European Air War
We first saw European Air War, the much-hyped sequel to Pacific Air War, around two years ago on a trip to MicroProse's US headquarters in Baltimore. Even then the game looked impressive - and that was without hardware support. At the time, everybody was getting excited about 3D accelerator cards, and the team were desperately trying to incorporate 3Dfx and PowerVR support before the game shipped.
But that was then, and this is now. After what seems like years, a massive code overhaul and months of testing, European Air War is ajmost ready for release. And about bloody time, too. Aren't the programming team a bit miffed that, just when they're about to release their labour of love, almost every other publisher and his dog are putting out a World War II combat flight simulator?
We're confident that our product will stand up against the competition, maintains programmer Tom Whittaker. Our game has a number of unique features that set it apart from the sims from Electronic Arts, Microsoft and Activision.
Such as? Well, we've now got total 3D hardware support, including Voodoo2. You can fly more than 20 different aircraft, all with their own flight models, and you can actually take part in the Battle of Britain, flying for either the Germans or Allies.
And what else? Well, EAW is one of the first games to sport MicroProse's new dynamic game world. What this means is that you can actually choose one of two career paths, which has a direct bearing on what missions and aircraft you fly. The first runs from July 10 to September 15 1940 and encompasses the Battle of Britain; the second tour is based on US Army Air Corps activity between April I 1943 and April 25 1945. How you fare in the cockpit actually affects which missions you're given and how the campaign as a whole progresses. You can't actually change the course of history, but it means that, unlike other historically based sims that follow a potentially limited linear campaign structure, the unit you choose and the missions you fly determine how your career and the game progress. In real terms, this means that once you've played through one campaign, you can start a new career with a different unit, and the game will be different second time around.
The sheer number of planes you can fly, the dynamic game world, the varied mission types and the fact that EAW has been in production for so long indicate that it should stand up well against the wave of rival WWII flight sims that are about to be released. Fans of Pacific Air War at least should not be disappointed. Everything we've done is basically geared towards making EAW better and faster than ever, says Whittaker. Let's hope he's right.
Download European Air War
Comparatively speaking, it's going to be difficult to rate EAW considering the number of other WWII flight sims that are about to hit the shelves (see Everybody's Doin' It panel on opposite page), so we're going to score it on its own merits and leave all the comparable stuff to a future Supertest.
In terms of options and aircraft, EAW appears to be ahead of the chasing pack. You can fly up to 20 different, accurately rendered aircraft, each with its own authentic flight model and cockpit, including Britain's Supermarine Spitfire, the US Army Air Force's P-38 Lightning, and the Luftwaffe's Messerschmitt Bf.109. An unprecedented 256 aircraft can be in the air simultaneously, so you can expect some pretty massive dogfight scenarios. Unless you have top ninja kit, however, expect the frame rate to suffer when the screen begins to fill up with planes.
There's a nice variety of instant action and Quick Start missions, including Fighter Sweep, Bomb Target, Escort Flight, Intercept and Interdiction (which is like search and destroy - I looked it up). There's also a rather cool campaign mode that enables you to begin a career with one of the three air forces in Europe (US Army Air Force, Royal Air Force or the German Luftwaffe). Once you've selected your nationality, you're asked to select a specific campaign (the Battle of Britain or the mainland European conflict) and then a Fighter Group. Each group is historically accurate, as are the aircraft and types of missions that you fly.
In fact, the attention to detail is in many ways quite overwhelming. I have no unhealthy interest in the subject matter, but that's not to say it was lost on me. In fact, the way everything seemed to fit together went a long way towards developing the atmosphere of the game, and put the air forces' role into perspective with the rest of the war. For example, if your fighter group manages to destroy a key German facility that was working on the V-I rocket, the rocket appears later in time than it did in the actual war. What's more, the overall state of the war is updated after every mission so that your actions have an immediate impact, and you actually feel like you're making a difference. Unlike in 1942: Pacific Air War, the locations of your enemy are randomised so that every mission is less predictable. If you manage to stay alive and win promotion, you gain more control of your squadron, until eventually you decide who flies what and how.
In terms of visuals, it's pretty impressive - as long as you've got a 3D card tucked away inside your Pentium 200. The aircraft detail is good, and although the terrain starts to look a little sad at low level, the 3D objects certainly cut the mustard. In terms of its rivals, it's better than Combat Fight Simulator, but from what we've seen so far not quite as impressive as Jane's WWII Fighter. It's difficult to comment on the authenticity of the flight models and aircraft themselves, but notable differences in performance are quite apparent even to the novice.
There is a 257-page manual, but the interface is quite functional and it's not hard to get started, especially if you opt for the most forgiving flight model and unlimited ammo, and switch off 'realistic gunnery' and mid-air collisions, or go the whole hog and make yourself invulnerable. Essentially you can adjust just about everything to customise the game to your liking, so the learning curve is never too steep, and the game grows with you.
Overall, is a good, solid and thoroughly absorbing flight sim that will appeal as much to the novice as to the die-hard propeller head. It's not perfect, but the competition has got a lot to live up to.
Everybody's Doin' It!
There are approximately eight rival WWII flight sims all due for release in the next couple of months. EAW is one of the first to appear, along with Microsoft's Combat Flight Simulator. Here's how, on paper, EAW compares with the competition
Confirmed Kill (Eidos Interactive) has suffered from long delays. An online version Is believed to be near completion, followed by a standalone boxed version. It's based on the potentially smart Flying Nightmares 2 engine
Fighter Duel 2.0 (Ocean/lnfogrames) is the long-awaited sequel to the rather mediocre Fighter Duel. Reports indicate that you can fly more than 40 different aircraft over a "topographically perfect" 3D terrain, and the emphasis is now as much on mission-based play as It is on dogfighting.
Fighter Squadron: Screaming Demons Over Europe (Activision) looks likely to slip into 1999 and will feature ten flyable aircraft, three different campaigns and a mission editor.
WWII Fighters, aka Jane's Fighter Legends: Europe 1944 (Electronic Arts), is due any time now and sports the nicest visuals yet witnessed In a WWII flight sim. Developed by the same people who gave us MicroProse's Top Gun: Fire At Will, you can fly up to seven different aircraft And although there's no dynamic campaign, there are more than 70 missions to complete and you can fly for either side during 1944's Battle of the Bulge. The developers Intend It to be highly customisable to individual machine specs, and there's a Quick Mission Creator feature as well as 50 minutes of FMV.
Luftwaffe Commander (Mindscape/SSI) comes from the designers of Sabre Ace and features ten flyable aircraft (58 overall) over 50 missions, plus a 'custom combat' option. There are 20 scenarios for up to ten players, as well as co-operative missions and two (simple and complex) flight models. I looks pretty lush, and 3D support looks like being mandatory.
Warbirds 30 v.201/Dawn Of Aces (Interactive Magic) looks like being the best sim In the popular online series, with 30 hardware support and 1I planes to take control of.
Wings Of Destiny, aka Nations (Psygnosis), certainly looks the part. It's being developed by ex-DID personnel, so potentially It could be pretty smart, but only time will tell.