Landing a jet fighter on an aircraft carrier is one of the hardest things humans do. So it’s a great candidate for a game, both as a challenge and as a sobering introduction to the real thing. This game has great visuals and is easy to fly, but it’s not really a technical flight simulator. That’s okay. It’s more than okay.
30,000 ft View
The Apple iPad is capable of some fabulous graphics. As a result, one might, at first glance, be tempted to consider this a highly technical simulator. But that’s not the idea here. Rather, one can just play a fun game with terrific visuals, pass some time — and the satisfaction of getting better in the game is palpable.
White knuckle time
I was prepared to not like this game. One is using the tilt of the iPad, calibrated by the accelerometer, to fly the F/A-18 and not a joystick. The instruments are good-looking but incomplete. One might be tempted to wonder about the technical level and the respectability of the app.
That’s all nonsense. The Lite version is a free game (with ads). It looks good. It’s fun. It’s easy to fly. It’s challenging. What more could you ask for? And there’s a US$0.99 version that’s ad-free. This game packs a lot of delirious fun for zero dollars, so you can try it before you fork over the big bucks. In pennies.
There’s background music that has a nice beat, but you can mute the music separately.
The simulation, er, game, doesn’t much care if you overspeed with the gear down. The navigation, in terms of finding the carrier, is rudimentary. There is no afterburner control. Basically you have control over the throttle, speed brakes, gear and attitude/roll control.
There’s very little control over the weather. The app supports nighttime, daylight, dusk and rain storm conditions, and they’ll be thrown at you randomly as you start each attempt. The rendering of the sky and clouds is simply, if I may use the word, awesome. When it rains, you’ll see lightning and streaks of water.
The clouds and a contrail in a high speed bank
As we found out with the F-Sim Space Shuttle Landing Simulator, input modes, especially a pseudo joystick can be very helpful. In this game, you’re constrained to pitch and roll control to change altitude and direction by tilting the iPad (or iPhone). The good news is that the developer has created a very easy to fly system, and while some may grumble that one cannot really do this flying thing without a joystick, there is more fun to be had by holding and tilting the iPad that one might imagine.
There’s no playback option, so you can’t go back and watch your landing as a learning experience. However, there is a nice fly-by/pan after you arrest so you can take some screen shots if you like. There is no scoring other than evaluation of the wire you caught each time.
Post flight pan, to admire your landing
You can play by looking through the HUD and see the cockpit instruments or you can watch from behind. I liked that second mode for starters because it’s easier to look down and gauge your position with respect to the carrier, the Nimitz, CVN-68. Also, in that rear-view mode, you’ll see the elevons twitch just like the real thing; it’s very cool.
The radar will guide you to the carrier (or land runway) with a green rectangle, and your radar will show you the direction and distance to the carrier. That’s about it.
The game has many limitations, of course, because it’s not a full-featured simulator. It’s designed to do its thing in a constrained way. For example, I tried a take off and climb from the land-based runway. I reached 45,000 ft, and the simulation just stopped. There’s no where to go from there.
The optical landing system doesn’t appear to be active. It’s always green.
Coaching and Docs
When you first start playing, there’s a coaching mode that tells you what to do next. From there, it’s pretty easy to get the hang of it. Because it’s just a game, there isn’t anything in the way of technical documentation. You just figure it out by trial and error and fly by the crude instrumentation and the seat of your pants.
Crashes are fairly well done visually. There’s no chance to eject if you stall, and that’s all too easy to do if you don’t manage the pitch control and throttle in unison. You’ll be rated by which wire you catch. Catching wire #1 (arresting gear) is hard. Catching wire #4 makes you a laggard. At first, you’ll probably be hot and high, and you’ll have to overfly the carrier and get into the landing pattern to line up with the carrier — which is in a different location with every attempt.
High-speed overfly of the Nimitz
I had a lot of fun with this app. The reason, I think, is because the visual presentation is so compelling. Sure, it’s a very limited game, but then that’s the point of game: make it realistic and fun to play. That’s all that’s needed, and this game delivers.
The app didn’t crash on me, as some have reported. There were no glitches or problems of any kind in this version 2.1, and believe me, I spent plenty of time obsessing over my landings, as I’m wont to do.
F18 Carrier Landing Lite runs on iPhones back to the 3GS, iPod touch back to 3rd generation and any iPad. It requires iOS 4.3 or later.
Even though it’s just a game, there are some things I’d like to see added for more realism. I don’t want much.
- Ability to eject.
- Other aircraft on the deck.
- Control of the weather for each attempt.
- An active optical landing system.
- A replay mode.
- Over-speed warning on gear.
- A longer, more realistic wake from the carrier, so it’s easier to detect the direction of travel from a distance.
Just as this review was published, version 3.0 was posted with replay mode and Game Center integration. The UI is cleaned up considerably, the detail of the F/A-18 is better, there’s more use of lights on the carrier and the Hornet, the crashes are more spectacular, the replay of the final approach to the carrier is excellent, from lots of different viewpoints, there’s a better radar indicator of the carrier location, and there are more social connections, like Facebook and Twitter. Plus, there’s more extensive scoring and a more extensive tutorial that teaches all the controls and has you practice flying through rectangles in the sky for control practice. It’s just fantastic.
Instant replay of your landing (or crash, or bolt) in version 3.0