For those of you of a certain vintage and into flight sims, you may feel a little sorry for the F-15E Strike Eagle. In the 1980’s, the F-14A Tomcat and F-16A Fighting Falcon took pride of place in cinematic outings – the F-14 being the star of Top Gun (yes, even more so than Tom Cruise, Val Kilmer’s incredibly white teeth and men with well oiled muscles!) and the F-16 had its chance with the Iron Eagle series (the first of which was decent but the sequels grew increasingly silly and shrank considerably in budget), yet the F-15 was left on the bench. And whilst the F-16 would get a few flight sims based upon it (as would the F-14 in the ‘90’s), it was the F-15 that took pride of place in my flight sim collection on the Amiga with F-15 Strike Eagle 2. In truth, I still have the maps from the Amiga version in a drawer somewhere, and no, I have no idea why either.
But, I hear you cry, this is no flight sim, it’s a slightly more complex arcade game! Well, yes and no. It’s more complicated than that and it would be best to describe it as a combat simulator. It’s not going to trouble Falcon 3.0 in any respect but considering that title needed a monster PC for the time, I think what F-15SE2 achieves is to be applauded.
More applause should be given to this version of the game though. Whereas the Amiga and PC versions had a keyboard to give you as many controls as needed, the Megadrive/Genesis pad was distinctly lacking in that regard and the fact they managed to get a basic level of control out of a d-pad and four buttons is as surprising as it is effective. Nowhere near as convenient as a keyboard and joystick combo, but it works nonetheless.
So, beginning with the graphics and you get something very similar to the Amiga version. Bright colourful 3D that moves at a fair lick even if some of the models used for other aircraft and the ground based vehicles bear little resemblance to their real life counterparts. True, the cockpit takes up half of the screen but that helps keep things moving and in a nice little touch, you can vary the quality of the graphics to speed things up further (the default is medium – low is faster but a bit too low on the detail level and high is frame stutter city at times). All in all, this is as pretty a game in its genre for its time that you’re going to get, especially for a console title. That said, the environments are pretty sparse and you’ll not get much detail on objects such as mountains.
Sound effects are functional and nothing more – this was a common occurrence across all flight simulators in the 16-bit era, no shocks there. Music, however, is pure cheesy earworm and depending on your tolerance level for dodgy knock-offs of ‘80s’s synth music, you’ll either love it or hate it. Sad to say, in reviewing this game, I found myself humming the in-game music on the bus. Yes, I know…
Content is pretty much the same as the Amiga version, with six theatres of operation: Libya, The Gulf, Vietnam, the Middle East, Nordkapp and Europe. With the exception of Vietnam, these are all locales where you could have realistically found the F-15 in operation. Not sure why Vietnam is in the game though – maybe it’s to add a bit more green to the overwhelming sand of three of the theatres. Anyway, what you get is a game with a fair bit of re-playability, especially with the four additional levels of difficulty (and yes, I said additional – the easier missions are in Libya whilst Europe is playing for keeps): Rookie for beginners and those wanting to get to grips with the joypad controls, Pilot adds more of a challenge, Veteran ramps it up a bit more for a laugh and then Ace which, in my humble opinion, was put in there by the developers as a torture instrument. I managed some proficiency at Veteran level but Ace just destroyed me, even in Libya. Yet despite that, unlike some titles, it definitely feels like it’s the player’s skill that limits your success here, not the game being a complete and utter swine. You may think differently. Progress is saved via a password system and you’re not limited to completing the theatres is order. Any theatre of operation is available from the start and on completing a mission, you’re dropped back into the location select screen.
As for the controls, well, you’re not going to get the subtlety of the computer version but in the end, that doesn’t really matter for the core gameplay. Get the hang of that A-button combo set up and you’ll be blowing things up with abandon in no time, certainly up to Pilot level. Does this make it any less of a flight sim than other versions? Arguably yes, but it is still fun to play. In fact, it makes the game more accessible for those who may never have experienced any kind of flight sim before. That console accessibility though comes at the price of simplicity. Whereas you had Sidewinder and AMRAAM air-to-air missiles in the computer versions, you just get AMRAAM’s on the Megadrive. The air-to-ground Maverick missiles are still present and correct though. Then there are the usual flight sim features like camera views, the autopilot and the eject function. These are all found via the pause screen which means you’ll probably not use the external views very much considering the effort taken to get to them.
Now I did say above that this game offers re-playability, and I stand by that statement, though I must add a caveat: this only applies if you really get into the game, otherwise the simple “fly from here, shoot this, shoot that and land over there” format can get a little tiresome and repetitive – player mileage will vary. For all of its challenge, there is a lack of depth. For me, it’s ok, but lacking the extra functionality of the computer versions does hamper the Megadrive version somewhat.
To be fair to this version, it’s as good as it could possibly be considering the limitations of the format. Does that make it a good game in its own right? Well, pretty much. The gist of the original game is there and it is technically well executed, so if you’re a fan of console flight sims, check this one out. If you’re a PC flight sim’er, then it’ll be a curio at best, and a bore at worst. For myself, I’m scoring it as a fan. Despite not gaining the cinematic fame of its fellow fighters, the F-15 is well served by this title.
Technically accomplished with decent controls, only the slightly repetitive gameplay detracts from this title.