Lock On: Modern Air Combat has been one of the most anticipated simulations in flight sim history--and for good reason. Not only has there been a dearth of serious combat flight sims in recent years, but Lock On has a stellar pedigree (the Flanker series), a highly esteemed development team, and a stable of aircraft designed to thrill any sim fanatic. Does it live up to the hype and hope? Lock On clearly has the potential to be an all-time classic sim, but there are problems in the retail version that will make some want to watch and wait for a patch or two before purchasing.
The cockpit of the Su-25 is devoid of the fancy electronics seen in most modern jets.
Lock On's design is extremely promising. It includes the A-10A, F-15C, Su-27, Su-25, Su-33, and three variations of the MiG-29. Each aircraft is simulated with stunning attention to detail and accuracy, resulting in each plane having a very distinct "personality." One of the key strengths of Lock On is that the planes are so different and so detailed that you can spend many hours just learning to fly and fight effectively in a single jet. For example, the A-10 Warthog ground assault aircraft, a plane for which simmers have been clamoring for years, sports relatively simple avionics compared to a modern air superiority jet (for instance, the F-15 or MiG-29). But anyone who expects to climb into Lock On's Warthog cockpit, load up with Maverick guided missiles, find some enemy tanks, and simply push a button or two and watch the missiles mop up the tanks, is in for a major surprise.
Mavericks here aren't magic missiles as they have been portrayed in most simulations. In Lock On, you have to learn what a real A-10 pilot has to learn about weapons deployment with the AGM-65 Maverick. Specifically, you have to learn about how the missile "sees" the ground, the differences in how the TV version and the IR version discerns a target from its background, how to fly to maximize the range at which you can identify and lock on to a target, and more. And that's just the Mavericks. You'll need to do the same for the unguided rockets and the awe-inspiring cannon--all while learning the details of the flight avionics in the A-10 cockpit and how the Warthog handles under various conditions. Then, having developed proficiency with the A-10, you can start all over again in, perhaps, one of the advanced air superiority fighters. Then you can learn the complexities of modern air-to-air radar operation or perhaps how to destroy ground targets in the relatively crude, HUD-less Su-25 Frogfoot. A simulation of any one of these aircraft, at this level of accuracy and detail, would be a must-have for the serious flight sim fanatic. To have all of these disparate jets simulated with such loving care is combat sim nirvana.
Not only are the flight models, weapons systems, and avionics beautifully simulated, but the same attention to detail has been lavished on the graphics. Cockpits are reproduced in almost photographic realism, with every dial and gauge operational. In fact, the cockpits are so lifelike that all of the instruments in the Russian aircraft are labeled in Russian. The plane exteriors are rendered in exquisite detail and actually include impressive damage modeling. Admittedly, all of the graphics in Lock On, from the aircraft to the ground units to the cities and landscapes, are excellent and are sure to please even the pickiest sim fans. But here is where the first problem rears its head. In addition to odd graphics glitches that pop up here and there, if you turn all of the graphics details on high, such as heat blur, high quality water, reflections, and so on, your computer will not be able to run Lock On smoothly through all of the various environments in which you will fly.
The A-10 can take an enormous amount of damage and will still come home.
It doesn't matter if you have a P4 3.2 GHz machine with one gig of RAM and a Radeon 9800 XT; it will bog down at quite a few points in the game (bog down: defined as frame rates dropping into the single digits). The good news is that the game is designed to allow you to toggle a wide variety of graphics options down or off. The bad news is that even with most of these turned down, high performance systems will still occasionally experience poor frame rates. For example, flying just above a cloud base will result in unacceptable stuttering on even the heftiest system. If you have a "moderate" setup, say an AMD Athlon 2200+ or a P4 2.4 GHz, with a midrange GeForce or Radeon video card, you'll find it difficult to find any settings that will allow you to play the game with consistently smooth frame rates under all conditions (such as when flying low and encountering a high density of ground units and terrain). Until you either get a higher-end system or patches are distributed that improve the graphics performance, midrange computer pilots would be well advised to stick to missions with fewer ground objects and clear skies, and even users of bleeding-edge systems will have to be willing to put up with occasional periods of molasses-slow frame rates.