A-10C Warthog: me vs. the bad guys (finally!)

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Turns out the bad guys are Russians and Ukrainians. There’s some fluff about how Georgia (the former Soviet republic, not the US state) joins NATO and Russia decides to invade and such. Which is a bit odd, because Eagle Dyanmics is a Russian company, but I guess if you’re making a combat sim about an American aircraft you can’t make the Americans the enemy. Whatever, it’s the cold war gone hot twenty years too late, and that’s fine by me. Newly confident after having successfully completed the tutorials, it’s time for me to dive into a combat sortie.

After the jump, I pick out the first campaign mission, and away we go.

Or not. The first campaign I select has me start in the hangar, with an unpowered A-10. It expects me to do the entire startup checklist before I go out and blast some tanks. I exit out of the mission, checking to see if I missed a “start from the runway” option. Nope. The controls do include an “auto-start” command (under the “cheats” category, to let you know that you’re not a real man if you choose to use it) but it still takes 5 minutes for the auto-start script to run all the way through. It also omits certain important start-up procedures for a combat mission, like turning on the weapons. Lame.

So I try the next campaign instead. That one starts me out on the runway all powered up and ready to go.

Much better. My wingman and I takeoff and head for the combat zone. Meanwhile, chatter from other planes comes over the radio, and a few other flights are waiting on me to give them the go-ahead to attack the enemy, which does a nice job of making me feel like a small part of a larger operation. Warthog doesn’t have a true dynamic campaign, sadly, but the missions are pretty active with ancillary combat. Ground forces engage one another, other groups of aircraft are going about their own missions, it all gets pretty exciting and chaotic.

My task for this mission is to provide close air support to the advancing ground forces. That means “blow up tanks”. As I cruise towards the front lines, I have the option of contacting something called JTAC to call out targets for me. Radio use is one of the major topics that isn’t covered in the tutorials, (another being emergency procedures, which also would have come in handy) and it’s a pretty important part of an actual combat mission, so I pause and review the manual briefly to get my bearings. Incidentally, I highly recommend the “easy communications” option, otherwise you have to manually tune to each frequency every time you want to make a call. JTAC’s role is to call out specific targets and mark them with smoke or flares to make it easier for me to see them. This is handy, so I get a task to take out some tanks from JTAC and power up my Mavericks.

As soon as I let this missile go, JTAC starts screaming at me to abort, because apparently I’ve attacked the wrong target. Oops. Still a bad guy, but there were so many enemy units I couldn’t be sure I was attacking the specific group of tanks I was supposed to attack. So I thank JTAC for their time, and cut off comms. I’ll find my own targets from here.

I fire off the rest of my Mavericks and pull away in a big loop. I’ve got some bombs as well, but the combat zone seems pretty thick with anti-aircraft fire, so I’m not sure I want to take the risk of getting close enough to use them. I do spot a lone enemy helicopter motoring along, and take the opportunity to ruin its day.

That’s not to say I don’t get my hair mussed. On one pass I take a little flak:

I’m leaking fuel, but nothing major was damaged and I return to base without further incident. Not quite the same story on my next mission. As the sun sets I’m tasked to interdict an armored column behind the front lines. Much like the last mission, that translates to “blow up tanks”. Once again, I takeoff, navigate to the target area, and ask JTAC to call out the target for me. Unfortunately, as I’m letting my rack of Mavs fly, I get a little too focused on the target, and don’t keep my distance enough to keep this from happening:

I sadly didn’t have the presence of mind to take a screenshot while the engine was on fire, being too preoccupied with the fact that the engine was on fire. After I put out the flames, I assess my situation — the A-10 is bucking and rolling, but I seem to be able to keep it level with some effort. The right engine is still going and jettisoning my remaining weapons makes it slightly easier to keep the plane airborne, so I decide to risk heading back to base. My nav systems have been knocked out, so I ring up the air traffic controller and ask to be guided in. As my speed drops, the unbalanced thrust from my single engine starts to cause me to yaw to the left, making straight flight very difficult. Nevertheless, after some very tense minutes:

I land safely at Batumi airbase. With that little escapade, I think it’s fair to say that I have arrived. I certainly haven’t mastered the sim by any stretch of the imagination, but I’m clearly no longer the nugget who couldn’t stop smashing into hills a week ago.

Most of the credit for that can go to the training missions, but it still required a fair amount of dedication on my part. More dedication than the average gamer is willing to put in, I’m sure. This simply isn’t a game that people entirely new to flight sims are going to enjoy. The appropriate hardware is really a necessity as well, and that’s another barrier to folks who haven’t played sims before.

However, someone like me, who has dabbled in the genre and has the equipment, will be able to get themselves up to speed with a bit of effort. Warthog is emphatically not a game for casual simmers, but rather than attempting to show them the door, the training missions mean it says, “Welcome! Put a little effort in, and we’ll be the best of friends!” The reward for the effort is coming the closest any of us will come to sitting in a real A-10C, and the chance to experience stories like my landing adventure above. It’d be nice if there were a true dynamic campaign, if the tutorials covered a bit more of the essential topics, and there were an option to skip the startup sequence for certain missions, but those don’t detract from a really staggering achievment of a simulator.

(Click here for the previous A-10C Warthog game diary.)