Jane's Combat Simulations: WWII Fighters
It's somewhat odd that after going so long without any commendable World War II combat flight simulators there's now a deluge of decent contenders available - or soon to be available - for the PC. Maybe it's got something to do with the introduction of 3D accelerator card technology - suddenly you don't have to be flying at 30,000 feet at 500mph for the terrain to look acceptable. Dedicated 30 hardware enables you to fly much lower and slower without the terrain breaking up. Presumably, as we see the hardware get even faster and cheaper, you won't be able to move for World War I flight sims. Guess we'll have to wait and see.
We've already had Microsoft's and MicroProse's entrants into the World War II combat flight sim arena (see Also Consider panel left), and it's fair to say that both games are aimed squarely at the serious sim market. Both have a lot to recommend them in their own right, though to be fair the campaign mode in European Air War, along with tidier graphics, gives it the edge over Combat Flight Simulator.
Allies Or Nazis
So where does Jane's WWII Fighters fit in? Formerly known as Jane's Fighter Legends, it's been developed by the same people who gave us Top Gun: Fire At Will, a modern-day combat jet sim which successfully blended gameplay that cocked it's hat to the less serious flight sim fan, with lush graphics and attention to detail.
In many ways, WWII Fighters follows the same premise, though this time around you get to fly seven different accurately modelled aircraft and take part in a branching campaign flying for either the Allies or Nazis. The emphasis, however, is firmly on dogfighting, and your skill in the cockpit - as opposed to developing a linear plot line and everything - is geared towards making this as realistic and enjoyable an experience as possible.
Sound And Vision
The graphics are quite simply state-of-the-art, and take full advantage of the latest 3D Glide technology. As you'd expect, the aircraft are modelled in exact detail, as are the 3D cockpits of the seven aircraft that you can fly. All the usual camera modes are available, and although it's not recommended that you select an external camera in the heat of battle, it's worth checking it out during quieter moments to marvel at the level of detail: when a plane is hit you can actually see bits break and fly off, followed by debris and plumes of smoke; spent cartridges drop back to earth as the aircraft swoop and dive in flight; transparent clouds and cool lighting effects really help create an atmosphere - something that's so clearly lacking in Microsoft's Combat Flight Sim. The radio chatter, sound effects and music also go a long way to heightening the overall atmosphere.
On the down side, at low level the terrain does start to get a little sad, and because of the way it's drawn it sometimes looks a little at odds with the objects and buildings that are set within it, but this has more to do with the way 3D cards work than with poor programming. There's also a tendency for the frame rate to plummet when there are a lot of aircraft in the sky. But overall it's got to be one of the best-looking flight sims we've ever seen. And because it's scaleable, it is possible to get an acceptable frame rate on an entry-level P166, although you're not really doing the game justice if you haven't got a 3D card.
As well as the branching Battle of the Bulge campaign mode, there's a training mode that takes you through the basics such as taking off and landing, through to more complicated manoeuvres and dogfight techniques. As well as an instant action Fly Now option and the opportunity to fly single missions, there's also the facility to customise existing missions and construct your own. In addition to deciding what you fly, you get to decide how many aircraft are involved, where the mission takes place and what the overall objectives are etc, and this gives the game a high replay value.
If you've got access to a network or the Internet, you can test your mettle against 'real' opponents or see how you perform when flying alongside human wingmen. However, the fact that the Janescombat.net server is US-based means you can expect to compete with some pretty serious lag as well as some shit-hot Yanks, depending on the speed of your connection. It's worth checking out nevertheless.
It may be up against some stiff competition, but Jane's World War II Fighters is undoubtedly a very playable and enjoyable flight sim. Scaleable flight models and detail levels make it accessible to both the novice pilot and the propeller head who isn't fortunate enough to own the latest ninja kit, and there's certainly enough in there to keep the serious flight sim buff happy. The virtual museum-style presentation makes for an attractive way to get information across and set the scene.
The lack of a true dynamic campaign plus the cosy recollections of World War II fighter pilots may not appeal to everyone, but Jane's World War II Fighters is undoubtedly one of the best-looking flight sims available for the PC and certainly one of the most accessible, and therefore comes highly recommended.