Settle down, recruits, settle down. Find your assigned seats and prepare yourself for todayís briefing. Now then, everyone knows that World War II has been a great breeding ground for video games. From the first person action of Medal of Honor and Castle Wolfenstein to the multiplayer battles of Battlefield 1942, the drama surrounding the struggle of freedom vs. megalomania has spawned countless titles. Usually, players are cast as American soldiers whose success at missions brings the war to its historical conclusion. But what if England was able to stem the tide of German aggression by themselves? Or, what if Germanyís blitzkrieg managed to destroy the remaining resistance, fully entrenching the Third Reich all over the world? Get ready to jump into your planes, pilot, itís time to perform a little revisionist history with Microsoftís Combat Flight Simulator 3.
Instead of placing you at the beginning or near the end of the war, CFS3 thrusts you into the middle of the conflict, where critical battles where fought. CFS3 starts in mid-1943, the period of time where air superiority was critical for the survival of both Axis and Allied forces. Hitlerís Luftwaffe and ground troops had practically annexed all of Europe for the Nazi cause, and had undertaken multiple bombing runs on England. The Allies, having not fully utilized their aircraft, were slowly performing counter strikes, dogfights, and bombing runs on supply ships. Considering that this was the very first time in which planes were a substantial facet of the war effort, tactics for both air and ground strikes were rough and unrefined. As a result, a substantial number of casualties to each side came from enemy as well as friendly fire. Not only would a pilot have to worry about anti-aircraft fire from below and fighters from the skies, but theyíd also have to worry about debris during low altitude bombing runs.
CFS3 gleefully thrusts you into the middle of this maelstrom as soon as you choose a side. Players choose between representing the Americans, the British or Germans in the greater conflict. Making this decision will determine the kinds of equipment and weapons that youíll have available throughout the entire game. While you start out as a rookie fighter pilot flying a standard issue plane, experience and mission success will grant you medals along with newer, more experimental aircraft. Single and double engine planes such as Mustangs, Tempests and Messerschmitts are joined by more WWII craft such as the Vampire and Gotha Go. In all, 34 aircraft are available over the course of the game. Each plane can be customized, with individual callsign letters, colors, and nose art, even including pinups.
Those wishing to turn the tide of the war in their countries favor will probably jump into Campaign mode, where they also setup a character persona and base them off a national fighter ace. As the player progresses through the war, the character will gain medals, prestige, and skill points that can be allocated to their personal stats to aid their shooting ability, health, or resistance to high G-Forces. Augmenting your characterís stats will ensure success in the various missions that youíll undertake, which will range from supply ship bombings to bomber intercepts to head on dogfights with enemy squadrons. Other times, youíll have to escort bombers or leap into ground assaults to help out troops on the ground. Succeeding or failing at these tasks will have a very obvious change on the territorial map, governing whether or not your country will survive to fight another day.
What youíll quickly discover by undertaking these missions is the inherent skill necessary to fly these classic planes, an obvious testament to the men that took to the skies sixty years ago. Starting and flying these planes arenít necessarily the smoothest or easiest machines youíve ever controlled, requiring a lot of skill and concentration to take to the skies. Similarly, taking out an enemy plane wonít be as easy as it seems. Landing a hit with a rocket requires exact targeting and precise angles, since heat-seeking missiles didnít exist. Instead, youíll find them to be more useful in bombing runs, relying solely on your guns for incoming fighters. Although you can fire a lot of rounds quickly, your guns arenít necessarily going to be accurate, requiring a lot of close range fighting to deal enough damage to the enemy to send them crashing to the ground.
Fortunately, CFS3 comes with three manuals filled with flight information, plane specs, and historical detail that can help you plan out your attacks before you go into the wild blue yonder. Microsoft went into extensive research for this project, and it truly stands out in the documentation. Additionally, if you need a little practice, you can jump into Quick Combat mode, which can allow you to practice your takeoffs and landings, as well as your attacks on enemies. Or if youíre looking for teammates, you can jump into Multiplayer mode, where three people can become the crew of one plane, assuming individual roles of pilot, gunner and bombardier.
There werenít many sounds included within the beta preview, but what was there was enough to make the most battle-hardened ace duck. Machine gun fire raking and ricocheting off plane fuselages quickly grab your attention, as they sound exactly like documentary or movie footage effects. Aside from that, starting up your planeís engine starts with a slow purr before roaring to life, and is so specific that you can detect the different tonal whine from specific engines as they start and move into higher speeds. This attention to detail has also been extended to the planes themselves, with each plane lovingly modeled in exact detail. Itís also easy to detect subtle differences, such as the variations in cockpit or model designs. Additionally, youíll detect finer details, such as individual turrets shifting to attack you and your squadmates or ripples from bullets ripping through the water.
While there were a few graphical glitches, similar to that of multiplayer not being fully stable, CFS3ís recent gold status of a week ago should have fully corrected this and other issues, ensuring a clear, realistic recreation of the hell in the skies over France, England and Germany. Prepare yourselves for a new war, fighter pilots, because CFS3 should hit shelves in a week, enabling you to rewrite history anyway you wish. Check back for a full review in the upcoming weeks. Dismissed!
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