It can be odd to think about the older games systems having simulator titles, particularly flight simulators. This is because we have been spoiled modern-day flight simulators such as Microsoft Flight Simulator X or the ultra-realistic combat flight simulation of Digital Combat Simulator, whose graphics and attention to detail make their games good enough for real life pilots to train with them. However, old gaming systems had their fair share of simulators, and F-16 Fighting Falcon is one with a surprising amount of attention to detail and realism considering it was released in the graphics-lacking period of the 1980s.
An interesting fact about F-16 Fighting Falcon: this game was actually reprogrammed from ASCII, a language that many computer-literate people will know is a very old-school way of programming games. Remember that this was released in 1985 and as such isn't going to blow anyone away in terms of graphics. The game is based on a first-person cockpit interface, though set out in a HUD style much of the information needed to fly the plane successfully displayed on the screen. To summarise: this is a flight simulator game played from the first-person perspective, and you should be expecting some pretty rudimentary graphics here.
As far as old-school flight simulators go, F-16 Fighting Falcon errs towards the realistic side. Though it was restricted by the hardware standards of the mid-1980s, you've still got a fairly detailed heads-up display that shows data such as your altitude and heading, with the scrolling markers changing in a dynamic fashion to indicate your position in the sky. You've also got a radar that can be used for navigation as well as combat elements, such as missiles that you can fire at enemies. As you approach the ground underneath you, it too is represented in quite a rudimentary fashion with dashed lines in a grid.
Combat lovers will also be thrilled to learn that this game involves a fair bit of combat as well, albeit within the confines of the extremely crude interface. Enemy aircraft appear as pixelated objects that swish across the screen, ready to be taken out with missiles or your ship's guns. In terms of realism, there are certain things you have to pay attention to such as your gun overheating, but there's no point in expecting anything close to the fidelity of the F15C jet in DCS for example.
Controls, Sound, and Graphics
It is easy to feel conflicted when playing this game as it does attempt to provide a realistic flight simulation, yet its controls are too oversimplified to possibly offer a level of detail that would truly qualify this for the 'flight simulator' genre. You'll notice that turning doesn't feel swift as it should but rather extremely slow and sluggish. This is because you can actually see the frames being displayed as you play the game, with any movement displayed taking place frame by frame, which is quite disappointing. It means you have to sort of predict an enemy's position ahead of time and fire, only to watch the shot blip across the screen in a slow and jerky fashion.
Though the graphics aren't awful by the standards of the 1980s, they still aren't spectacular either. Enemies appear as pixelated dots and the information dashboard that takes up about half of the screen is very harsh on the eyes. The ears don't fare well either since there is no music and just a the simulated whirring of a jet plane's engines, which doesn't sound good in 8-bit. When you consider that you've got the most basic of flash games , such as this F16 attack game, outperforming this one in terms of both graphics and overall design, then you've got an idea of what to expect - and what not to.
F-16 Fighting Falcon isn't an incredible flight simulator by any means. It was definitely a good standard when it was released, but even then games like Afterburner really surpassed this one at the time. Its graphics are fairly poor as are its sounds, but hardcore flight-sim fans that appreciate games like Microsoft Flight may enjoy a trip back in time to how things used to be. Played through an emulator like Fusion, F-16 Fighting Falcon will run as it should, and you can save/load states at your leisure since the difficulty of this game is quite high.