When it comes to flight sims you've got two main camps to contend with. The first are happy to sit in a cockpit on a scheduled flight from Manchester to London, dreaming of the days when they used to have a woman in every port. Yeah right. Then there are the ones who prefer their planes to spit out bullets; the ones who seek out sport by travelling back in time to the glory days of World War II. With Combat Flight Sim 2, Microsoft is determined to gain the number one spot back from Jane's. And after witnessing the first demonstration of the game at the recent Gamestock event in the US we don't envisage much opposition.
Realism is the key. For a start you've got the new enhanced Flight Sim 2000 engine, using digital elevation model (DEM) data from the US Geological Survey. There are also improved 3D objects and effects such as explosions and splashes, plus new weather effects, including cloud, haze and rain. Each plane (including the Corsair, Zero, Hell Cat and Wild Cat) is going to be four times more detailed than those in the previous version and there's also visual damage, so get close enough and you can see the pock marks left by your bullets and the broken wings on the craft you've just taken out. If you look at some of the screenshots closely you'll see that this claim about detail isn't an exaggerated one, and don't forget that we've seen the planes flying around in an early build, so we know that these aren't faked-up stills.
Having the aircraft and the level of graphical detail is one thing, but you can have the snazziest engine in the world and still feel like you're playing a simple computer game. Daryl Saunders, product manager for simulation titles, points out that the developer's investment in the game goes further than simple design. "Realism goes beyond the aircraft. What we want you to do is feel what it was like to be a combat pilot in the Pacific Theatre in World War II, and for the real pilot what it was all about was consequences."
So, in CF2, your wingmen have enhanced AI, which means that you can give and take orders from wingmen and get instant feedback on their status. Lose a good wingman and you might be faced with him being replaced by a rookie, which is going to seriously hamper your campaign.
The game itself is spread over 120 missions built in a flexible structure, including torpedo bombings, ground attacks and, best of all, carrier landings, all wrapped in a world that's four times larger than the previous game. The outcome of your game is dependant on the way you perform - campaign is determined by mission outcome. And, as well as focusing on gameplay issues, the developers have been attempting to inject a human side to the drama. The developers interviewed pilots and trawled through boxes and boxes of previously classified information, including real pilot reports on how the planes actually performed, as opposed to the manufacturer's specifications. If that doesn't sound enough to be going on with, try adding up to eight-player multiplayer missions across the Internet, LAN or modem-to-modem, and a fully-featured mission editor, which allows you create your own dynamic campaigns set in the South Pacific. We can hardly wait.