At the end of 1998, MicroProse (recently acquired by Hasbro) released a PC game called Falcon 4.0. The title was intended to be a realistic combat flight simulator that put the player in control of an F-16 Fighting Falcon (or 'Viper', as the aircraft is lovingly nicknamed by USAF pilots), with a dynamic campaign set in the Korean peninsula, clickable cockpit instruments, detailed avionics and some of the most realistically modeled munitions ever included in a commercial sim at that point in time.
The game was rushed to the shelves as a half-completed (at best) mess in order to make the Christmas sales season. AI pilots (both enemy and friendly) were a terrible joke, attempting to dive into the interesting avionics systems would often result in a CTD and the dynamic campaign was a bit of a mixed bag (the engine really did track what damage you managed to inflict, but the awful AI and limited ground units made it a pretty moot affair). The game reached some semblance of being playable eight official patches later, but it was too late: outside of a niche group of armchair pilots, Falcon 4 was dismissed as shovelware and Hasbro axed it's development team.
Some of the enthusiasts who bought & stuck with the game, however, continued it's development on their own. Over the 12 years since it's release, a variety of modding teams have overhauled the game's graphics & realism, ironed-out most of the bugs and implemented AI pilots that do more than just fly in tight circles for a few minutes before nose-diving into the ground. In 2005, Falcon 4.0: Allied Forces was commercially released by a small company formed by members of the modding community:
Allied Forces was everything that the original game was supposed to be, it was stable
and it was oh so pretty
The modding community wasn't content to constrain themselves to the aspirations of MicroProse, though. Two primary modding groups - OpenFalcon and Free Falcon - have brought the game to the point where you'd have to be a silly goose to want to install any other modern fighter sim out there on your machine. OpenFalcon has remained, for now, strictly an add-on mod, while Free Falcon is now a stand-alone install.
OpenFalcon is great, but this thread is about Free Falcon. You can download Free Falcon 5.5 here
(make sure you D/L the cockpit pack too!) and the 5.5.1 update here
Some Stuff You Might Start to Ask After You've Installed the Game
OMG THIS IS NOT LIKE ACE COMBAT 6 AT ALL! HOW DO I EVEN GO???
The first thing you should do after you've installed & fired-up the game is click on 'Setup', go to the 'Simulation' tab and change the settings like this:
It'll make things much easier while you're still learning the game; after you've got the hang of the basics, you can crank-up the realism settings and dive into the meaty avionics, ramp start sequence, etc. The only thing you'll have to do to get going is close your canopy by clicking on the edge of your cockpit and then accelerate by using the '+' key (use the ',' and '.' keys - your rudder controls - to steer the plane while you taxi).
I WANT TO SHOOT THAT ASSHAT WINGMAN OF MINE - AND MAYBE EVEN SOME ENEMY PLANES LATER - WITH MISSILES! HOWWWWWWW????
These are your Multi-Function Displays (MFDs):
You'll interface with your avionics & weapon systems through them. By default, your left MFD is displaying your Air-to-Air (AA) radar, while the right MFD is in Navigation mode. When you get airborne, the AA radar will display any aircraft it detects in a wide cone in front of your F-16 (including that asshat wingman) as a little green square. When you see a little green dot (or 'contact') on your AA radar, you can lock onto it by either slewing the cursor on top of it (Alt+arrow keys) and hitting Numpad 0 (this method takes way
too long to be practical), or just pressing the 'Del' and/or 'Page Down' keys. If you lock onto a nearby friendly aircraft, they'll radio 'Buddy Spike!'
Press 'M' to select any missiles your aircraft might be carrying (You'll see the right MFD change to display some armament information). Most of the training Tactical Engagements give you a pair of AIM-120 "Slammer" AMRAAMs (you can verify what you've got by looking at the right MFD. If you've got Slammers, you should see them listed as '2A-120C / 2A-120B' - the '2' in front of the missile's name indicates how many you have on board). You should see a large green circle appear in your HUD - if you don't, click on the Master Arm switch switch in the cockpit:
After that, just make sure your target is locked-up and in front of your aircraft and press and hold Spacebar until the missile shoots.
One AMRAAM is all it usually takes to turn your wingman into confetti.
If you'd rather use short-range heat-seeking missiles, just press 'D' to go into dogfighting mode. You'll hear the wonderfully malicious growl of your AIM-9 "Mike" Sidewinder's seeker head as it sniffs for a heat signature. Line up your target and shoot (you don't need to hold down the spacebar for the AIM-9); most fighters will need to eat two Mikes before they go down.
You can also use Mikes without ever needing a radar lock. Hit 'M' to access your aircraft's missiles, then click the square button beside the listed missile until the 'A-9' entry comes up (you'll hear the seeker growling). Point the nose of your F-16 at whatever aircraft you want to shoot, and press the 'U' key. This will 'uncage' the seeker - the missile will look for the nearest heat signature and lock onto it. After it has achieved a good lock, it'll go from a growl to a high pitched tone - once you hear the tone, hit the spacebar to send Mike on his way.
I WANT TO BLOW UP STUFF WITH BOMBS! HOW DO I DO THAT?
You'll want to go to the 'CCIP Bombing' Tactical Engagement to practice. CCIP stands for 'Constantly Computed Impact Point'; it's the way modern fighter aircraft aim dumb bombs. Every Tactical Engagement starts you off at zero thrust, even if you're in the air, so first you'll want to throttle up a bit (I usually accelerate to the point just below where my afterburners would kick in). Hit 'Backspace' to access your Air-to-Ground weapons, and you'll see the CCIP pipper dangling on your HUD (you'll probably want to hit '1' so you have a clearer view of what the pipper is sitting on).
Drag the pipper over whatever you want to bomb, then press and hold spacebar and fly towards it. Your F-16 will automatically drop the selected bomb once you approach optimal release parameters (you'll hear the bomb releasing). Hit Shift+7 to watch the bomb fall to the target. KABLAMMO!
I WANT TO SHOOT TANKS WITH MAVERICKS!
You'll want to go to the 'Maverick' Tactical Engagement to practice. Every Tactical Engagement starts you off at zero thrust, even if you're in the air, so first you'll want to throttle up a bit (I usually accelerate to the point just below where my afterburners would kick in). Hit 'Backspace' to access your Air-to-Ground weapons, and on your left MFD (which has switched to Air to Ground radar) click the button above the letters 'GM' to toggle to 'GMT' mode (a mode that tracks moving ground objects, rather than every
Press 'Del' or 'Page Down' until your got a radar lock on a T-54 tank (it'll tell you what you've got locked-up right on the radar screen. Fly towards your target until you're in effective range for your Maverick:
When the 'carrot' (the little arrow in that pic) is within the green box, you're in effective weapon range. When it's below the line in the middle of the box, you're in optimal weapon range; you'll hit far more often. Press and hold spacebar to release your Maverick, hit Shift+7 to watch it fly to it's target. Sometimes the friendly tanks will steal your kill - such is life.
OH GOD HOW CAN I LAND WITHOUT WRECKING MY MILLION DOLLAR PLANE?
Setting the bird down is tricky at first, but after you get the hang of it it's a cakewalk. The first thing you want to do is get rid of any heavy stores!
If you're carrying big bombs or a load of HARMs, use 'em before you head home or jettison them. Trying to land with a full load of munitions is a recipe for the most terrible things.
When making your approach, your speed indicator needle should be within this area:
...and you should have a little bit of power from your engines (you can use your air brake, 'B', to slow down). DO NOT just cut your engines, hit the air brake, lower gear and hope for the best - your airspeed will drop too quickly, you'll hit the runway too hard, your landing gear will snap and, while you probably
won't explode, your aircraft will be totaled.
Deploy your landing gear just a few seconds before you're over the runway (when you lower your gear, the F-16 automatically deploys it's flaps and your speed begins dropping rapidly), come in at a gentle slope and level-off so that your rear gear hit the pavement first. Then press your nose down and keep pressing it down while holding 'K' (your wheel brakes) until you're at taxi speed.
I'M GETTING SHOT DOWN! HOW DO I PREVENT SUCH A TRAGEDY?
There are 3 threats to your aircraft (well, 4 if you count pilot incompetency): guns, radar missile and IR (heat seeking) missiles. There's not much you can do about guns - you just have to keep out of their firing range. If you know there's flak batteries around, keep your F-16 flying nice and high to avoid the AAA bursts.
For radar missiles, the threat you'll most often have to deal with, this device will be your bread & butter:
This is the F-16's threat warning system. The scope will display any radar contacts (air contacts as well as ground contacts) within threat range of your plane (the circle in the middle of the scope represents your plane, seen from a top-down perspective), while the buttons to the left of the scope will go red if something bad is about to happen to you. For the most part, you just need to pay attention to the top-most button; if it goes red (and you'll hear audio cues as well), that means your plane has been shot at / is being tracked by a radar missile. The contact that fired the missile will begin to rapidly blink on the scope.
You'll need to immediately take evasive maneuvers:
Turn your F-16 until the contact that fired the missile is in one of these two places on the scope and roll the aircraft so that the top of it is facing towards the contact. Immediately start mashing 'X' to drop chaff, make sure you're at full burn (Shift + '+') and look up to see if you can find / visually track the incoming missile itself (SAMs have huge contrails that are easy to find). Keep yourself moving perpendicular to the projectile (if you can't see it, don't panic - just make sure the contact that fired it is at one of the two locations shown on the scope) and spitting the chaff - most of the time you'll spoof the missile.
You'll encounter heat seeking missiles less frequently because their range is so short, but - unfortunately - when you do
encounter them it's usually by feeling them explode against your fuselage. IR missiles do not trigger your warning system and do not have obvious contrails, so you often don't even know you've been shot at when one hits you.
The best bet for avoiding unpleasant IR missile encounters is to fly at high altitudes (the only ground units that fire heat seekers are infantry, using shoulder-mounted launchers) and frequently check in with AWACS to get a picture of enemy air activity. For the most part, enemy aircraft are inferior MiG-21s and MiG-25s - but the pilots are crafty devils and will sneak up on you with jammers & deactivated radar if you let your guard down.
I HATE THOSE GODDAMN SAMS! HOW CAN I SHOOT BACK AT THEM?
You'll need to use HARM (High-Speed Anti-Radiation Missile) missiles. Go to the HARM Tactical Engagement for practice.
Hit backspace to select your HARMs, then you'll need to do a bit of menu browsing to get to the HARM interface. Click the button over the 'INV' symbol on the right MFD, then the button under the 'RDY FCR' symbol, then the button under the 'FCR' symbol and finally on the button under the 'HUD' symbol. You should now have this interface in the MFD:
The little letters and numbers in the interface represent radars that your HARM has detected. Bright yellow radars are active, faded green radars are inactive (you'll note that SAMs will often switch from yellow to dark green, as the operators attempt to spoof your HARM's seeker), radars with a bright red box around them have locked you up (but haven't necessarily fired anything at you yet; you'll get notice from your threat warning indicator if that happens).
The little 'U' symbols are unknown radar signatures (typically civilian). The little numbers represent SAM sites; as a general rule, the bigger the number, the more dangerous the SAM site. The little 'S' symbols represent military radar sites. These could be aircraft radar domes, radars that are spotting for SAMs and/or AAA batteries, etc.
Generally speaking, you want to shoot at numbers, not letters. Your HARMs aren't mean for bunker busting, so if you shoot a radar dome or ATC tower you'll have wasted a missile.
Slew the cursor over the target you want to shoot (Alt+arrow keys; you can also target with the Delete & Page Down keys, but my experience has been that doing this in the HARM interface with Simplified avionics leads to CTDs), hit Numpad 0 to target it, fly towards it until you're within effective weapons range (SAMs are immobile, so there's no point in waiting for optimal range), and press and hold the spacebar until the HARM launches. Watch it go to work with Shift+7.
IMPORTANT: After you fire off a HARM, turn away from your target
so that you don't wind-up getting shot back at before the HARM does it's job because you flew into the range of the SAM site.
FUCKING WINGMAN, HOW DOES HE WORK?
Press 'W' to bring up the Wingman commands. They're reasonably intelligent even if you don't give them any orders (they'll shoot at bandits, they'll try to evade missiles - often failing hilariously), but you'll need to give them a 'weapons free' order if you want them to engage ground targets with stufflike bombs, HARMs, Mavericks, etc.
WHEN I FIRST OPENED THIS THREAD I WAS BUT A LEARNER. NOW I AM THE MASTER! WHERE'S THE MULTIPLAYER AT?
Falcon's multiplayer functionality is... 'finicky'. It works, but there are all kinds of things that will make a multiplayer match unstable.
There's no dedicated servers that I'm aware of, so you'll have to do any multiplayer-ing via direct connection. Really, this is mostly a single-player game.