At the time of this review, I can say with assurance that LOMAC is the best commercially available jet combat simulator ever developed. It’s simply the most in depth, the best looking, and the best flying than any previous. (Falcon 4 fans, don’t eat me) But, of course, it’s not without its problems, and simply being the best does not give you an automatic ticket to high fame, you’ve got to prove that the pros overcome the cons, and of course, that’s what I’m here to do.
Lock-On Modern Air Combat begins with a very straightforward campaign, as well as a rudimentary theme to give an excuse for being airborne. You’re simply a fighter pilot for one of the many nations with US or Russian equipment, and you’re engaged in a fictional conflict over the Black Sea region. No specific time is given for the conflict so you’ll be able to use much of the weapons and arms in service from 90’s up into weapons still being planned for actual combat use. This does not mean you’ll be able to enjoy anti-missile lasers, or AIM-9X, but you can expect currently untested equipment to be present in the field. Carrying and combating such equipment will, of course, be the stars of LOMAC, the combat planes.
You’ll be able to fly 7 real world military jets, and while that number may sound a bit small, remember that they have been modeled down to the last detail. Every screw, every piece of avionics, is depicted in the game, and you can almost be certain that every action these planes take in real life, can be taken in LOMAC as well.
That being said, on first run of the game it becomes blatantly apparent that LOMAC is not for the average gamer, hell, it’s not even for the average simmer, it’s really a game designed by diehards, for diehards, and if you’ve never flown something like this before, expect to take some time reading the manual or playing the included training missions before you’re able to do anything. Now, that may sound a bit ominous, but keep in mind, that both the training missions, and the manual, are very good. They give you the exact amount of information you need, without expanding on it an unnecessary amount, and not babying you through it like you’ve never seen an airplane before. You can expect all the planes modeled in the training missions and explained in depth in the manual, so, if you’re really keen on flying the A-10, you won’t have to worry about learning the intricacies of F-15 Avionics first. I’ve got to applaud the LOMAC team for that, as within the first day, I was able to engage and splash bandits using any of the Russian Aircraft. If the training fails, you can always tone down the difficulty of the flight module via some very customizable settings, including options for easy radar, and automatic spin recovery.
I’m not saying, of course, that the game is easy, as even with training and the difficulty settings toned down, the missions themselves prove to be very tricky, and I’d wager it’ll be a long time before you're proficient in tackling all the objectives you see in a combat environment. LOMAC really is a game of patience and knowledge; you’ve got to know your aircraft inside and out, you must know its controls, know its warnings, and know not only its limits, but the limits of your opponents as well. It’s not impossible to be a casual LOMAC pilot and still be an Ace, but it’s very unlikely.
On a final game play note, I’m sure all my readers who’ve played will notice the serious need for a programmable flight stick, especially after getting yourself in a few fur balls. As LOMAC really isn’t the type of game that partners well with a $20 dollar joystick, and while I’m not saying you have to go out and spend $300+ dollars on a Cougar, if you’re serious, and your current stick doesn’t seem to be doing the job, it would be a wise idea to upgrade to something larger and more stable, preferably with a throttle as well as a rudder. I’ve found you can adjust all you want via the great in game settings, but you’re never going to come close to something designed with flight simulations like this in mind.
Once again, the graphics within LOMAC are a mixed bag. In some places, they are better than any other flight simulation to date, but in other places, the quality seems to be fairly low, and worse, occasional graphical slowdowns will knock even the most powerful computers to their knees. Make no mistake though, LOMAC is a modern game, and thusly, takes advantage of many of the new Direct X 9.0 features that we’d only expect inside the latest big budget shooters. For example, the bump mapping and lighting on the ocean looks particularly realistic, as does the exhaust heat blur effect given off by the jet itself. Explosions are brilliant, but very “Hollywoodized” considering LOMAC is such a realistic simulation. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, and gives a bit more excitement to your kills than would the real world effects. Aside from explosions though, you can expect virtually every real life visual attribute to be mimicked in LOMAC; contrails appear at high altitude, sun glares off the cockpit glass upon which a series of scratches are evident, missiles cast shadows and brighten the wing surface when launched, and also leave a lancing smoke trail to their target which ends abruptly at impact. The planes and their respective cockpits as well look spot on; modeled down, in very high quality I might add, to their last bolts and screws. It’s beautiful, and combined with the realistic nature of the game, feels incredibly immersive.
All this graphic wonder comes at a toll though, as LOMAC seems to be an incredible system hog, dropping even the newest systems down to unbelievably low frame rates, especially when you’re confronted with ground attack missions in dense urban areas. Rumor and speculation has this pined to the fact that LOMAC has not been completely optimized and that should be fixable in a simple patch, however, for now gamers are just turning off a few of the more taxing settings and enjoying the game that way. Still, this acts as yet another barrier that only serves to prevent gamers from jumping right in and enjoying the hell out of the game.
The sound within LOMAC, however, is something which seems to be nearly perfect, and I certainly have a hard time finding any fault in it whatsoever. Everything here is incredibly detailed, and from what I’ve heard, also very correct. You’ll find the missile warnings sounding just as they would in real life, you’ll find Betty, the Russian vocal warning system, speaking in Russian, and warning you exactly as she would in the real aircraft. Even the sounds outside the cockpit sound incredibly good, from the dull drone of the engines to their high RPM scream when in after burn, from sonic booms when breaking the sound barrier, to thudding splashes when missing the carrier. It’s all there, and from what I can hear, it’s all very good.
The music however, unlike the sound effects, leaves a lot to be desired, and though decent in it’s own right, does not saturate the simulation as the effects do, and certainly could have been composed to better suit the mood of a combat pilot. Fortunately, you can, through the use of an Ogg decompressor/compressor, substitute any type of music you want, and while this doesn’t make up for its bad performance in the first place, it does help.
Multiplayer is never really considered the most important aspect of a Flight Simulation. After all, it’s within the single player that the pilot can feel the most immersed, and also have the freedom to do things at his own pace, without worry of being taunted if he screws up. LOMAC, however, seems to be the simulation to change all that, especially considering its generous multiplayer options.
With LOMAC, you can engage in simple Combat Furballs, Team Dogfights, as well as cooperative mission modes that can be custom tailored via the game's excellent mission editor. Combine this with a maximum of 32 players and a team on Roger Wilco, and you’ve got what is almost a completely realistic combat environment. Nothing is more fun than hearing simulation nuts go head to head with each other using actual slang and fighter jargon. In fact in virtually every game like that, had someone been watching me, it could have easily been mistaken for the real thing.
At the moment though, most people are still getting acclimated to the complex flight model of Lock On, and since Multiplayer is done through the UBI lobbies, and no dedicated server currently exists, you’ll be hard pressed to find many games that haven’t been pre-planned or designed. Often times you’ll have to co-ordinate with players via the Lock On forum in order to get a particular match nailed down. But trust me, if you’re a simulation nut, multiplayer is quite solid, and well worth the extra effort it takes to find players.
Lock On: Modern Air Combat is an excellent flight simulation, certainly the most realistic I’ve ever played, and since they’ve experienced a bit of a lull the past couple of years, is certainly a refreshing change. It does have some problems at this point, but I simply cannot recommend waiting until it’s properly patched, as I believe by doing so you’ll miss out on the serious bits of training and experience required to get used to a game such as this. Not to mention, if you’ve seen what the Falcon 4 community was able to do to that particular title, you’ll know why it’s important to get in on the ground floor of the community, and build a stable name for yourself. In simulations like this, you’ll find the players a very close nit accepting group of people, and not only that, but they also seem to be some of the most intensely creative people of any genera. At this point, with the developer’s dedication, and the community's help and contributions, I have no doubt in my mind that Lock On is, and will continue to be the best jet combat simulation for many years into the future.