AVSIM Commercial Review

Lock On: Modern Air Combat

 

 

Rating Guide

Publisher:  Ubi Soft
Description:  Combat Flight Simulator

Format:
Boxed CD

Patch:     
23 MB Download 
Simulation Type:
Combat
Reviewed by:

Bill Dailey - Managing Editor
David Slavens
- Senior Combat Reviewer
Dalibor “Dali” Jovanovic
-
Guest Combat Reviewer

Possible Commercial Rating Score:
1 to 5 stars with 5 stars being exceptional

Please see details of our review rating policy here

 

Introduction

By Bill

If they gave an award for “Most Anticipated Sim of the Year” Ubi Soft’s Lock On:  Modern Air Combat (LOMAC) would be among the leading candidates for 2003.  After a long (and sometimes anxious) wait the baseline version of the sim hit the street in the U.S. in November.  If forum commentary can be used as a guide it was to decidedly mixed reaction in the notoriously hard to please combat sim community.  A patch (Version 1.01) has since been issued for the U.S., U.K., French, and German versions of the sim that addresses many of the issues associated with the original release.  This review is based on the patched version.  Although some additional individual user problems have been reported on the forums as a result of installing the patch we recommend that you run with this version to get the most functionality out of the sim.

With the departure of Jane’s Combat Simulation’s as a serious player in the combat sim field, LOMAC publisher       Ubi Soft has emerged as the heir apparent to the title of air combat sim leader with its solid “IL-2 Sturmovik” and “IL-2: Forgotten Battles” WWII based titles.  Does LOMAC live up to the standard of its two historical cousins?  Is a king’s crown appropriate for this modern day combat sim?

In this review we’ll take a look at those philosophical questions as well as examine the detail of this ambitious effort to bring the expansive world of “modern air combat” to life on your desktop

As befits a major sim release like this we here at Avsim assembled a team of experienced combat simmers with real world military aircraft experience to put LOMAC through its paces.

Managing Editor and lead reviewer Bill Dailey has been flying combat sims since the early 90’s and has 20 years of real world military tactical flying experience.  Senior Combat Sim reviewer Dave Slavens is a current active duty Air Force member and a well known participant in combat forums.  Special guest reviewer Dalibor “Dali” Jovanovic adds real world military jet trainer, general aviation, and glider flying experience as well as an extensive simming background going back to 1982 to the team.

The splash screen that displays while LOMAC first loads up features the F-15 together along  with a mix of realistic background radio chatter

Here’s a map of the area of operations in LOMAC.  It’s the Crimean Peninsula, Caucasus, and adjacent Black Sea region of Russia – the same area covered by the earlier Flanker series of sims

Here’s what Bill, Dave, and Dali had to say.

Installation & User Interface

By Bill

The sim comes on a single CD which needs to be in the drive to run the sim.  For this review I did a clean install which is straightforward and I encountered no  installation hiccups on my test system. The sim started up without any hang ups.  The install consumed about a gig of hard drive space.  Installation of the patch (a 23 MB download) was similarly without incident.

Now comes the fun part.  There are very extensive configuration options within the sim for everything from realism to graphics.  By my count there were 5 major option configuration categories with anything from 6 to 17 sub items per category.  You can do the maths if you want to but the bottom line is that works out to a lot of combinations and permutations.  So what’s the point?  Just this – when you first get started expect to do a bit more trial and error in working thru these options to arrive at the best configuration for your system than you do with most sims.  The screenshots below show the main user interface and some of the options screens.

Unless you’re running with the very latest processor and graphics technology you are pretty much guaranteed to have to make a bunch of tradeoffs between performance and appearance/realism in LOMAC.  Maxing out all the settings and running with it most likely is not going to work for you.  So be prepared and don’t complain when it happens. Just for the record the box recommended hardware requirements are:

P4 2.0 or AMD 1800 Ghz Processor
Windows XP
512 RAM
128 MB Video Card
DirectX 8.1 or higher
4X CD-ROM
LAN or minimum 56 Kbs for Multiplayer

As you can see the review team’s test systems covered the spectrum with Bill and Dali being below the processor spec and Dave being above.

The main interface screen is well designed and provides easy access to all of the sim features.  You can jump into any of the player flyable aircraft and be up and flying with in a second with a bunch of defenseless targets in the immediate area.  A great way to get familiar with the aircraft systems and weapons without fear of being shot down while you learn.

LOMAC features many different user selectable options to custom configure the sim to your specific system.  Be prepared to make tradeoffs to get the optimum performance.  “Scalability” is one of the good features of the sim

This shot of the graphics configuration screen shows the many user options available.

Bill's Computer System Dave's Computer System Dali's Computer System
Computer:

AMD 1.4Ghz Processor
512MB SDRam
Nvidia Ti4200 128MB
80GB Hard Drive
21" NEC Monitor
Windows XP Pro
Sound Blaster Soundcard
CH USB Yoke & Pedals

 

Flying Time:  12 Hours

Computer:

P4 2.4GHz Processor
512 PC 800 RDR
am
NVIDIA 128 MB GF4 Ti4600
80
GB Hard Drive
Windows XP Home
Sound Blaster Pro Sound
card
Thrustmaster Cougar
Joystick
PFC Rudder pedals


Flying Time:   34 Hours

Computer:
 
P4 1.5Ghz Processor
640 MB SDRAM
Radeon 9700 pro
20GB Hard drive
17" Samsung Monitor
Windows XP Professional
Sound Blaster Pro Sound Card
CH USB Fighterstick and Throttle
 
 


Flying Time:   13 Hours

Total Combined Flying Time:   59 Hours

In general the review team reported mostly smooth flying on medium to medium/high settings with these rigs.  Bill did experience some occasional slowdowns in high intensity settings and Dave also had some slowdowns as he reports later in the review.

Here’s what Dali had to say about performance on his test system and a 3 Ghz machine he has access to:  “On medium settings, over land and sea in the cockpit I was getting 16/20 fps, outside view 35 (average), over cities 10-12 fps, with a lot of action going on 10-15 fps in the cockpit with no slowdowns and no pauses. It was relatively smooth on another machine I have access to – a P4 3 GHz and Ti4200 graphics card  – with all of the above fps  increased by 50% average.

Documentation

By Bill

In terms of printed material, like most sims these days, the documentation included in the LOMAC box is pretty basic.  A 48 page pamphlet style booklet focused on installation, configuration, use of the interface, and the mission editor is in the box.  There’s lots of good info in this book but the type size is real small and hard to read against the gray page background (at least for this reviewer’s tired old eyes) and the mostly postage stamp size illustrations are of little or no use in my opinion.   Publishers need to understand that simmers want quality hard copy documentation and are willing to pay good money to get it.  Cutting costs by skimping on the in box documentation is not the way to go.  “Build it and they will come” as the saying goes.

Here’s most likely what will happen if you don’t take the time to read the documentation!  “RTFM” is the way to avoid finding yourself in this situation right off the bat.

A goodly section (18 pages) of the in box pamphlet is devoted to the Mission Editor feature, which the pamphlet characterizes as “the heart and soul of Lock On: Modern Air Combat.” The material presented was in sufficient detail to get a basic understanding of how to use the Mission Editor but the editor interface is not intuitive in my opinion, and I would like to have seen more “how to” examples.   My comment would be that experienced combat simmers will be able to figure it out fairly quickly; novices won’t.   Maybe some third parties will (or already have) come to the rescue. 

The good news is that in addition to the in box pamphlet there is a downloadable 134 page detailed “Instruction Manual” in pdf format that covers a lot of things in depth, has useable size color illustrations, and is more in line with what you would expect from a major sim publisher. You can download the 5.3 Mb Instruction Manual as well as printable keystroke Quick Reference Cards (QRCs) here.

The Instruction Manual does a good job of covering the aircraft systems, cockpits, weapons, and weapons employment with factual and “how to” type write ups. There is no information in the Instruction Manual on the sim interfaces or use of the Mission Editor or Fast Battle Planner utilities.  I did not see Tactical Communications covered anywhere.

There’s also an extensive in game “Encyclopedia” with illustrations and information on all of the air and ground objects in the sim and the weapons.  This is very detailed and useful information.

LOMAC features an in depth Encyclopedia with info on all of the air, ground, and sea objects you will encounter.  Lots of good info here.

The logbook records your LOMAC pilot career and achievements (medals and promotions) or mistakes (like getting killed in action) as the case may be.

For the really hard core crowd Ubi Soft, in conjunction with third party publisher Digital Aspirin, has come out with a 300 page LOMAC add on manual reminiscent of the famed Falcon 4.0 Manual.  It’s available in a full color 3 ring tabbed leather binder or downloadable form. You can check out and purchase this add on documentation here

To summarize. I found the documentation to be uneven.  The downloadable Information Manual is very good; the in box booklet is adequate, and hard core folks will have to purchase an add on to get their detailed system info fix. 

That said it’s extremely important to read all of the documentation (including the Install “Readme” file and patch list of features) before flying or attempting to employ weapons.  This is a complex sim even on the simplified settings and a “just jump in and fly” attitude will almost certainly bite you in the form of head scratching and frustration not to mention immediately being shot down by the bad guys.  There is no substitute for “RTFM.”

Sim Environment

By Bill

In terms of the setting and geography the action in LOMAC takes place in and around Russia’s Crimean and Caucasus regions and the surrounding Black Sea area.  Basically it’s the same area covered by the Flanker series.  This is a relatively small area so transit times to the mission area are short and you’re into the thick of combat pretty quickly after takeoff.

Combat revolves around NATO countries and former Soviet republics in shifting alliances based on plausible current event political and military scenarios as well as player selected groupings via the Mission Editor and Fast Battle Planner modes.  The timeframe is now with aircraft being flown and weapons being employed by the respective air forces today. 

The sim includes 8 player flyable aircraft (3 NATO and 5 Russian) and a very complete inventory of NATO and Russian AI air, ground, and sea vehicles and air defense systems.  The flyable aircraft are representative of their country’s current frontline aircraft in the air superiority and ground attack areas and include the U.S. F-15C and A-10A and Russian Su-27, Su-33, MiG-29, and Su-25.

“Modern Air Combat” is the sub title of LOMAC.  In my view the key things that characterize air combat today are Beyond Visual Range (BVR) air to air engagements, extreme aircraft performance and maneuvering capability, comprehensive cockpit displays, increased air to air weapons engagement and launch envelopes, precision guided air to ground munitions, and very capable, high threat air defenses. All of these aspects are modeled well in the LOMAC environment

This shot of two U.S. F-15Cs gives you a good idea of the outstanding external aircraft model detail found throughout LOMAC

The model detail extends to AI aircraft as well player flyable models as shown by this shot of a Russian AI Su24 inbound for a strike on a NATO airfield

Ships are equally well detailed as shown by this shot of the U.S. nuclear powered aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) – and check out the water texture. 

   
 

LOMAC damage effects are very realistically displayed.  This F-15C has had an unsuccessful encounter with a flight of Su-27s.

 
Cockpit environments are crisp and allow for excellent visibility while panning.  In this shot an Su-27 plugs into an aerial tanker.

Here’s a good example of the outstanding sharpness and clarity of the cockpit instruments as well as the 3D appearance rendered in all of the LOMAC player flyable aircraft.  These instruments are from the Su-25.

Ground objects, such as this Russian T80 tank, are as detailed as the aircraft in the sim

But that’s the big picture.  Moving the discussion down to your individual desktop is what we’re talking about here from a sim environment viewpoint, and is in the large part the visuals – what is often referred to dismissively as “eye candy” in the hard core combat sim world.  (We’ll cover the other key ingredient – the systems - a bit later).  What we’re discussing here would include such things as external and internal aircraft views, cockpit detail, weather, surface objects, and terrain depictions but would also include sounds and other sensory cues.  In other words, all the things that go together to create a convincing representation of the real world on your display. 

In spite of its “eye candy” tag the visual sim environment is a vitally important element to the “suspension of disbelief” that is necessary for any sim – be it flight, combat, or otherwise - to be really successful.  In general the more the environment can draw you in and get you to forget – even for a few moments – that you are sitting at a desk looking at a monitor the better it’s going to be at conveying the real world experience.  After all, a very large part of our every day perception of the real world is visual.

To my eye the visuals in LOMAC are more than convincing. They set new combat sim graphics rendering standards.  All of the objects – both the player flyable and AI aircraft – as well as the other sea, air, and ground vehicles and objects - are drop dead gorgeous in terms of appearance and detail.  The cockpits and instruments are crisp and detailed. The weapons and damage effects are convincing.  The terrain you fly over gives a very good sensation of real flight at low level with trees, power lines, and buildings passing under your nose and rushing by your wingtip.  Probably the most stunning rendition is the sea water texture.  I almost felt the need to have a couple of towels close by to keep my keyboard dry!

Since a picture is worth 1000 words check out the screenshots above to show the stunning level of detail within LOMAC:

Aircraft Flight Models & Handling

By Dali



This MiG29A is one of the high performance Russian fighters depicted in LOMAC.  The Russians were pioneers in developing aircraft capable of extreme maneuvers.

Before discussing the LOMAC flight models I’d like to begin with a few words on how things got to where they are today. 

In 1992, Nick Grey, the boss of the Fighter Collection Company, located in Duxford, UK, went to Moscow in search of a successful software company he could invest some money in. He and A. Masalovich, who was working on an Su-27 Flanker simulator, quickly found a common language and together they started a company called Eagle Dynamics Ltd (ED). A team quickly began to form that included some members from TsAGI (the Central Aero-Hydrodynamics Institute), who brought with them in depth knowledge and wide experience in modern aerodynamics.

Since then, ED has worked on several software projects, but within the gaming community they are known only as flight simulator developers. Their first products Su-27 Flanker, and Flanker 2.0 won many hearts among flight sim enthusiasts but those titles were not financially successful enough. When Matt “Wags” Wagner came to UBI Soft and became the Flanker 3 producer some things changed. The biggest novelty was the introduction of a “relaxed” flight and weapons modelling option in hopes that a broader market could be reached. Somewhere in the middle of beta testing, ED tried to incorporate a so called an “alternative flight model” as an option for the “hard-core crowd” but could not incorporate it without causing serious problems to the enhanced Flanker 2 engine under development. This lead to the LOMAC solution, which may be controversial to some, but at the end of the day it works fine and most importantly, has left the doors for improvement open.

Now to the sim.  I’m going to focus on the Russian air superiority aircraft but my comments apply to all.  As we’ve mentioned three Russian fighter aircraft are simulated in LOMAC (the Su-27, Su-33, and Mig-29) which are well known for their excellent handling characteristics, especially at low speeds and extreme angles of attack. Manoeuvres like the Cobra, tail slide, and such have become their trade-mark. Since the alternative flight model was not going to be incorporated into the engine, an interim solution had to be found, and it came in the shape of partially scripted flight modelling. It is not used throughout the flight envelope though, but only in some situations such as landing, the Cobra, and some others. The logic behind this is – it is better to have partially scripted behaviour on critical and supercritical angles of attack, where complex calculations for aerodynamics would require too many CPU cycles, than low fps or even a wrong flight path for the aircraft. Partially scripted behaviour has weak areas – one is landing and the other is ground handling. On landing the aircraft doesn’t behave like it should, i.e. a few inches before touch-down it just drops to the runway and stays there glued. There is no sign of the inertia you would expect in the real world. Ground handling also doesn’t seem right. The planes taxi as if they were on rails and there is no feel that you are moving 30 + tons of aluminium, titanium, and fuel around. But, to be honest, those shortcomings do not seriously disrupt the feel of the aircraft. Taxiing on the aprons is not what this sim was meant to be. The real fun begins, when you kick the burners and set the beasts into motion.

 



This Su33 is the naval aviation carrier based version of the Su-27.  The canard control surfaces forward of the wing leading edge provide additional maneuverability.

Acceleration at take of the Su-27, 33, and Mig-29 seems to be a bit underdone. An empty Mig-29 should be airborne in 150 meters, but needs a much longer take-off run in LOMAC. Without afterburner the take-off run is often more than a mile and half long! But once in the air, the story takes a completely different turn. LOMAC is the only flight sim besides the IL-2 series that really grasps the sensation of flight. Even without a force feedback joystick it is possible to develop a gut feeling about the forces acting on the airplane. When a stall is approaching, the whole cockpit starts to tremble announcing that loss of lift will occur very soon. This has been done so well that even a simmer without real life aviation experience will develop a sense of the aerodynamic limitations of the given airplane. This is very important, since computer simulations lack proper clues (other than data on the screen, HUD and gauges) about that. Acceleration and de-acceleration in the air seems realistic, but lacks that extra touch, which would make the flight modelling even better. I’m talking about simulation of drag, caused either by airbrakes, lowered gear or weapons hanging from the wings. The different weight of the latter is in (if you put more weight on one wing the airplane will have a roll tendency to that side), but the extra drag makes the plane behave differently as opposed to a “clean” airframe. Above all – the flight path should be much more stable, which is not entirely the case in LOMAC. The drag from airbrake slows the planes down alright, but the rest (gear, weapons...) seem to have no influence on the aerodynamics. I may be completely wrong here, but my experience with different types of aircraft says, that they all fly differently with all aerodynamic devices engaged compared to a clean configuration. Again, these are just the little things one can notice, but have absolutely no influence on the enjoyment factor of LOMAC.

Damage to the airframe causes dramatic changes in aircraft handling. If a crucial part is damaged, the plane becomes uncontrollable. Moderate damage on control surfaces makes the task of keeping the plane airborne very difficult. It even depends which side is damaged – the airplane gets a tendency to turn on either side. But if hydraulic lines are destroyed, there is no alternative – time to eject. With no hydraulics you have no means of moving the control surfaces.  Eagle Dynamics has superbly modelled the belly landing as well – it is possible to put a damaged bird down either on a runway, taxiway or any other hardened surface. Such a landing results in a show of sparks and a quick stop!

Engine start-up is rather primitive and is even not described in the manual. It is possible even to start one engine at the time. The spool-up time is very realistic, but lacks some distinctive sounds (like making the spark in the combustion chamber).

Users can choose between two flight model modes – one is for “experts” and the other for “newbie's”. If that is not enough, blackouts can be switched off, invulnerability switched on and that will make the life of a beginning fighter or fighter-bomber pilot much easier. The Easy flight model is much more forgiving, but far from being totally dumbed down or even arcadish. It just helps the less able cyber pilots to enjoy the passionate aerial dogfights or tense air-to-ground sorties. With this choice users can slowly change bit by bit from “newbie” to “expert” mode without fear of having too many difficulties with both handling the aircraft and its weapons. This is particularly demanding if one is sitting in the Russian combat planes. But on the other hand – it gives more satisfaction.

Overall, the flight modelling in LOMAC bridges two banks of a wide river with great success. On the one side there is of course die-hard flight modelling and sheer fun on the other. And what is most important – they live beside each other and not at their expense. This opens the possibility of having more and more realistic combat flight simulators in future – if LOMAC and similar games are going to sell well, this genre will not disappear. I have no fears for that and I can’t wait for the next Eagle Dynamics project!

Weapon and System Models

By Bill



The shot shows the F15C cockpit systems.  The key system displays are the radar at the top left and the TEWs at the top right. 

We’re talking here about the depiction and representation of the various air to air, air to ground, and ground to air weapons systems contained in LOMAC as well as the sensor systems used for detection, targeting, and guidance for these weapons.  Overall I would rate this area as very realistic.

LOMAC does an excellent job of representing the major current weapons employed in air combat both air to air and air to ground and giving the user a good feel for how these weapons are employed.  In addition there’s a very good depiction of the air defense environment that modern combat pilots must operate in.  Can you say “High Threat?”

The weapon inventory that can be employed on the player flyable aircraft is pretty comprehensive be it radar guided, infrared, laser, electro-optical or plain old “dumb” iron bombs or unguided rockets.  In addition, there’s a very good and thorough discussion of the various weapons and their employment as well as reference tables in the pdf instruction manual.  It would pay you great dividends to read this material before trying to employ any of these even if you are an experienced combat simmer.

If you don’t want to chance the realistic weapons and sensor modes you can jump right to the “good stuff” of blowing up bad guys by using the Easy Radar and Auto Lockon feature if you want to get into action without the frustration and most likely fatal consequences of fiddling with systems trying to figure them out while in the midst of combat.  Easy radar will show all friendly and enemy units around your aircraft color coded and auto lock on will enable you to lock on to and engage the nearest enemy target.  Don’t be too proud to try this even if you consider yourself to be an expert combat simmer because the more realistic weapons and sensor modes will require some study to gain proficiency.

In my experience the radar modeling and study necessary to correctly employ it in LOMAC is not quite to the level of detail in Falcon 4.0 but is definitely challenging and will require you to correctly select the best mode for your situation and practice to gain the reaction speed you will need to stay alive.

The sim weapons and sensor modeling also gives you a good feel for the relatively higher workload in Russian designed aircraft versus their Western counterparts but make no mistake - modern air combat s a high intensity endeavor in either environment.  Correctly and effectively employing the wide range of weapons and sensors in LOMAC is most definitely a challenge that will test the most experienced simmer.

Current high angle off bore site weapons targeting and launch, a technology pioneered by the Russians,  is accurately depicted and a key aspect of modern air to air combat. enabled in LOMAC.

Simmers tend to get hung up sometimes in arcane debates about whether the representation and performance of both aircraft and weapons conforms to the exact performance numbers in the real world.  I think this misses the point. A good sim gives you the feel for the weapon – this one has a longer range than that one or whatever the relative difference is. 

Overall, from this perspective I found the weapons and sensors modeled in LOMAC to be very representative of the relative performance and effectiveness of their real world counterparts.  In my view that’s a pretty good endorsement for any combat sim.



Compare this shot of the Su33 cockpit to the F15C.  LOMAC does a good job of conveying the relatively higher workload in Russian designed aircraft with fewer and less sophisticated electronic displays than Western fighters. 


This shot shows an F15C with the “Easy Radar” option selected.  This gives a simplified, color coded  top down display which shows all surrounding friendly and enemy targets.  Using this feature is a very  good way to more easily engage targets and to get familiar with the aircraft weapon system employment before trying the more realistic radar modes.


Weapons modeling in LOMAC gives a good depiction of the real  world employment of both air to air and air to ground weapons.  In this shot an AI B-52H has just launched an anti ship AGM84A “Harpoon” cruise missile.




This shot shows the missile in cruise flight.  Notice the 14 meter altitude above the water – designed to come in low under the radar detection zone of the target’s defensive systems

 

 




Just as the real weapon does at about 2 Km range from the target the missile “pops up” for a high angle dive to both evade defenses and provide maximum damage upon impact

 

Campaigns, Training Missions, Mission Editor, and the Fast Battle Planner (FBP)

By Dave



This shot shows an example of a training mission in the F15C.  The instructor’s comments and explanations are presented as text.  You can go through the entire session or you can take control of the aircraft at any time.

Included with LOMAC are 4 mini campaigns totaling 27 missions. I call them mini as they’re brief tastes of what one can do with the mission/campaign editor which I will go into later. There is an A-10 campaign consisting of 7 missions, an F-15 campaign of 7 missions, an SU-25 campaign of 6 missions, and finally the Su-27 campaign of 7 missions. I flew the A-10 and the Su-25. The A-10 campaign was fun, and not to difficult to win. The Su-25 was more of a challenge as the plane itself has no fancy MFD’s, gadgets etc. So in addition to learning the plane I was trying to keep from getting my can shot off. So if you are looking for a challenge, try the Su-25 campaign first. I am in the middle of the F-15 campaign and I am having a heck of a time winning it. In one mission you have to cover some A-10’s, well no matter how many times I get the Mig’s before they get to the A-10’s I can’t seem to win the mission. This brings me to my next point, getting to the next mission stage. In order to do that you must successfully complete the previous mission. Some people have heart burn with that and I can understand that, however in real life you must complete a mission before going to the next one! If you don’t complete it you will hit that target until you do. You can’t half ass it, a partial success doesn’t cut it either. If a target has to go then it has to go. Any tactical planner would tell you the same.

I didn’t like the fact in the campaign you couldn’t choose your own load outs, as I didn’t agree with some of the load outs that were given. However I talked to Matt Wagner and he stated that this would be fixed in the patch.

Frame rates in the campaign are not bad on my computer which is a 2.4 GHz, P4 with 512 RD RAM and a 128 MB GF4 Ti4600. However I did get stutter and anyone with a low end machine may have some difficulties with the amount of objects in the campaign. Again it was stated that with the patch, the campaign will be optimized for low end users. 

Overall the campaigns were not bad. Need to be longer? Yes. Would LOMAC benefit from a dynamic campaign? Big time!

The Fast Battle Planner (FBP) is something that can really extend the life of LOMAC. It is easy to use and that is what a lot of users want. You can set the weather, time, distance, height, and loadouts of your plane. You can add ground units to attack, or make it just air to air. There is an endless amount of combinations a user can choose. I did have a few problems with it though. When I chose winter terrain it stayed on the summer terrain. Also when I chose the A-10 to fly and put missiles as its loadout it gave me bombs. I think that is a bug for sure. So if you haven’t ventured into the way the Mission Editor works then starting with the FBP is an excellent place to start.

If you rather not mess with the FBP, then when you fire up LOMAC there are 6 quick start missions all ready to go. Just hit fly. This I found out is a real excellent place to start to learn the weapons system etc without getting your can shot off. I find myself going back to them often to try different things outs. A good example would be Andy Bush’s article on using the A-10’s weapons systems in LOMAC. This can be found here. Using the A-10 quick mission I tested out those techniques to help gain a better understanding of how to employ the A-10. So I recommend using the quick missions as a good area to start learning how to use your arsenal of weapons.

Also included in LOMAC are a myriad of training missions for your viewing pleasure.  By viewing pleasure I mean they are tracks recorded in which you just sit and watch how to do something. The entire training missions are in depth but they suffer from a serious flaw. No voice over, I found myself having to pause often to read the text and then un-pausing to see what the instructor was talking about. After awhile that gets old. But that is the training mission’s only flaw in my opinion. The depth of the instruction was good though and gave you a concise way to employ your weapons, land your plane, or to even taxi. I found that the F-15 training on using your AMRAAM, AIM-7, is one of the best training missions in the bunch. Mark Shepard went into great detail on how to use your weapons correctly. There is also a bonus in the training mission that can not go unsaid. In the F-15 training it shows him beaming an incoming AA-10C and causing it to break its lock. If you know how to use your A2A missiles in LOMAC, that is great. However you need to watch it just to watch his beaming technique. The other excellent training mission is on how to use your weapons when flying the Su-25. Since the entire cockpit of the Su-25 is analog, no fancy avionics, then knowing how to use your laser guided weapon on the Froggy makes this tutorial a must. In fact using this training mission is what is getting me through the Su-25 campaign now. My advice? Go through that before you start the campaign, keeps your can in place instead of riding the silk elevator because you couldn’t figure out how to shoot a missile.

Nothing extends the life of a combat sim like a good Mission Editor. In the old Flanker 2.0/2.51 days I made a slew of them. In fact I made more missions than I spent time flying. The Mission Editor in LOMAC only builds off the fantastic editor of the Flanker series. First of all, there are more objects than you can imagine. The only limitations are your imagination. You want to set up a US Navy Carrier Battle group vs a Russian Surface Action Group, you can. You want a pinpoint strike of B-1B’s coming in low to hit an enemy headquarters, you can. Want civilian traffic on roads or cargo ship moving goods around the Black Sea, you can. You can control the weather like never before. You want to take off in 0 Vis during a snow storm, you can do it. How about a thunderstorm with lightning and lots and lots of rain……….oh and lets add strong wind and turbulence. You can do it. Now that you’ve done that, take off in it. Go ahead, I dare ya. Also the terrain size is huge, twice as much land than in the Flanker series. That can make for some long missions in which you can do some aerial refueling. I literally can not even begin to touch the ability of this very powerful tool.

Setting up your missions to run right takes time. I am still making sure I have targets selected, mission goals, load outs done in a campaign I am making for LOMAC. You can very easily forget to do that, test your mission and find your plane without weapons. Or you set up some targets and didn’t assign anyone to attack them. So there is a learning curve, all you have to do is dig in and see what’s what. Something the editor is lacking is triggers or flags that some editors have. If they are in there I haven’t found them. Triggers/flags basically tell the sim that if this target gets attacked or this plane goes here, then there will be this response by the sim to do this or that. That adds for an element of surprise and gives a mission life. I have yet to find is the ability to set up a branching campaign. Basically a branching campaign’s missions are set up that if you pass or fail them then it affects the outcome of other missions. As it stands right now you can make linear campaigns, but that element of surprise is what make the difference in a campaign. The best instance of a branching campaign goes back to Jane’s F/A-18E, in which that campaign editor was found accidentally by a simmer. I am hoping there is a way to do that in LOMAC and it has not been revealed yet.

This shot shows a formation of 4 F15Cs.  I’ve just given the close formation command and the wingmen have closed up.  Unfortunately they did so from a trail formation in about 1 second so this area needs a little work.  Things don’t happen that fast in real life.



The Fast Battle Planner utility lets you get into action quickly by selecting the type mission and enemy units you’d like to face.
T

he included Mission Editor is very sophisticated and gives you the ability to build pretty much unlimited variety into the sim.  We would like to have seen more “how to” examples in the documentation but overall this is one of the key features that makes LOMAC stand out from the pack.



Here you can see one of the comm menus displayed. There’s a pretty good number of communications commands and
functions but no explanation of them that we see in the sim documentation.

One of the best things I have discovered about the editor is that you can set up some serious ground wars and watch them unfold. Tanks engaging each other, helos attacking vehicle convoys and so forth.  Set up some good dog fights and watch the AI duke it out. Then record these epic battles and show them to your friends. Add music to them and you got yourself a homemade war movie.

In conclusion, all the above helps make LOMAC a well rounded combat flight sim. The Mission Editor, Campaigns, Training Missions are not without there small issues but these small issues do not affect the playability of LOMAC. I encourage you to dig into these things and see what they are about. I think you will be pleased.

 

Tactical Communications

By Bill

One of the areas that I’ve found that’s generally lacking in realism in most combat sims is in the way they implement tactical communications – that applies to both the way the audio sounds in the sim as well as the accompanying text that implements available commands and information exchange between cooperating units. 

Listen to the background audio on the LOMAC loading screen. That’s real stuff and it’s how aircrews actually talk in real operational situations.  Unfortunately, sim developers often tend to short circuit this aspect of a sim and go with what I’ll call the Tom Cruise “Top Gun” movie type comm – it provides great dramatic entertainment but has very little to do with the real world.

Fortunately LOMAC has avoided the Hollywood approach to audio.  Although the tactical radio audio from wingmen and other units such as AWACs still has a lot of the typical computer AI voice inflection at least the responses are phrases and responses you would expect to encounter in real operational situations.  There’s also a lot of background radio chatter in combat which adds to the information that you have to process and react to in the cockpit so that’s a real world aspect that’s reflected in LOMAC.

In addition to the tactical audio coming out of your speaker there’s a fairly extensive menu of radio communications commands in LOMAC that are called up by keystroke.  Curiously there was no discussion of these commands or their use that I saw in any of the LOMAC documentation other than a list of the basic radio commands on the keystroke QRCs. This is unfortunate because the use of tactical comm. is how you get the most out of your wingmen and other cooperating units to accomplish your mission as well as keep yourself in the tactical picture.   A discussion of how and when you use the various commands, what the expected response is, and an explanation of some of the comm. terms you hear thrown around on the air would be a welcome addition.  In this regard LOMAC seems to me to have followed the general combat sim trend of giving this important element of air combat fairly short shrift.  Almost like its inclusion was an afterthought.

But there is good news! The response of wingmen to “Tight formation” commands was instantaneous!  In an external view my formation of 4 F15Cs closed up in less than a second.  Too bad things don’t work that fast in the real world!

Overall I would rate the tactical comm. environment in LOMAC as “so so”  in terms of realism.  Developers reading this might want to take a note:  pay more attention to this area.
 

Multiplayer

LOMAC has the capability to be played over the Internet or on a Local Area Network (LAN) with up to 32 players on a LAN and at least 6 over the net.

Unfortunately none of our review team had the connection net bandwidth or access to a LAN with other players to give this capability an extensive workout.  We note the capability and rate it as a neutral area for this review.
 

Summary

By All

LOMAC delivers on its title of “Modern Air Combat” by introducing the simmer to all aspects of that expansive topic.  If you fly the various aircraft, employ the weapons, and fight through the campaigns you will have an excellent introduction to the state of air combat in 2004.  You won’t learn to fly an F-15C or an Su-27 but YOU WILL have a very good feel for the relative real world performance and pros and cons of these and the other aircraft contained in LOMAC when you’re done.  That’s a real achievement in our book.

Overall we were in unanimous agreement at rating LOMAC at 4 out of 5 stars.  To give you some background on how we do things in the Avsim methodology of rating payware packages achieving a 4-Star rating is very difficult. To achieve a 5-Star rating is not only difficult, it requires that a product incorporate ground breaking technology and advance the frontiers of simming. LOMAC is not groundbreaking in its technology but it certainly ranks with the very best available current technology combat sim products.  We can and do recommend it to any serious combat simmer without hesitation.

For more information, screenshots, and to download a demo go to the LOMAC website

 
What We Like About Lockon: Modern Air Combat
  • Great visual depiction of the objects and environment both player & AI

  • Accurately modeled and immersive cockpits

  • Wide range of scalable options to fit different user systems

  •  Excellent Mission Editor

  • Good depiction of the range and scope of modern weapons and sensors

  • The comprehensive reference material in the Encyclopedia

 
 
What We Didn't Like About Lockon: Modern Air Combat
  • Mission Editor documentation could use more example type detail

  • Pictures and text in inbox pamphlet were hard to read

  • Tactical comm was not discussed in the documentation

 

 

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