It Was Early In The Morning On An Internal flight from Moscow to Irkutsk that I saw my first Flanker. Of course, I'd seen the news footage of the big fighter wowing the crowds at rough, but this was different -this was a real squadron aircraft flying a real operational mission. It was so close that I could see the real war shots on the wing pylons, and. gentle reader.
I don't mind admitting that I was more than just a little uncomfortable. After all, here was the most lethal warplane in the world about 100 feet away from an elderly Aeroflot TU154. and even though I had flown the same sort of mock intercept myself, it was a funny feeling to be on the receiving end. Needless to say. the Russian pilot was totally professional. He kept a safe distance and noticeably failed to shoot us down. The rest of the journey was pretty uneventful by comparison, but that one incident has. not surprisingly, stayed with me for a long time. The Sukhoi Su27 Flanker is a large twin-engined air superiority fighter, very similar in concept to the F-15. Opinions are divided as to its looks, but I consider it to be one of the most beautiful aeroplanes ever made, up there with Concorde and the Spitfire ix. It was designed to tackle any threat, high or low. slow or fast, at long range and with minimum fuss. It was also designed to be able to at least hold its own in a dogfight, and as a result was the first Russian aircraft to be inherently unstable. That means that it's only the willpower of the pilot, combined with a major chunk of computer, which keeps the thing pointed where it should be. and that means a seriously maneuverable aeroplane. Just for good measure, the chaps at Sukhoi made sure that the Flanker could service ground or sea targets just as easily as airborne ones, thus killing off the future prospects of that other airship favorite, the MiG29. (By the way, Flanker is actually a NATO code name for the aircraft, being easier to say and remember than Su27.) The Russians stick to numbers, although unofficially the aircraft is known as 'Zhuravlik' (Crane) by its crews. There, a piece of aviation trivia to file away. Who says this magazine isn't educational?
Enough of this nonsense, What about the game?
Okay, you asked for it I'll say this now so as to avoid wasting your time. If you're looking for a lightweight 'hop in and pole around the sky in a bit of Russian kit' type product, turn the page. This is not - repeat not - for you. If you get excited by the prospect of flying the beacons from Miami to Vancouver in your Cessna, you won't even take your anorak off for this. If on the other hand, your candle is lit by close, intense dogfighting, precision surface attacks, a real-time campaign and certainly the most accurate flight model anywhere, this will make your eyes light up. Admittedly the graphics aren't really that hot, and the world area is pretty tiny, but that's it. There won't be any other criticisms in this review, because I can find none to make.
The flight model is perfect, and there are luckily none of the totally pointless gimmicks which other simulators tend to bring to the party. This means no video sequences; no gorgeous rendered graphic intro; no digitized actors. In fact, nothing apart from a cracking good simulator of a really exciting aeroplane. Actually I am deceiving myself slightly, because this game does have a major disadvantage - where is the multi-player facility? When will companies realize that while playing with yourself can be an amusing diversion, playing with someone else is what we were made for?
What's so great, then?
So. what do you get for your forty-five quid? Well, there's no sign of skillfully acted sequences using dialogue from the Inspector Clouseau school of linguistics, no massive rendered intro sequence showing the subject aircraft disassembling all manner of enemies, no intermission cut-scenes of dead and dying Flankers or formation victory rolls. I guess by now you've probably got the picture. What do you get? You get exactly what it says on the box: a full spec maximum realism flight simulator based on an unusual aeroplane. You get an enemy who is at least as smart as you and learns from what you do. And you get a scenario which is a little too close to reality. The guys who designed this know their subject: they're Russian, you see, and as such are pretty well in tune with what goes on in the area. You also get a decent product which doesn't need a Ninja pc to avoid jerk vision.
Being Russian, the team wrote for the equipment available to them, which means that the game should still run quite happily on a 386 with EGA, though obviously you get more detail and prettier graphics with vca and a 486. You even get the chance to fly for 'The Russian Knights' (the equivalent of The Red Arrows) in an aircraft painted right and fitted with smoke generators, as well as the more usual combat sorties.
Flying the sucker
Believe me when I say that this is really rather good. Okay then let me put this into perspective: Falcon 3 is generally regarded by aficionados as the benchmark against which to compare other combat flight simulators. Tornado has the edge in realism, but falls down in playability and fun factor. Flanker makes Falcon look like a Sega game. To back up such a claim, I know for a fact that the Fi6 can be a bit of a bitch at times: she will spin, suffer high speed stalls, buffet and do all sorts of unpleasant things if you treat her wrong. Will that happen in Falcon 3? Will it heck. Even with everything on maxi realism, things just don't go pear-shaped like they should. Flanker gives you high and low speed spins, flameouts, buffet, compressor and high speed stalls, you name it. You even get equipment failures, if you wish to include them, and the weather can be programmed in as well. This is a heavyweight product, make no mistake about it, In fact, this is probably the new benchmark for folk who get off flying combat sims (except for the lack of networking, of course).
So there you are, sitting on the piano keys at the end of runway 27. You take a look outside to see everything where it should be: the surveillance radar turning on its mast, the cca radar nodding up and down, just as normal. Hang around long enough and a guard will probably come past with his dog. This is reality with a capital R. although the graphics are still a bit second generation. Push the throttle and see everything bump about as you gain speed. At about 50km you forget that this is just on a pc and actually feel the bumps in the runway. 250km and you gently pull back to get airborne; you feel the clunk as the wheels retract. You are in the cockpit of an Su27, and the sky is your playground. I'll swear that you can feel the thrust pushing you back in your seat. As you climb out. waggle the stick around to see what happens and you'll find that you get none of the computer jet responses of lesser simulators - instead you get the progressive response of a real aeroplane. Switch to the outside view, kill the burners and pull back hard and you'll see the stabilalors turn and the vapor stream off the wing root extensions. You'll also see the way the aircraft pushes wide in violent maneuver’s, just like the real thing. Do this too hard and you'll see the high speed stall develop, followed by a spin. Gentle people, this is a serious simulator, and deserves to be treated as such.
Life beyond flight models
Yes, there is more to this product than a fancy flight model, although that is the crux of the whole thing really. There are loads of pre-generated one-off missions, ranging from free flight and training through to full-blown unlimited warfare, as well as the opportunity to fly aerobatics with Anatoly Kvotcher. possibly the best jet display pilot ever. Better still there is a detailed and fairly intense campaign option. The story behind this is the desire of the Russian government to reclaim Ukraine from the Ukrainian government - or at least, that's it in a nutshell. You can be Russian and fly against similar kit to your own. flown by similar pilots with similar training. It all gets pretty hairy. Throw in UN observation flights who will respond with maximum force if you even lock them up, and the whole lot becomes very exciting indeed (you'll get used to the rather neat ejection sequence quite quickly. I'm afraid). The real icing on the cake is the facility to design your own missions, combat or otherwise, from scratch and save them for future use. You can also record your performance for post mortem if you so wish.
No frills then?
Well, that depends on how you define frills. Certainly, there are a vast number of really neat touches which set this apart from other simulators of this genre. For a start, the cockpit is in Russian - all of it (but don't worry, numbers are the same, and the manual explains where everything is). But the hud, weapons the symbols, everything is in Cyrillic script, and damn fine it looks too.
You get the normal padlock view of a locked target, with or without the helmet-mounted sight, and you get all the added benefits of using that with latest generation missiles. In case you weren't aware, that means that you can lock up the enemy when he isn't even in front of you, and engage him way outside normal firing parameters. Of course, you also get the system known and loved by MiG29 pilots, which means a lock without the other guy even knowing you are there.
None of this is particularly different though, although it is better executed than most of its rivals. What really sets this apart is the level of detail to which the project team must have gone to get things so right. There is a table of essential and non-essential parts which can be given a mean time between failures for the campaign or set to default, or turned off if you are feeling chicken. When you fire the cannon, the aircraft bucks. If you drop bombs you actually lurch slightly upward on release. If you fire a missile the aircraft pulls slightly to one side until you fire a second to even up the drag. In short, the frills are all you could ever need for a proper simulator.
So don't sit on the fence, what do you reckon?
Well, the lack of a network or even k serial link multi-play facility is a disappointment, and will ultimately affect the long-term appeal of the product. Despite that, though, this is at least as good a flight sim as Flight Unlimited, and you get to shoot at things too. The graphics are nothing to write home about, and to be honest if you were raised on a diet of Strike Commander, Fleet Defender and TFX, you will be unimpressed by the visuals. But I urge you... no. I implore you - get in and fly the sucker. If you have any soul whatsoever, inside a minute you will be won over by the sheer brilliance of the flight model and the aircraft dynamics. If you're into real simulation, this has to be the one for you. If you want action, love flight sims but only have a lower spec pc. this will be fine.
If you want to run Windows 95 (and indeed, why not?) this works a treat. Bottom line? Buy it and read the manual, then just enjoy it for what it is. You will not be disappointed.
Download Su-27 Flanker
Systems: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game features: Single game mode
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