Sometimes when I'm cleaning my ears I push the Q-tip just a little too far in, and it hits something that hurts like hell. It kind of hums for a while and then settles into a dull ache. The thing is, I can experience this sensation all I want for about a quarter cent per tip, whereas Bethesda would have me pay upwards of $40 for relatively the same sensation. That throbbing in the brain, that jabbing pain in the head: That's about what I took away from Bethesda's first attempt at a flight simulation, F-16 Aggressor.
British flight sims are like the British: They may have one or two good bits, but it always goes to hell when you get to the teeth. In the case of British sims, things always go to hell when you get to the controls. They wind up assigning simple commands like "fire guns" to Alt + Ctrl + ~ and so forth. Let's face it: There has never been a British sim that was worth a damn out of the box. DID took two years to get EF2000 up to par, and Total Air War still isn't exactly burnin' 'em up. Rowan seems to assign controls by having a chicken pick at three successive keys and binding all three to a common command like "raise flaps." And now we have GSI, composed of former employees of DID, and their brainchild F-16 Aggressor. Their key assignments aren't as baroque as in other games, but they've managed to commit the Unholy Trinity of sim no-nos: no key mapping, no joystick configuration, and, stunningly, no keycard included in the packaging. It's almost like they want to make your brain hurt.
F-16 Aggressor has puzzling aspirations. The designers actually set out to re-create Strike Commander. Remember Strike Commander? It was going to be Origin's flight sim version of the Wing Commander format, a narrative-driven mercenary flight simulation. Unfortunately, it didn't turn out quite right. It was incredibly late, pretty buggy, and just not all that impressive. So of course it makes perfect sense to emulate it. And then, to really nail the lid down, GSI emulates it badly.
The real shame of it is there is a fine, fine flight simulator at the core of Aggressor. GSI has modeled the F-16's flight properties with commendable detail. The funky handling of the rudders at certain speeds, tough landings, speed bleeding, and other things related to flight are all smack on. It's a flight model worthy of the best F-16 sims, poised to offer the hard-core crowd everything it could demand... until you get to the systems modeling. These are more on par with a Novalogic game. The complex instrument modeling of Falcon 4.0 and other true hard-core sims is only hinted at in Aggressor.