Early Review: DCS F-15E Strike Eagle by RAZBAM Simulations
To say that this module has the biggest and longest running hype train of any other DCS module would be an understatement. Everyone wanted to get their hands on this module for years, and now it's the time; we finally got our hands on the F-15E Strike Eagle module.
Released yesterday (06/22/2023) in an extremely unexpected manner, this module rapidly climbed in popularity as thousands of DCS players rushed to buy it and download it. We did not get media access to this module, therefore our review will consist of a first impressions approach to all the aspects of this module from a pilot-oriented perspective.
This review will be updated with every content addition that RAZBAM releases for the Mudhen, which means that some of our opinions might change in the future as the module evolves, but with that out of the way; let's get started!
EXTERNAL AND INTERNAL 3D MODELS
I was kind of speechless when I first saw the modeling work that was put into making these models. The attention to detail put by its creator, Metal2Mesh, is absolutely amazing. Everything from the rivets, the small dents in the panels, the grime and oil in the seams between panel lines and the excellent use of weathering is absolutely mind-boggling.
I have not been able to find any faults in the model like I did with Aerges' Mirage F1 module. In fact, in my search for any glaring mistakes, I managed to find some hidden details that made me appreciate this models even more. Small details such as the cable connector inside the Sidewinder rails (above gallery, 5th image) or the signature from the paint shop where some of the liveries got painted, all livery and airframe dependent. This attention to detail is not limited to the textures themselves, but also bleeds into the unwrapping. This model is +90% compatible with the old AI-only F-15E, which means that liveries that were made for that model will be easy to port to this module; which is something that I appreciate as a livery creator.
The same level of quality as the external model can also be appreciated in the cockpit model. It feels like a weathered bird that has seen some action. It does not look as weathered as the F-14A/B cockpit from Heatblur, but it still has some personality. Some of the panels are more weathered and even slightly polished from the friction of being constantly used, there are scratches and imperfections in areas where you would expect them.
Both the pilot and weapon system officer (WSO) are amazingly detailed and textured, which to me, somehow explains at least one of the reasons behind the delays. These models are excellent and make me regain some trust in RAZBAM's products.
VISUAL AND SOUND EFFECTS
In terms of visual effects, the Mudhen is on-par with some of the best in the simulator. It utilizes a range of audio sources to immerse the player in the experience, which is quite challenging since it is extremely easy to over do it in this regard. Thankfully, some of the best elements utilized here have been used by RAZBAM before in previous releases; which usually means that they have somewhat mastered their implementation.
This involves effects such as over wing vapor, which to me really makes the model shine even more and sells the movement of the aircraft through the air. G and AoA dependent vapor effects are always great, as you can see in the image above. Aside from the main wing vapor, there are smaller vortexes that are created along the intake ramps and even the elevator tips.
As for audio design, this aspect of the module has been extremely well done. Everything from buffeting, engine feedback, and even the cockpit switches and alerts are implemented well. One effect that I liked quite a bit was the famous pneumatic activator sound that the nozzles make when pushing from idle power. I captured this sound here along with the amazing engine nozzle animations, so let's hear it:
DISCLAIMER: This is always a tough category, as like with any other aircraft, there is a lot to take into consideration other than just the feel of the flight model. This category is the most subjective one in this article, as I do not have any real world experience with this craft. I will only base my opinion on practical experience and knowledge of practical aerodynamics and the theoretical behavior that an F-15E should have under certain scenarios.
With the disclaimer out of the way, I think that RAZBAM outdid themselves with the flight model. The aircraft feels heavy yet powerful and carries some very palpable inertia with it when you maneuver. It is a feeling that I had sorely missed from other flight models that have come out recently, and one that I can not help but to appreciate.
You can feel the thrust coming out of those engines and, believe it or not, it is that feeling that has made my experience with this aircraft such a delightful one. I can load this aircraft up with a full combat load, full fuel and I can barely feel it! Coming from a Hornet or even the Viper, this aircraft feels like it is in a league of its own, at least in terms of thrust. Something that impressed me is that the wings have plastic deformation if brought to its structural limits, which means that if you pull too hard and at high speeds, you will permanently deform the wings which will affect the way your aircraft performs in a very negative way. It is also possible to completely rip your wings off if you fly it like you stole it, which is a very nice touch. This will make players more conscious of their maneuvers and the limits of the aircraft itself. Here's a picture of the deformation, look at the wingtips and how they are bent upwards.
As of release, the mission capabilities of the Mudhen are limited to the weapons and systems that were implemented into the initial build. With the current weapons and systems, the F-15E is capable of performing all weather, day and night missions in both air-to-air and air to ground role, which would put it at the same capability level as the Hornet or Viper at release.
Night operations are made easy by the implementation of the LANTIRN TGP and NVP systems, both of which allow for all weather and night operations by using FLIR imagery. Additionally, both the Air-to-Air and Air-to-Ground radars are implemented to a high level of accuracy, which means that you will be able to use them to target and map targets at incredible distances.
We are still missing many of the sensors, modes and weapons that are needed to put the aircraft at the same level as the current versions of the Hornet and Viper that we have in game. Specially, as of the writing of this article, there are no true smart weapons implemented in the game; which is a bit of a let-down, but it is something that the developers had made clear since they announced which features would be available with it at launch. With the addition of smart weapons and improved sensors such as the Sniper XR pod, this aircraft will be a mainstay of DCS multiplayer missions, with thousands of players that will specialize in mastering its numerous quirks and features.
M61 VULCAN 20MM CANNON
510 round of reliable 20 mm destruction at a variable refresh rate of 4000 or 6000RPM.
AIR TO AIR MISSILES
Since it is based on the original Eagle, the Mudhen is still an extremely formidable air-to-air platform. To do this job properly, it has access to a pretty decent arsenal:
The AIM-9 family of missiles with many variants: L/M/P/P5
The AIM-7 family of missiles: M/MH
The AIM-120 family of missiles: B/C
UNGUIDED BOMBS, CLUSTER MUNITIONS AND RUNWAY PENETRATORS
You can carry an unbelievable amount of unguided bombs that would any WW2 aircraft blush:
Mk.82 500lb bombs in both low and high drag x 14.
Mk.84 2000lb bombs in both low and high drag x 6
CBU-87/97 Cluster munitions x 14
Mk.20 Rockeye Cluster munitions x 14
BLU-107 Durandal Runway penetrators x 12
LASER GUIDED MUNITIONS
The most advanced bombs currently available, they come in several flavors:
GBU-12 500lbs x 10
GBU-10 2000lbs x 7
GBU-24 2000lb "Bunker Buster" x 5
EASE OF USE AND LEARNING CURVE
There is no way to sugarcoat this, but this is a complex module that will require some time and dedication to properly learn how to use its systems. This is in-line with any other 4th generation fighter, regardless of which country it comes from. Its complexity lies, mainly, in the unintuitive controls and the insane amount of buttons that need mapping in order to operate it at the same level as other American 4th gens.
To explain how complex it can be: I ran out of buttons while trying to map all the essential controls that are required to use the plane's systems. I was surprised since I do have 4 different hat-switches and plenty of buttons. Yet, despite that, I had to create two levels of modifiers for my throttle to have all the functions I needed handy.
You will need to be clever in order to map all these buttons to a simpler controller, something akin to an Xbox controller or, alternatively, you will need to have a beefy set-up to map everything you will need to operate this jet as a solo pilot.
IS THIS AIRCRAFT FOR YOU?
If what you want in a module is:
An incredible flying experience.
An air-to-air beast with a powerful radar that can also map the ground.
A platform that will continue to grow with time, just like the Hornet and Viper did.
An all weather platform that conquers the day and rules the night.
If you don't mind:
That it is an Early Access (EA) product.
The lack of smart weaponry at launch.
Dealing with all the control bindings.
Not having more advanced sensor suites at launch.
If all or some of the above is what you want, then the F-15E Strike Eagle by Razbam Simulations is for you!
About the writer:
Santiago "Cubeboy" Cuberos
Longtime aviation fanatic with particular preference towards military aviation and its history. Said interests date back to the early 2000s, 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 2010s. Joined as a Spanish to English translator in 2017, he has been active as the co-founder and writer ever since. Twitter | Discord: Cubeboy