Last year NovaLogic released F-22 Lightning II, a diverting arcade-like sim that made inflated claims for the realism and accuracy of its flight model. After F-22 hit, NovaLogic managed to cement a relationship with Lockheed Martin for the rights to create sims based upon its aircraft, attempting to shut out other manufacturers in the process. (NovaLogic later denied that it was trying to freeze out the competition, but its initial releases featured the phrase "exclusive rights" prominently.) When the flight sim community rose up in outrage over this (particularly in light of NovaLogic's complete inability to create a flight model more realistic than that found in, say, Descent), NovaLogic backed off. But it still had this swell deal with Lockheed and needed to start making it pay out.
F-22 Raptor is the result. It is essentially F-22 Lightning II reissued. The radical differences in the two games made a whole new release essential. Differences such as the "Lockheed Martin Fighter Series" label on the box and, um, let's see. Oh yeah, the textures don't pop as much. And, er, well, it is native Windows 95. There's MMX support. The interface art looks a bit different. I'm reaching here, folks.... Help me out.
There have been some very minor enhancements made. Some new textures and fogging effects have been added, and the engine seems to run a bit smoother. Ground textures have some filtering on them, for that nice angora sweater look, instead of the slight pixelization of the original. Texture popping is less of an issue than in the original, where I'd watch mountain tops draw. But these are things for a patch, not a whole new game. The cockpit and view modes have not changed at all.
There have been some slight modifications made to the flight model in order to inch it closer in the direction of reality, but turns still feel off. I know we don't have the reports on the F-22 yet, so it's very difficult to comment on the way Raptor handles. Some drag and fuel consumption codes appear to have been added, and there is some speed bleeding. The fact is, we can't be certain about the flight model since the advanced design of the F-22 may indeed have many automatic and self-correcting features. But the physics of the world just don't feel convincing, and the avionics are certainly simplified.
The cockpit is set up in such a way that you cannot easily monitor instruments. The one pop-up screen offered is the attack/nav display, which only serves to highlight the failure of NovaLogic to create a convincing and useful information display. There isn't enough range or target information to make the display usable. Plus, it only offers the 90-degree forward-facing sensor arc, not the 360-degree defensive display, which is crucial to situational awareness. This means that you'll spend a lot of blind time glancing at instruments. I had a great deal of trouble tracking inbound missiles with these instruments. Either create a proper set of overlays (a la Navy Fighters), or keep the instruments visible in the cockpit view at all times. Like Interactive Magic, NovaLogic has also failed to include a moving map display. This means that if you suffer navigation systems failure, you can't finish a mission using VRF. Does the F-22 have an MMD? If it doesn't, the pilots at least have knee boards. An in-game map is essential.
On the plus side, there is some modeling of individual system failures. Enemy AI is vigorous, and wingman AI is improved over past NovaLogic titles. The graphics are sharp and smooth without 3Dfx, though they are not up to the current standard of hardware-only titles. The campaign is semidynamic, with some store tracking and a persistent battlefield (destroyed objects stay destroyed). Missions are still scripted, rather than dynamically generated. The five minicampaigns all run together, as you begin in Angola, then move on to Jordan, Russia, Columbia, and Iran. There is also a number of training and stand-alone missions.
Raptor is not done with a great deal of depth or complexity, but it is done in an entertaining and accessible way. The feel is most like US Navy Fighters, with a hop-in-and-take-care-of-business approach. Its ease of use and simple controls make it an ideal midrange sim for many. The debatable claims for hard-core realism aside, Raptor still suffers from a few problems, such as the avionics and map display issues. Furthermore, it feels like a rip-off. There is simply not enough that's new or different to justify a whole new game. This is the game owners of Lightning II deserved in the first place.