Over a decade after the release of Lock On: Modern Air Combat, the uber-complex Russian air combat simulator plays as if the programmers had a crystal ball. The premise? Russia has invaded the Crimean Peninsula, and the US and its allies want to kick them out.
LOMAC, as fans refer to it, was known for its intense online cooperative play and incredible realism, to the point that just starting the aircraft was a project of thumbing through a printed PDF manual and getting the keystrokes just right. Moderately experienced gamers may have gotten the jet off the ground initially, but once the Threat Warning System in your F-15C lit up like Sulu's desk your minutes, or seconds alive were probably numbered. Once you actually survived a mission you really felt like you had accomplished something monumental. Simply put, this game was amazingly cool and amazingly frustrating. That is if the RAM gobbling, video card frying program could actually run on your computer setup at the time.
Beyond the unique realism that the game offered, what is most interesting is that the programmers had predicted the future, or at least partially predicted the future at this point. The simulator was set in the NW Black Sea region, and in the game's first iteration the campaign happened around southern Ukraine, and predominantly over the Crimea Peninsula.
Russia was invading the autonomous republic of Crimea and if you flew on the allied side of the war it was your mission to fly and fight with the coalition in an attempt to turn the tide of the attack. If you flew with the Russian forces, your goal was to help their ground forces advance further into the Ukranian mainland or provide counter air cover over friendly territory. To this day I could probably jump in a cockpit and know my way around the region without a map as so many hours were spent virtually patrolling the airspace high above Sebastopol or hugging the deck in the alpine valleys north east of Sochi.
A Russian invasion of the Crimea Peninsula was always a possibility since the fall of the Soviet Union. This land actually belonged to Russia until Khrushchev symbolically gave it the the Ukraine in 1954. This was no big deal as Ukraine was a soviet state up until 1991. After which Russia was left without any direct control of their strategic port Sevastopol, where their Black Sea Fleet is headquartered. The relationship between the predominantly Russian speaking Crimean population, Moscow and Kiev has been precarious even since. None-the-less, building a whole very complex flight simulator franchise around such a globally obscure potential conflict can be viewed in retrospect as a stroke of forecasting genius.
So will Lock On Modern Air Combat's prophecy come true, and will a coalition of western powers actually attempt to confront a reinvigorated Russian Bear on the Crimean Peninsula? Doing so would be extremely dangerous as it could change the geopolitical landscape of the entire world going forward. In other words, don't expect B-2 runs over the Sevastopol just yet, or seeing the skies above the northern Black Sea full of NATO aircraft on their way to raid the MiG-29 master base at Belbek, but if things escalate and Russia starts taking territory in the eastern or southern areas of Ukraine proper NATO may be forced to act militarily.
Even if they don't, the game was realistic adventure that was fun before the suddenly realistic consequences.
Busting Russian tank columns moving up the highway toward Yavpatorya with the Warthog's GAU-8A 30mm "Avenger" cannon was brilliant fun, as was sneaking up on a ZSU-23 radar guided anti-aircraft gun at tree line level, then popping up for a quick AGM-65 Maverick lock and fire.
Yet LOMAC's air to air opportunities were even more impressive. Being part of a four-ship wall of F-15Cs racing high above the Black Sea towards an unknown amount of MiG-29s and SU-27s was downright nail biting excitement. The enemy's electronic countermeasures worked realistically, and you had to wait to get close enough for you powerful APG-63V0 radar to "burn through" the electron muck in order to lock your enemy up. If you did get a shot off before being pummeled by a barrage of Vympel R-27 medium range air to air missile, your target in question may have taken a hard 90 degree "beaming" turn.
As a result of this dynamic defensive maneuver your doppler radar would probably lose its lock. Flying on the Russian side of the campaign would put you in a SU-25 rippling out salvos of rockets at a allied artillery emplacements, or in an ultra maneuverable MiG-29 high above Odessa, employing the Fulcrum's enormous high-alpha capability to spray fleeing British Tornadoes with cannon shells. Simply put, when it worked, the game was awesome and totally addictive. It truly challenged the player to learn and rise to the occasion, or quit in disgrace.
For the sake of good will towards mankind and peace on earth let's just hope that the eerily foreshadowed scenario presented in Lock On Modern Air Combat's campaign mode stays in the virtual world, not the real one.
Since its original release, LOMAC had the Flaming Cliffs One and Flaming Cliffs Two add-ons which brought better graphics and more stable game-play to the title. Today LOMAC lives on in the sweeping Digital Combat Simulator platform, which features sub-releases like A-10C Warthog and Flaming Cliffs Three. You can check these and other titles out at http://www.digitalcombatsimulator.com/en/