article written by Gr. Viper

Third Wire Productions is a rare indie developer specializing in combat flight simulators. Or, to be precise, old-school combat flight simulators in the spirit of entertaining games released by Sierra/Dynamix and Jane's. Think flight sims, that can be played with the simplest joystick without memorizing tons of keys and learning positions of all the switches in the cockpit.

Despite controls' simplicity the games feature a reasonably realistic flight model (it can be simplified if you wish to play with an Xbox 360-type controller). Design of various internal systems is done in a similar manner, e.g. you can fully control any in-game radar with just 4 keys, yet the game can model the inability of early radars to detect and track low-flying targets which strongly affects combat tactics.

So far the 4 games released in Strike Fighters 2 series are remakes of 4 earlier Third Wire sims for better VistaWin7 compatibility and some extra features, but new releases are planned as well. Each game offers a different theatre of war and a corresponding plane set. The player can take part in bombing campaigns over North Vietnam, Arab-Israeli wars, a few hypothetical clashes in Central Europe or fictional conflicts between US-backed state of Parani and Soviet-backed Dimar over some oil. The latter conflict also allows the player to lead a Parani mercenary squadron, where cash received for completed missions has to be spent on new planes and ordnance.

As for flyable planes, you should check developer's website for details about particular games, but the general rule is that Soviet-designed aircraft are AI-only (unless you use mods). In TW sims you can fly easily recognizable A-10, F-15, F-16 or even Harrier jump jet or go for classics like F-4 Phantom, A-4 Skyhawk, F-105 Thunderchief and others, each with its special flight dynamics and capabilities. Some practice with each plane is required before you succeed in combat, because enemy and friendly AI definitely knows what it's doing (although pilot skill levels vary from green novice to a bloodthirsty ace).

Other important feature of TW sims is high moddability, which allows users with enormous amounts of patience and great talent make new maps, planes, weapons and other shiny things for users with less patience. Most mods were designed for the older sims, but a few hundred have already been updated or freshly made for games in SF2 range.

Sadly the developer offers no demo, so a 20$ "leap of faith" is required to experience what these sims are all about. For a start I'd recommend SF2: Israel because its three stock campaigns range from guns-only short-range combat in 1967 to hitting targets from far away flying F-15 in 1982, and 1973 campaign will provide a hard lesson in avoiding strong air defences.