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by Majesco

f-14-01.jpg (4449 bytes)I’ll put this right out there: I’m not a flight sim expert. But let’s get another thing straight right at the beginning of this review: F-14 Tomcat is not a flight simulator. It lacks the depth, the realism, and the close attention to detail that flight sim experts (and just die-hard fans) expect. However, it does pack quite a bit of complexity into a GBA title, and the fact that so many folks call it a flight sim is testament to just how much F-14 Tomcat has to offer.

f-14-11.jpg (4559 bytes)I do like flying and shooting stuff, and I like my games to be sufficiently complex – not so much that it ruins the fun of playing, but enough to allow me to feel I’ve mastered a set of skills in order to do well. F-14 Tomcat gives me that satisfaction to some extent, but mainly it’s about flying and shooting stuff. You assume the role of an F-14 Tomcat pilot patrolling a no-fly zone in the southeastern Pacific. Various unnamed aggressors test your dominance, and you have to remind them who’s the boss by blowing up their airfields, destroyers, subs and planes. I don’t know much about real airplanes; I’m not an expert, but I have seen enough 80s movies to know that MIGs are what bad guys fly, and those bad guys are usually communists. F-14 Tomcat isn’t overt about the communist connections, but the bad guys do cruise around in their MIGs, so with a set of headphones you can feel just like that guy who wasn’t Louis Gosset, Jr. in Iron Eagle.

f-14-15.jpg (4184 bytes)Most folks who play this game will probably feel pretty ambivalent towards it. You can’t really get into the story because it’s sparse at best. The only thing you do is fly your F-14 and shoot enemies, which can get repetitive. So if you aren’t really into air combat, you won’t like it. But you also can’t be one of those flight sim fanatics who will not accept anything less than the latest Novalogic masterpiece. For the older gamers, F-14 Tomcat plays a lot like Top Gun on the NES. If you’ve never played Top Gun, refer to F-14 Tomcat. Top Gun maintains a cult following, and it’s apparent that F-14 Tomcat will probably fill that niche as well – if you like simplified console air combat games like Ace Combat, then this could be just the thing.

f-14-03.jpg (4053 bytes)Dogfighting is relatively convincing, and that’s good because there’s a lot of it. The whole basis of the story forbids any real investment in your missions. They require you to destroy targets, usually every target on the map. Each mission is sprinkled with ubiquitous MIGs, which swarm you as soon as possible. The AI isn’t bad, and beating enemy pilots can be tough. With a little practice, it gets to be fun chasing down MIGs and destroying them with your M61A1 cannon. You are usually given a set number of missles of several varieties, but those take the fun out of hunting enemy fighters. Missles just about always hit, and enemy missles are very difficult to avoid. You can deploy electronic countermeasures (ECM) to evade missles, but even so, it’s not easy. The rest of most missions include tanking a few submarines (equipped with SAMs), maybe a destroyer or oil platform. The really good stuff is usually taken out by launching a Tomahawk cruise missle from your F-14. You fly to a "waypoint", the screen switches, and then you shoot your missle. Eventually, whatever you targeted blows up.

f-14-04.jpg (5529 bytes)It’s the simplicity of the missions that really prevents F-14 Tomcat from being a lot more fun. The tough parts of missions tend to be taken care of for you. In Novice mode, you never have to land your jet, it’s automated. In Ace mode, you must land your jet, but to do so you need only point towards the carrier and slow down. There is no finesse involved. Adding to the absurdity, there is a whole mode of the game where you can practice pointing straight ahead and slowing down ad infinitum. The use of the cruise missles to achieve most of the fun-sounding mission objectives further usurps the quality of the missions. Apart from the lack of actual gameplay variety, the missions suffer from incredible graphical similarity. Time of day varies, but gameplay is always carried out with the same horizon – just a textured sea plane converging with a textured sky plane. The only thing that changes are the shades of color. And being that you are flying a fighter jet, much of the combat is carried out at distances too great to see your enemy (except the aforementioned close-quarters dogfighting). Overall, there is a general lack of variety in scenery or props.

f-14-09.jpg (5556 bytes)Since the missions vary little, the bulk of the fun to be had with F-14 Tomcat lies in mastering the alphabet soup of sensors and radar with which your jet is equipped. This is quite entertaining for awhile, but eventually becomes unfulfilling. The controls take a little while to master, but are cleverly designed to open up a surprisingly wide range of capabilities given the GBA’s four major buttons without becoming too difficult. The Multiplayer mode livens the game up a lot. You can play a deathmatch with up to three friends, who each must have their own cartridge.

f-14-12.jpg (5763 bytes)F-14 Tomcat is a game that no air combat fan with a GBA can be without. F-14 Tomcat is a technical achievement worthy of praise. Fans of this title will see past the limitations of the platform and praise the number of features it manages to pack in. Don’t come looking for reality; don’t come looking for narrative depth or character development. F-14 Tomcat is for gamers who want the dogfight without the hassle.

Shawn Rider   (11/03/2001)


Ups: Air combat; lots of dogfights; multiplayer deathmatch; high level of complexity.

Downs: Not exactly realistic; repetitive gameplay.

Game Boy Advance