***Note: I feel I should let you all know that with the upcoming
flurry or WW2 Sims on the horizon, I have taken it upon myself
to review each one of them. This is so that you will get a
comparitive analysis of each game and what they have in
common/different. I hope this helps you, any comments are
welcomed of course!
The world of flight simulators is extremely diverse, and the
consumer / sim-buff has lots of choice. Or so one would think.
In reality, there has been not one single flight sim that focused
in on World War 2 aviation released in the last calendar year.
I have thought for the longest time that it is strange this area of
the combat flight simulator arena has been neglected for so
long. As I recall, the last great, eye catching, fun WW2 flight
sim released was the Aces series put out by Sierra. I guess,
however, many of the large gaming houses have been thinking
in the same manner I have been because we certainly have a
large amount of WWII sims heading our way courtesy of EA
(Janes'), Parsoft, Microsoft and others. Not too long ago I
previewed what appears to be the most promising of the
bunch, Janes WW2 Fighters. At that time, I had no idea of
Microsoft Combat Flight Simulator (MSCFS), and I never
considered Microsoft would add guns to thier venerable Flight
Simulator series. I was downright shocked when I first heard
of Microsoft Combat Flight Simulator in fact, and I had to goto
the webpage and see for myself. Well, that was then and this
is now, and now I have my hands on the title I can pick it to
pieces and decide what works.
First off, I should explain that MSCFS isn't a game all on its
own. It has a rich heritage, you guessed it, the Microsoft Flight
Simulator family of games is what it has drawn most of it's
inspiration from. The game is very ambitious in its intent; to
put forth an entertaining continuation of the MSFS series, but
at the same time add guns and damage along with a WW2
campaign. Previously, the MSFS games have had very little in
the way of structured gameplay. As a matter of fact, one would
not be completely incorrect in saying MSFS98 had no true 'plot'
or purpose, other then to joyride around the world. The game
was not really designed for people who wanted to go blazing
into the sunset, it was intended for those gamers who want to
feel like real pilots, and it accomplished this goal excellently.
MSCFS is trying to keep that brance of the family tree and add
a few of its own, and it does it very well!
Graphics in MSCFS have seen an update since their last
incantation in Flight Simulator 98.
Scenery: The scenery is excellent and the textures have been
enhanced 110% since FS98. They look excellent from 20,000ft
and excellent at 1000ft. There are numerous textures that
represent small towns, cities and farms/fields etc and they
never appear tiled, even at high altitude, which is excellent.
Only important or larger buildings are 3D, such as the ones at
your airfield or target buildings, or just the large buildings in
the area. As well as buildings, many famous monuments are
in 3D such as the Eiffel Tower, the Sacre Coeur and others
around Europe, which sticks true to the Flight Simulator roots.
Other land features such as waterways, roads, and mountains
are all accurately rendered, especially the roads in and around
major cities such as Paris. This all added up for a very
authentic feeling of really 'being there'.
Aircraft: The aircraft are done well, with all the camouflage
and details one would expect. American planes, such as the
North American P51-D Mustang had some very nice nose art,
which added a lot to the game. British, American and German
aircraft, are all very realistic looking. The Hawker Hurricane
and P51-D, Supermarine Spitfire were exceptional and camo
jobs on the german Messerschmitt BF-109G/F and Focke Wulf
FW190 were mind blowing, rendered just like the mottled
effect the Germans actually used. Special effects in the
game, however, aren't quite what they could be. The muzzle
flashes from the guns of the aircraft were relatively
unconvincing; they were really just animated sprites. Damage
and smoke effects were also not exceptional. When I shot
another aircraft there would be a mass of debris come flying
off, which is quite unlike what really happened. If you watch
any gun camera action you will see that aircraft absorbed most
of the hits and didn't send huge amounts of shrapnel flying off.
I must give credit though, because MSCFS has modeled things
like wings falling off and engines blowing up. I found myself
intentionally trying to nail the port or starbord wing only just to
see it fall off and the aircraft spiral violently to its fiery death.
Probably, however, the most disappointing part of special
effects in MSCFS are the explosions. They looked horrible
compared to many other games from the last 3 months, and the
appear to be just an animation played over where the
aircraft/target used to be! It was very iffy, and seemed that
they could have taken more time with this rather important
element of a combat sim. Overall, graphics in MSCFS were a
notch or two above Flight Sim 98, but this being the first of the
Flight Sims to use explosions / muzzle flash / damage in the
real world (ie, not space etc) from Microsoft, they need to work
a bit on their modelling before they get a perfect mark
Gameplay in MSCFS was something that needs to be broken
up to understand it and mark it. First, there are 4 modes of
play: Free Flight, Instant Combat, Single Mission, and
Free flight is just what it says. You take off from an airfield of
your choice, in any aircraft of your choice, and fly around to
get acquainted with MSCFS and its controls.
Instant Combat mode is similar to single mission mode. You
select who you want to fly for, what aircraft, where from,
against what aircraft, and take off and get shooting. The
aircraft come in waves, which makes the game much more
arcadish. I thought it was a bit odd though that as soon as you
destroy all 5 aircraft in a wave, there will be another 5 appear
above you are around you. This seemed rather odd, and made
the game instantly more of an arcade game, not a simulator.
Moving back into the simulator realm though, we have Single
Mission and Campaign mode. Single Mission mode is basically
where you can chose to fly ANY aircraft in ANY mission from
the campaigns. It is good for practicing those strafing and
dogfighting skills. Finally, there is Campaign mode, this is
where the game lost its most points, well, let me explain...
Anyone who has followed the MS Flight Simulator series from
its conception knows that it has never truly had a campaign or
structure to it. There have been virtual airlines set up on the
internet to give players more of a structured level of gameplay,
and the more recent versions of the game have had 'missions'
or objectives where you had to do something odd like land on
an aircraft carrier in a Cessna 172. However, the game never
had its own internal form of structured gameplay, and this is
what MSCFS struggles with. The campaigns have a sterile
feel, and the player doesn't feel really involved in the game.
When you start a campaign, you chose who to fly for, Luftwaffe
(Germany) USAF (USA, although this is inaccurate because the
USAF wasn't formed until 1947, 3 years after then end of World
War 2, and you are playing DURING World War 2. During
WW2, it was known as the USAAC (US Army Air Corps)) or the
RAF (Britain) After choosing the side to fight for, you are
'treated' to a short introductory animation. This animation was
of images of the period and tried to give some background, but
they were in no way vital to the game. This is the only true
instance of speech that tells you what you are doing. Speech
in a game helps alot towards advancing the plot, and MSCFS
has neglected that. It also adds character to the game, and
gets the player involved. The mission briefings are all in text,
and offer little background information on the significance of
the mission. Also, you have little opportunity to customize the
mission beyond weapon payloads. (ie. formations flying, etc.)
As you move through the campaign, you get new, better
aircraft to fly. This was also pretty unrealistic because pilots in
World War 2 weren't 'rewarded' for a successful mission by a
move up to the Spitfire. They trained for it, and had to WANT
to move up. How do the aircraft fly though? Well they all fly
relatively the same. Of course, each has its own cockpit, its
own unique shape and weapons and even unique airspeeds,
but they haven't really modeled things like roll rate and pitch
rate as accurately as they did the aircraft in FS6/98. The
aircraft all fly easily enough, and landing and taking off is a
very controlled affair. I am still waiting for someone to model
things like wind gradients into landings, something I expected
Microsoft not to leave out this time, but they did! The controls
are all laid out exactly where you would want them and
facilitate easy combat. The enemy isn't exactly up to the
challenge though. Even on the difficult setting I had little
trouble dispatching a wing of BF109's in my smaller,
supposedly less maneuverable Hawker Hurricane. This should
simply not be! The lack off assistance from your wingmen is of
no concern because whenever I managed to get in behind an
enemy fighter he would just level out and fly straight, waiting
for me to unload into him. It was rather strange. Gameplay in
MSCFS leaves something to be desired with its sterile feel and
lack of emotion.
Sound was the usual fare in MSCFS with nothing astounding to
report. There was one thing that annoyed me though; there
was no change in pitch when I throttled the engine up! Why is
this, Microsoft!? Gun sounds, enemy aircraft and the like were
all done well, and when I cranked the bass up on my speakers
it did really immerse me in the game. The sounds while in the
cockpit, too, are very well done.
Multiplayer has been included in the form of serial cable
connection, modem to modem connection, IPX connection,
and TCP/IP connection. The game will also be supported over
the Zone so you can play your friends! :)
MSCFS holds its chin up high, as it should. It succeeds in many
of the things it set out to do. It has the backing of a strong
family name, it has pretty graphics, and it offers something no
other flight sim at the moment does, WW2 dogfighting action.
What will happen when Janes' releases their bombshell? That
remains to be scene. One must not forget that MSCFS does
require about half the hardware that Janes' WW2 will require.
Voodoo2 and TNT will not help you any more then a nice
Riva128 card will, and AGP is not needed in MSCFS, so this
game will have much appeal to those gamers with a computer
that would garner less then respect at Comdex.
Highs: Good overall graphics, good strong engine, keeps
inline with the other Flight Sim products, relatively low system
Lows: A few graphics snags, no support for high resolutions,
not very challenging enemy AI, 'sterile' feel in campaign mode.
Pentium(c) 133MHz or above
Microsoft Windows 95/98/NT4.0
16mb RAM, 200mb free HD Space
Mouse, Windows 95-compatible sound board
Pentium(c) 200MHz or above
Direct3D compliant graphics accelerator (Voodoo, Voodoo2,
TNT, Riva128, G200 etc.)
Supports DirectINPUT API compliant Force Feedback
Overall Impressions: 8/10