Jane's F/A-18 is one of the most gadget-happy flight sims I've ever seen. Flight simulators have always been marked by having a lot of controls that the player must memorize before they can really get into the game, but today's more complex sims put the old ones to shame; Already more than 10 years ago, some players were complaining that flight sims had too many controls, and this was back in the day when most sims only used a few of the keyboard keys and didn't stack them on top of each other so that most keys had 4 functions attached to them (one when the key is pressed normally, one when SHIFT is held down, one when ALT is held down, and one when CTRL is held down). Today, sims are increasingly commandable, which means more commands.
F/A-18 is not a simple game. This is not really a bad thing (if you want simple, you probably wouldn't be playing flight sims anyway), but the fact that the manual lacks a tutorial, and the game's training missions don't go into quite as much detail as they should, means the game is hard to get a hold of until you've spent quite a while learning it. To this end, this basic tutorial is offered to give you some starting point to advance from.
This tutorial assumes that you have played some kind of flight sim before, and that you know the basics of how to actually fly an airplane (at least on a computer screen) using a joystick. (Jane's F/A-18 requires a joystick. That's right, requires, not recommends; You can't play F/A-18 without a joystick, so if you don't have one yet, F/A-18 is a great excuse to go and get one.) So rather than walking you through the basics of taking off, how to turn, and how to navigate, I'll go directly into some of the more specific controls for how to operate the plane in a combat situation. This tutorial also assumes that you are still using the default keyboard layout and haven't customized any of the key commands yet.
From the main menu, click "Single Mission". This takes you to a list of "quick missions" you can select; Most of them are quite short and involve a simple goal. Pick the first mission on the list, "First Look", and then click Next. In this mission, your goal is pretty simple: Shoot down a plane, and bomb a ground target. Although this mission is short, it's actually a very good mission to train with because it involves both air-to-air and air-to-ground attacks.
When the mission begins, the first thing you should do is press M; This is the master mode cycle key, and it will switch your airplane between various master modes, such as A/A (air-to-air) and A/G (air-to-ground). Pressing M once will select A/A mode, which is good since we want to shoot down the enemy plane first.
Now take a look at your radar screen, which is on the right MDI (Multipurpose Display Indicator, F/A-18's terminology for what most flight sims call an MFD, or Multi-Function Display). On this screen, you should see two small items of interest: A tracking blip which represents the enemy plane, and a TDC (Target Designation Control) cursor. To lock up a target, you must move the TDC over the target's blip. You have two ways of moving the TDC in this game:
1. You can use the keyboard's arrow keys while holding down SHIFT.
2. You can use the joystick while holding down the forward slash key (/) .
These methods might seem rather clumsy, and they are. Either method works fine, so pick the one that's best for you. Once the TDC is over the target blip, press ENTER to designate the target. You should get a tracking box on the HUD indicating the position of the target.
Now that the target is all locked up, you just need to shoot at it. Although in some cases you might have to select the most appropriate weapon for your particular situation, in this case your AIM-120 AMRAAM is already selected, which is fine. So all you need to do now is press joystick button 2 to launch the AMRAAM. If you want, you can press the button more than once to launch more than one missile, since you only have one target and you have 4 AMRAAMs to make use of. That way, even if your target spoofs one or two of the missiles, it's still likely to get hit. After a moment, you should hear a voice on your radio confirming "Bandit destroyed!"
Now all that's left is that ground target. Press M once again to switch to A/G mode. Again, you do not need to pick an appropriate weapon, since one is already chosen for you (specifically, a Mk-84, which is a 2,000-lb. general-purpose free-fall bomb).
Finding the ground target is pretty easy; It's hard to miss in this case. It's that big grey building that's right in front of you, with the smokestack on one side. Notice that you now have a line extending from your flight path indicator to a cross on the HUD; This line is called the impact line (or more fancily, the Displayed Impact Line, or DIL), and it shows the path your bomb would take if you were to release one now. The cross acts as a bullseye and indicates the spot where the bomb would land. All you really have to do is fly toward the target, making sure you're lined up, and wait for the cross to reach the target. When the cross is right over the target, press joystick button 2 to release a bomb. Again, you can press the button several times to release more than one bomb. If your aim was accurate, you should receive a radio confirmation that the ground target was destroyed.
Once both the airplane and the ground target are destroyed, you can press ESC to end the mission. Congratulations on a successful mission.
If you can successfully complete "First Look", you know most of what you need to know to start playing F/A-18. All the details aren't covered yet, but you can fly your plane, perform air-to-air combat, and bomb ground targets. But you should spend some time with a few of the training missions to get a feel for some of the other elements of the game; In particular, you should know how to defend yourself against incoming missile threats, which is a big part of the game since you'll often get shot at before you actually reach your mission target, meaning defending yourself comes before attacking.
From the main menu, click "Training", and select the mission called "Defense Enemy Missiles". This mission is very basic and short, but it does provide some decent practice in fielding incoming missiles.
Begin by clicking the EW (Electronic Warfare) button on your MPCD (Multi-Purpose Color Display), which is the big screen in the center of your cockpit view. This brings up the EW screen, which shows any detected emitters in the area surrounding you. (An "emitter" is anything that's transmitting radar signals, be it a ground radar station, an airplane, or a ship.) This gives you a good picture of your current threats.
The emitters on the EW screen are symbolically coded to indicate whether they are ground, sea, or air based. Ground-based radar stations simply show the identifying alphanumeric code. Sea-based ship radars have a bowl-shaped curve underneath the code (presumably to emulate the hull of a ship), and aircraft radar emitters have a caret-shaped line above them. In addition, sometimes (but not always), you may see actual missiles that have been launched at you on the EW screen; These will appear with a square box around them.
When dealing with incoming missiles, probably the first and most important thing you should do is turn your side to the missile. It is very difficult to shake off a missile if it's on the same flight line as you are (i.e. it's facing your nose or your tail). The only real way to spoof missiles is by having them face your side so they'll "fall behind" your plane if they break lock. When a missile is heading toward your plane, a line actually extends outward from the threat on your EW screen, which makes it relatively easy to know when your side is turned to the missile: Just make sure the line is horizontal. Once you've turned your side to the missiles, there's not much left for you to do except use your jammer and chaff (if it's a radar-guided missile), or your flares (if it's an infrared missile) and hope the missile loses track of your plane. In Jane's F/A-18, press J to toggle your radar jammer on or off, press Delete to launch a chaff pod, and press Insert to launch a flare. If you want to get fancy, your F/A-18 uses the ALE-47 Countermeasures Dispensing System (CMDS) which is capable of automatically launching chaff or flares on a regular basis, to be used when you're in deep trouble and have more important things to worry about than constantly launching chaff or flares. Pretty neat. This is a little bit more complicated than it's worth to my mind, however, so for now just stick to manually launching your countermeasures.
That's it for now... Hopefully I'll add more to this page later.
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