I love flight sims, especially ones featuring modern aircraft. Over the past few months or so I’ve been watching the development of Ubi Soft’s Lock-on Modern Air Combat with real interest, the weekly movies and developer reports gave us a decent insight into this new title, and boy was it looking good. With my anticipation high, the game was slung into the CD and it was time to take to the skies. In fact this review should have been out at the end of last year but we’ve held off for reasons that will become apparent.Lock-on Modern Air Combat has been developed by the same team behind the popular Flanker sims , Eagle Dynamics, so you’d expect a sim of top quality. Lock-on features both Russian and NATO aircraft so there’s plenty to get stuck into including the Sukhoi SU-27, SU-33, Mig 29, SU-25, SU-39. F-15 Eagle and A-10 Thunderbolt. These aircraft are all very different and all come with their respective complex c**pits and maneuverability. With a feast of aircraft on offer, it was time to get to grips with each and the game’s control system. Wait though, before I go on, I must mention that Lock-on comes with the most pathetic excuse for a manual I have seen for just about any flight sim. A tiny 49 pages long, it manages to tell you absolutely nothing about the gameplay, it’s quite amazing how even in 49 pages there could be so little information. There is one saving grace, the PDF format manual which is 100+ pages, but it’s hardly convenient when you’re mid-air to minimise the game and switch out for a gander, and do you really want to print the whole lot out when it really should have been included anyway? Oh and to p** you off even more, not all the info is accurate. The poor documentation in the printed manual is simply shoddy and didn’t get this game off to a good start much to my dismay.No manual so what the h** do you do? Ah! in-game training of course. Once the game had fired up, the uncluttered initial menu features a button to the training missions. There are numerous training examples for each aircraft and the developers have been careful not to repeat certain training aspects for every aircraft as quite a few have similar control systems. Ok so off we go, that’s what I thought anyway. The first training mission went fine but then as I progressed to the A-10 missions something startling started to happen. Lock-on was taking over my machine, I was losing control and I was doing everything the training was asking of me, it’s a conspiracy I tell you! It was at this stage I began to realise that this game was bugged to the hilt. At one point the aircraft just dived into the ground and then cut to an AI controlled aircraft. The AI controlled mouse then pointed to show what each of the consoles in the c**pit indicate but it was still showing the outside aircraft demo and the mouse pointer was moving over the landscape with no c**pit instrumentation in sight. Not wanting to waste any more time on the bugged training I went straight into the campaign mode, even if my knowledge of the aircraft was minimal.Lock-on features numerous NATO and Russian campaign missions which are set in the area around the Black Sea, these are linear and the game unfortunately lacks a dynamic campaign mode. Missions are typical sim fare, taking out ground targets, patrolling the skies etc etc. The missions start of reasonably easy but they do ramp up in difficulty pretty quickly, so be prepared to watch your aircraft burn, it’s not easy. With my basic knowledge it was initially pretty hard get to grips with the most simple functions and this is partly down to the fact that it’s not only the training that’s bugged but the game suffers from numerous serious and not so serious bug nasties. The game’s radar systems were truly messed up and not functioning much of the time, targets refused to lock and missiles disappeared into the skies with their own agenda. The problem with these bugs is that because the documentation is so crap, and the training was so flawed, it takes time to figure out what is and isn’t a bug. I can’t remember how many times I screamed ‘target you b*****!’ at the screen. Despite some of the major flaws the aircraft do handle beautifully, a*uming they are doing what you tell them of course.This game is one complex sucker and not really aimed at the flight-sim novice. The control system is probably as complex as NASA mission control with a stack-load of keys to remember. It does take time to get to grips with everything and a joystick is essential to get the most from this game. On an MS Force Feedback 2 stick the aircraft handled brilliantly, it’s just so smooth and responds great. The real battle is remembering what does what on the keyboard, there’s nothing worse than hitting eject by accident 🙂 While there is a keyboard guide in the printed manual, it would have been great to so the return of the flight sim keyboard overlay of yesteryear, it would have made things so much easier overall. Ah the good old days.Lock-on is certainly not all doom and gloom, this is one tasty looking flight sim. If you watched any of the pre-release movies you couldn’t have helped being impressed, but it’s not until you actually get the game fired up on your own system that you can really appreciate the game’s wow factor. The aircraft models are simply stunning and there’s just so much attention to detail inside and outside the aircraft. The c**pits are complex and awash with all the instrumentation you’d expect to see in any of these modern fighter aircraft, it’s like looking at a photo of the c**pit at times. It’s not just the aircraft and ground targets that are fantastic, the terrain is also highly realistic, in fact I don’t think I’ve been so impressed by a flight sim since I saw Flight Unlimited from Looking Glass Studios back in 1995. The audio is also of a similar high quality and it’s in the graphics and sound department this game really stands out.The detail does come at a price if you want everything cranked up full. If you really want to enjoy the game’s full potential make sure your ninja-b***** PC is primed, Lock-on will tax even the most powerful machines. We managed to get decent performance with a Radeon 9800 Pro, 1 Gig Ram and an AMD 2600 CPU. I wouldn’t suggest anything less than this or you could be chugging along at a single figure framerate and even then a top-notch PC may find it taxing at times.Lock-on also comes with a campaign builder to keep you hooked into the game for as long as possible. The campaigns don’t feature too many missions so this comes as a welcome addition for longevity. The editor is pretty extensive and should provide quite a few hours of fun. Like the game the editor takes some experimentation to get everything working how you want it, the interface isn’t too bad but could possibly have been easier, especially for the novice.Any recent flight should naturally feature a multiplayer option and Lock-on won’t disappoint. Multiplayer match-making is handled by Ubi Soft’s Ubi.com service which is free and easy to use, and once you’re logged in with your Ubi username you can join game lobbies. The turn-out has been good for online play and we had no problem finding game’s join so there was plenty of dogfighting action between the NATO and Russian forces. It’s fast, frantic and most importantly fun.So why was the review delayed? After realising the game had quite a few flaws we waited for the first patch which thankfully appeared a few weeks ago. Did that solve the problems? Yes and no. This game is so complex that only a few of the bugs had been ironed out and the training was still s***ed after the v1.1 patch. Not wanting to hang on any longer we just got stuck in. Its sounds like we’ve really beat this game down but we haven’t, Lock-on will mature as more patches are released and it could well become one of the great flight sims but with the initial problems it’s made this a tough game to score. It’s a shame the QA process failed this game, it would have been better if the developers had just held off and the Beta testers had got off their backsides and spotted some of the more nasty bugs. As for buying it right now, I would possibly hold off until some of the larger bugs are ironed out if you’re a novice, but if you’re just crazy about sims then snagging a copy won’t do you any harm, just be prepared to p***vere.
Founder and Editor of PC Invasion. Veteran PC gamer of over 22 years.