Falcon BMS 4.35: The sim that just keeps on giving
Updated: 4 days ago
It was not so long ago where I did not have a powerful enough PC to run the newest titles that the flight simulation genre had to offer. I had a computer that, by modern standards, was surpassed by some smartphones and even some fridges. But that did not mean that I missed out on one of the greatest flight simulator experiences that is out there.
That old PC was able to run Falcon BMS, a free community-made overhaul for Microprose's 1998 title: Falcon 4. Despite its old age and the fate of the original company that made it back when they had not made their comeback, a group of dedicated individuals at Benchmark Simulations have spent the last 18 or so years polishing and improving this sim to the point where it is unrecognizable. And then released every update free for everyone to use! Disclaimer: This article will not go in-depth into every single aspect of Falcon BMS as that would require a full-on documentary. So if I miss something, please let me know and I'll try and add it in a timely manner if I consider it critical for the article.
FALCON 4 AND ITS LEGACY
Falcon 4 was one of the last titles that Microprose published prior to its demise and fall from grace back in the early 2000's. The game was, according to people who I have talked to which had it at release, a bit of a buggy mess. Some features were broken at launch, and some were absent. But despite all that it was, undeniably, the most ambitious flight simulator of its era.
From a large variety of scenarios to what at the time was the best simulation of the iconic F-16 Fighting Falcon. This simulation had a lot going for it including the legendary Dynamic Campaign Generator, a feature which I will touch upon later in this article. That sparkled interest and created a dedicated fanbase that can still be seen today. It is this fanbase that took it upon itself to fix and improve the title once its creators had moved on. And from those groups that tried and fix it, one stood the test of time: Benchmark Simulations. This group is the one responsible for Falcon BMS (BenchMark Simulations) and all its versions. It is hard to express how much these people have done to improve the game. From adding core functionality, 3D cockpits and fledging out the Viper to make one of the best if not the best representation of the F-16 to date, system-wise at least. It is genuinely impressive. Let's delve a bit into what makes BMS, BMS.
THE GOOD: THE VIPER, ITS SYSTEMS, THE DYNAMIC CAMPAIGN GENERATOR AND THE PRICE
The representation of the F-16 and all of its variants inside Falcon BMS has nothing to envy from Digital Combat Simulator (DCS) from Eagle Dynamics. It is genuinely an impressive recreation, one that is much deeper than what you would see in many simulators nowadays. To operate it you will have to get used to reading tons and tons of documents to figure out your systems and the way that they interact with each other. Thankfully, BMS comes with every document you will need.
It has some features which, when I see, wonder why they are not in other sims. One of these is the capability of customizing your Data Cartridge with personalized countermeasure programs, MFD pre-sets, radio frequencies per UHF and HVF radio and even IFF codes! Why isn't something like this in DCS? That's beyond me. I sincerely hope that it will be added later on to aircraft that have data cartridges.
Additionally, there is also the fact that the ATC and AWACS systems inside of Falcon BMS are excellent even by modern standards. The ATC will cue up incoming and outgoing flights into patterns to avoid collisions. You are also required to go through the different radio frequencies for ATC (ground, tower and departure) for each stage of your flight. That's just awesome in my eyes. AWACS will also require you to report-in and out of the AoA to get reports, which is awesome. All of these aspects, while great by themselves, would not be anything without the glue that holds them up together: the Dynamic Campaign generator.
This is the defining feature of Falcon BMS and Falcon 4.0 prior to it. This tool allows the simulator to feel like an actual battlefield. The entire area of operations is filled to the brim with enemy and allied aircraft doing their own missions, which makes the entire experience fill much more alive. It also means that each campaign run will be its own unique experience, unlike no other. On one run you could be assigned SEAD and DEAD missions while on others you could be assigned to do escort or fighter sweeps. All with variation depending on the values you set at the start of the campaign. This is what some modern sims are missing. A mode in which you feel like a part of the battlefield, not its hero.
When it comes to the F-16, this sim does it like no other. The 3D cockpit is mostly clickable and nice looking with each button doing what you expect it to do. You have the entirety of the Viper's deadly arsenal to your disposal as well, including some weapons which are unique to later variants of the F-16C, such as the Small Diameter Bombs (SDB) and even Harpoon support! All of these are fully implemented, nothing on beta.
Here is a video of me doing some basic air to air against North Korean fighters.
THE BAD: KIND-OF OUT DATED GRAPHICS AND UI DESIGN
One thing that sets a lot of people back on Falcon BMS are its graphics and kind-of outdated user interface (UI) design. Both of which are completely valid point, and both are a result of the age of this game. 1998 was a long time ago and the fact that the guys over at Benchmark have managed to have it look like it does is an achievement on its own.
If I were to compare it to some other modern sims, it would look much more like XPlane 11 or Prepar3D than Microsoft Flight Simulator (2020) or DCS. It lacks much of the polished look and tech that makes something like DCS look the way it does, which is more than understandable when you take context into consideration. I personally do not dislike the looks, it has this retro-esque aesthetic that makes me a bit nostalgic. Its UI is also clunky and unintuitive to the point that many players run an alternative launcher just so that they can set their controls outside of the game's horrendous set-up manager.
WHAT FALCON BMS MEANS TO ME
This is a sim out of its era, one that only been kept alive by its most dedicated fans. Some would even say that this game has no reason for existing seeing as there are titles such as DCS where realism exudes out of its pores. Then why do I keep coming back to this old yet strange flight simulator?
Simple. This is a flight simulator where the single player experience reigns supreme. There is no other flight simulator like this out there now. DCS is due to receive a dynamic campaign generator at some point, but all the signs point to that being in the not later rather than sooner. Also, the entirety of BMS cost me 5$ and that is because you have to have a legit copy of Falcon 4.0 to install it. This has got to be the best 5$ I have ever spent, seeing as this sim just keeps on giving with each update. And I have not even talked about the secondary aircraft that you can use, the multiplayer scene, the community-made maps, the tutorials, etc. I have much more to say about Falcon BMS and I can't wait to write about it again.
About the author: Santiago "Cubeboy" Cuberos
Longtime aviation fanatic with particular preference towards military aviation and its history. Said interests date back to the early 2000's leading into his livelong dive into civil and combat flight simulators. He has been involved in a few communities but only started being active around the mid 2010's. Joined as a Spanish to English translator in 2017, he has been active as a writer and the co-founder of Skyward ever since. Twitter | Discord: Cubeboy #9034