• Santiago Cuberos

Review: DCS A-4E Skyhawk v2.0 by the Community A-4 Developer Team

When most people think of DCS World they usually have in mind aircraft like the mighty Hornet or the recently released Mi-24P Hind. But there is one aircraft out there that not only satisfies every single criteria to be considered an excellent module but also one that has been built over the years by a group of passionate developers whose sole purpose is giving the community a full-fidelity module for free! This is none other than the A-4E-C!


Community "Forever Free" livery by Plusnine.

Today, we will be taking a look at the "Scooter" to see if it is a fit for you as in the pre-release version of the upcoming v2.0 of this mod (Release Candidate 3 or RC3). As always, our review will be separated in several sections for ease of reading:

  • External and internal 3D models

  • Visual and sound effects

  • Flight modelling

  • Mission capability

  • Armament

  • Ease of use and learning curve

  • By and for the Community

  • Is this aircraft for you?

OF NOTE: This is a free community-made mod. Not an official product. Additionally, this review was made using the latest release candidate version of the mod (RC3), which has feature parity with the upcoming v2.0 stable version.

EXTERNAL AND INTERNAL 3D MODELS


The Skyhawk, despite having been made by a very small group of people, has nothing to envy from official modules as the external model has received quite the uplift from the previous version (v1.4.2). It now has normalmaps and improved roughmets. Both of these have made the model look as sharp as it has ever looked. Does this mean it is perfect? No, of course not. If one wants to be nitpicky you could point out at the unwrapping in the nose and on other surfaces, but this has not once detracted from how 99% of the model looks.


Here, have a look for yourself!


To me, the biggest difference between versions would be the look of the cockpit and the internal 3D model as a whole. Just like the external model, the cockpit has also received updated textures, normalmaps and roughmets. The changes might look subtle at first, but they start coming into their own when you spend time in the cockpit. From the wear on the throttle and stick to the stitches on the cockpit walls and the amazing-looking gunsight, Plusline's attention to detail has made the Scooter's office into a pleasant one!


Once again, have a look! I have included day and night pictures as well as some other examples:



VISUAL AND SOUND EFFECTS


One of the most noticeable changes that v2.0 brings to the mod is its audio in addition to some very welcome visual effects. There might be some slight changes here and there between now and the final release, but let's have a look at the almost finished product.


Under high and sustained G scenarios, visible vapor can be seen over the wings. This is an effect which is impressive, even on official modules. This, to me, is one of the best implementations of wing vapor on a community-made mod. It looks really good. Other noteworthy visual effects would be the cockpit shake when the aircraft is under stress and the navigation lights at night!



When it comes to sound, the mod has received a complete overhaul of both external and internal sounds. Which means that you will no longer hear the very noticeable Su-25T sounds (or at least you will not under most circumstances). Everything from start-up to the haunting noises of your old radar warning receiver, the noise of passing wind, airframe stress and even pneumatic actuator sounds. The best part, to me, is that now the aircraft has the most crucial part of a module: auditory feedback for engine and maneuvering.

When you start pulling Gs, you can hear the aircraft react to it. You hear your slats deploying with a very noticeable "THUMP" noise that helps in understanding in which part of the envelope you are. Saying that what the audio and 2D artist, plusline, has made is great would be an understatement. Here are some extracts from the mod so you can hear it and judge it for yourself:

EXAMPLES:


  • Full start-up sequence sounds. Notice the turbine spooling up, then the ignition sparks go and after that, the full spool-up to idle. Amazing detail.


  • Aborted take-off. Engine spools up to 100%, then the slats come up with their thump sound, after that the wind noise starts ramping up. Then, engine goes back to idle.


  • Fly-by at 360kts. Engine was at 100%. Notice how the engine changes from front to back. VOLUME WARNING.


FLIGHT MODELING


Just like with any of my reviews, I will disclaim here that I will not judge realism or accuracy as I have never piloted a real A-4, so my opinion does not hold any value in that regard. But with that being said, this has got to be one of the most realistic-feeling flight models on any mod I have ever tried. It is also one of the most accurate, if one guides itself with performance charts.


I have had the privilege of being one of the dedicated quality assurance (QA) testers for the EFM for almost a year now. While I will go over a bit more detail of my experience as a tester later, I will say that the EFM has come a long way ever since I first tested it. From being able to go over Mach 3 when I first flew it to it being recognized as an excellent recreation by an ex-Argentinian Air Force A-4M pilot who helped the project as a subject matter expert (SME).



This aircraft feels good and grounded, from the first moment you take it into the air to the heat of dogfighting. It is easy to fly but hard to master, as your AFCS (Automatic Flight Control System) is very rudimentary and basic. It still aids a lot in flight stability, primarily w