hardware and software, has released a flight simulator named Red Jets. As described on the box, Red Jets "pulls you back in time to a day and place where the Cold War defined right and wrong... You find yourself in the cockpit of the notorious Soviet MiG fighter and watch history take a spin as it opens the door to an alternative line of events, and the Cold War heats up!"
Sounds good, doesn't it? It continues: "Red Jets is a 3D combat jet plane game (note the use of 'game' rather than 'simulator' - that will be important later) inspired by the Cold War conflict and a USSR Air Force in its prime. The line of events may be pure fiction but the environment and the atmosphere is as authentic as can be, and as you dive into a world of military discipline, honor, and love of Mother Russia, the lines of right and wrong begin to blur..."
"Red Jets' is built on InterActive Vision's powerful jet fighter engine and features advanced weather simulation, detailed landscapes based on real-life satellite imagery, super realistic aircraft and weapons, and intense dogfight scenarios."
Wow, all that for a street price of less than $20!! It boggles the mind to find such a complex title in the B4 (Best Buy Bargain Bin)! Well, it would if it were true....
Unfortunately, the description provided by the marketroids at Graffiti is quite a bit over blown.
Red Jets is an arcade shooter, not a detailed, sophisticated military flight sim in the nature of Falcon 4.0 or Lock-On. Not that there's anything wrong with that, mind you, and if you are the type that approaches flowery market-speak with a high degree of cyncicism, you will not be disappointed. On the other hand, if you're looking for something that will support all of your cool gadgets like the Saitek X52 throttle/joystick system, rudder pedals, and TrackIR, you will be very disappointed. Niceties like that simply do not make the cut in a low-price flight sim, it would seem. Beyond that, even a simple controller like the Saitek AV8R will not be fully supported. For example, in the controls setup screen, trying to map a command to a joystick button doesn't work. Sure, you get the screen that says "Press the button to be assigned," but nothing happens when you do.
This paper-thin thin veneer of utility permeates the entire game. As another example, "Create your own missions" equates to a screen that lets you choose things like "Number of Tanks" for a ground attack misison, or "Number of Waves and Number of Planes" for an air-to-air battle. You also select whether to start in the air or on the ground. Even this simplistic mission creator doesn't fully work correctly. I created a mission with six tanks, and selected a base on a peninsula somewhere. I have to admit to being a bit surprised at consequently having to target a multi-ton battle tank floating on the ocean surface a few miles away from my base. Consider this when weighing promises like "Advanced weapons and targeting system" and "Realistic landscapes rendered from actual satellite maps." These are factually true in a Clintonian "it depends on what the meaning of 'is' is" sense, but the actual implementation of these things in the game left much to be desired.
Now, this is not to say that Red Jets is junk. It is, in fact, a pretty good piece of work considering the dreck that will be co-located next to it in the B4. It is lightweight enough that even older machines like mine will deliver a good frame rate, the learning curve is very, very shallow, and it is possible to spend quite a few hours mindlessly firing medium range missles at enemy theats, both ground-based and air-based. I did find it odd to find myself targetting Soviet military equipment like T-72 tanks and SA-9 anti-aircraft missle launchers, though. I'm not quite clear on what the scenario behind that is, considering that I too am ostensibly flying Soviet equipment, but the honest truth is that it really doesn't matter. Since there is no real complexity or depth to what passes as the Campaign Mode, you could just as easily be shooting at UPS trucks and traffic helicopters. Well, assuming that it makes any sense for those to be shooting back you, that is.
The flight physics are also nicely tuned to the non-serious, soft-core flight simmer. In other words, the planes are extremely easy to fly, and the aircraft systems are very simple to understand. This makes for a very approachable game, and there is no doubt a pretty good market for that. The number of people willing to spend 10 minutes learning how to operate a virtual fighter jet is orders of magnitude larger than the pool of potential air warriors that are willing to slog through hundreds of pages of documentation just to get off the ground and turn on the radar.
I always find it difficult to apply a numerical rating to B4 games. Should it receive a high score because it is heads and shoulders above the other B4 games, or should it be graded relative to more complex and expensive efforts like Lock-On? Well, one alternative (and the one I chose for Red Jets) is to rate the actual game as compared to the promises made on the box. In the case of Red Jets, this equates to a rating of 7.0. While fun to play, the game simply does not live up to the hype on the packaging. Hard-core flight sim pilots will want to give this one a wide berth, but for those looking for a quick & easy fast-paced shooter, Red Jets will fit the bill.