Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Mod List: Lock-On: Flaming Cliffs 2

A look at my recommended mods for LOCK-ON: FLAMING CLIFFS 2
Flaming Cliffs 2 is the second paid-for 'expansion pack' (basically a new game) for Lock-on: Modern Air Combat. It brings the graphics and performance in-line with the DCS games, which is a huge improvement over the original game, and includes a slick new front-end.

I'm not exactly a flight-sim buff, but I have to say, I think this game is worth a look if you're interested in combat flight sims. I've heard that Thirdwire's Strike Fighters 2 is considered the more entertaining survey sim, though it lacks the more advanced avionics model of Flaming Cliffs 2. However, I was less-than-impressed by their earlier Wings over Europe and Wings over Israeland Strike Fighters 2 seems to be only an iterative update from the Wings series with the same flat object-less terrain and simplified controls. Flaming Cliffs 2 seems to have much better graphics, especially terrain details, and to be a more complex simulation in general. If you're a flight-sim noob (as I am), get the training videos, and keep a small journal nearby as you watch them to write up a reference guide for all the controls.

Test System:
Asus G73JH Notebook Computer
Intel Core i7 Quad-core Processor @ 1.73 GHz
8GB DDR3 1066MHz RAM
ATI Radeon HD 5870 with 1GB DDR5 discrete graphics memory
500 GB Seagate Momentus XT Solid State Hybrid Drive
17.3" Display @ 1600x900 resolution

Logitech G9 Laser gaming mouse


Joystick: Thrustmaster T.Flight Hotas X. Not exactly a top-of-the-line flight stick, but I really wanted a hands-on throttle and stick (HOTAS) joystick for flying and it was the only sub-$100 model I could find. For the $50 or whatever I paid for it, I got a decent five-axis basic HOTAS controller with more than enough buttons for the essential flight controls and then some, with ample use of the bindable modifier button feature in Lock-On. Now that I'm getting into flight and space sims (read: LockOn and Freespace 2 Open), I am considering and upgrade once I can justify spending the money.

Naturalpoint TrackIR 5 head-tracking accessory: This may be the singular thing that tipped the scales for me. I just could not appreciate flight simulators when I was forced to use the joystick POV hat to look around, and then waste precious buttons and axes for other camera controls like zooming in and out, going into gunsight mode, and centering my vision. In space sims like Freespace this didn't bother me because all the info was on my HUD, but games like LockOn and Microsoft Flight Simulator X bothered me because I had to look around the cockpit just to check my instruments, and using the POV hat was incredibly immersion-breaking. This wonderful gadget allows you to use your head movements to look around and zoom in and out, and it feels incredibly natural in-game. I use the TrackClip PRO with headphones because I abhor wearing caps, especially inside when I'm sitting at the computer.

The Mods:

Unfortunately, the wonderful jets-for-dummies in-game interactive tutorials from the base game were not ported over to Flaming Cliffs 2; instead we get to watch someone else play through the tutorials in these training videos. The videos are not included in the base install in order to save space, so if you aren't already an ace pilot, head over to the homepage and download these videos, which are accessible from inside the game.

This is a tool used for installing most of the community mods, as well as tweaking the graphics beyond what the game allows, though this is less critical than it was with the original game, which seemed to be choppy regardless how powerful your rig was.

This mod adds bright orange lift lines in your cockpit, replacing the thin black ones. These let you orient yourself better when you're looking around the cockpit without being too glaring. Not such a big deal if you're using a TrackIR since you have kinesthetic feedback but with POV-hat panning it's pretty useful. There's also a HAWX-themed set with aggressive yellow zig-zag lift lines out there, if that's more your thing.

Replaces the standard A-10 cockpit with a nice high-resolution one. I noticed for me that some of the knobs don't render the actual knob except for the base; I'm not sure if this is a conflict with the mod below, or if it's a conscious decision to increase the visibility of the small writing that might be obscured behind a fully-3D knob. You can still see which setting the knob is pointing at since the base includes the little pointer part, and it's definitely not a deal-breaker for me.

This mod adds A-10, F-15 and Su27 high-resolution cockpits as well as various other upgrades, all conveniently packaged in one download. The F-15 cockpit looks nice though not quite as sharp as the A-10 mod above.

After playing the flight level in Battlefield 3 I really wanted a sound mod that put me 'in the cockpit' in the same way that section did. The default LOFC2 cockpit ambience is pretty quiet, but the BF3 level included the roar of the engines and the hissing sound of your breath, adding an intense amount of immersion. This audio mod adds those ambient sounds to FC2 (be sure to manually install the breathing sound), making me feel like I'm actually there in the cockpit with the wind whistling around me and the hissing sound of my breath through my mask filling my ears as I engage the enemy in an intense dogfight.

This mod adds in thicker smoke trails to the game, without going for over-the-top HAWX-style effects. From the (admittedly less-than-copious amount of) bogeys I've managed to shoot down, the effects looks good.

This adds in high-resolution realistic textures for the runways in the game. I'm in it for the action so I usually use the quick-start feature which starts me in the air, so I can't really comment that much, but from the few times I have started on the ground, the new textures do look very nice.

Extra Thoughts:

There are a lot of mods to fix random graphical glitches and bugs, but I've never encountered any of them, except for maybe the 'shimmering' distant land texture which doesn't really bother me enough to do something about it, so I haven't tried any of them. I also think the clouds look great and they don't negatively impact my performance enough for me to care, so I haven't tried mods that alter their appearance, remove their shadows, etc.

A gameplay video I shot:

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