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  • Writer's pictureAaron "Ribbon-Blue" Mendoza

Nuclear Option: SFB-81 Darkreach Strike Bomber

Updated: Dec 11, 2023

Think B-1, Not B-2


After multiple failed sorties and head scratching frustration, I asked myself aloud, "how am I messing this up?" If there is one thing I have heard about Nuclear Option from Shockfront Studios, it is how easy it is to pick up and play. The gameplay loop, flight sim lite features and easy to learn combat aircraft have made this title a bit of a must-have in the past few weeks. As a part of its play testing player base, I only recently had time to start some multi-hour play sessions with this title. Though there are many parts that intrigue me, there is a specific aircraft I am after.


Official preview art (Shockfront Studios)
Official preview art (Shockfront Studios)

Strike Bomber Interest

Looking at the limited, but capable aircraft roster, the SFB-81 "Darkreach" strike bomber grabbed my initial interest. You may be wondering why the slowest, lumbering aircraft available would be more attention grabbing for me compared to the other aircraft. In both action focused flight arcade games and realism focused combat flight simulators, the ability to fly strategic bombers is rather uncommon. With Nuclear Option being a flight sim lite, I wanted to know how they would approach incorporating a potentially vulnerable, slower platform into the high speed combat environment of fixed wing fighters. And, yes, for those wondering, the Darkreach does come with an ample supply of tactical nuclear weapons.



At a glance, the SFB-81 looks like the type of current generation stealth bomber you would see performing an elephant walk down a United States Air Force runway. It has an obvious low observable design with interesting inward canted vertical stabilizers attached to the fuselage near the engine exhaust nozzles. In this configuration, they remind me of thrust vectoring paddles.


Change in Mindset

In retrospect, the problems I was having with the Darkreach were completely of my own fault. After flying other combat aircraft and reevaluating how I was approaching things, the problem was with my mindset and an assumption related to the strike bomber.


After a dozen failed attempts during a highly contested airstrike against a vehicle depot, it dawned on me that the SFB-81, despite its design, is not a stealth aircraft in the slightest. There are currently not any stealth aircraft in Nuclear Option and may not ever be, for all we know. This is not a fault of the game, but it was a problem for the way I was approaching my sorties with this aircraft. I summarized my realization by changing my flying style from slow and stealth B-2 tactics, to low and fast B-1 tactics. Suddenly, success was more obtainable. Everything fell into place.


An SFB-81 Darkreach dropping freefall bombs in Nuclear Option.
A string of dumb bombs always gets the job done.
A Calculated Hammer

The Darkreach can achieve pretty impressive airspeeds for its size. Enough speed to even damaged itself if a high G maneuver is attempted while near its top speed. More than once have I been greeted with rather loud popping of metal and structural damage during a panicked high speed dive.


Structural damage on the SFB-81 Darkreach in Nuclear Option.
Structural damage caused by aggressive maneuvers at maximum speed.

Rather than being forced to remain a freefall bomb dedicated platform, the SFB-81 can deploy long-range and short-range air-to-ground missiles. The short range AGMs combined with the radar jammer provide a limited ability to suppress enemy air defenses on its own. A single strike bomber will not be destroying an entire integrated air defense system on its own, but it is able to knock out one or two pesky SAM sites during its sortie. The short-range missiles are also great for interdicting convoys of enemy vehicles before they reach the frontline.


Example of low altitude, high speed attack with the Nuclear Option SFB-81 Darkreach.
Example of low altitude, high speed attack.

At more reasonable speeds, it can provide enough maneuverability to allow for low altitude ingress through rough terrain, pop up attacks and brief periods of dipping into enemy air defenses. In lieu of stealth, its onboard radar jammer is best for reducing the effectiveness of surface-to-air missile threats and radars that monitor the movement of aircraft. Combined with terrain masking and flares for close range threats, it can genuinely be hard to the Darkreach in its low altitude regime.


Long-range cruise missiles are great for saturating target rich, high value areas like air bases, highway bases, mountain top radar complexes and similar facilities. Even when they are far out of reach of a majority of allied forces, the Darkreach can threaten them.


This aircraft is the primary nuclear weapon delivery platform of the game, but, well... there is not much to say beyond its ability to completely wipe out massive swathes of land. It is very straightforward.


The SFB-81 Darkreach from Nuclear Option deploying cruise missiles.
Cruise missile deployment.

The SFB-81 Darkreach cannot defend itself against air threats beyond flying fast and using its radar jammer and flares to buy enough time for allies to appear or dash back to the nearest friendly airfield. But this is where mission planning and good decision-making comes in. If there are multiple bandits in the air with little fighter escort available, utilizing cruise missiles while remaining within friendly air defenses is recommended. Furthermore, patiently monitoring the actions of allies from a standoff distance then dashing in when an opportunity arises is easy to do for this strike bomber thanks to its massive fuel capacity.


The SFB-81 Darkreach from Nuclear Option Using its onboard cameras to watch targets.
Being able to monitor what other aircraft are doing is good for remaining on the defensive.

After wrapping my head around this strike bomber, I can say that the Darkreach will most likely be my go-to aircraft in Nuclear Option thanks to its approachable and reward implementation of such a large aircraft while not relegating it to being combat ineffective 90% of the time because of the assumed low performance specifications and lack of self-defense options that often come with this class of aircraft.


Bases beware!


The SFB-81 Darkreach from Nuclear Option deploying a nuclear weapon.
In the end, there is always the "nuclear option".
 
About the Writer

Co-founder of Skyward Flight Media. After founding Electrosphere.info, the first English Ace Combat database, he has been involved in creating flight game-related websites, communities, and events since 2005. He explores past and present flight games and simulators with his extensive collection of game consoles and computers.

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