Microsoft Combat Flight Simulator: WW2 Europe Series
Just when Microsoft finally get round to ' putting guns into their best-selling flight simulator, it seems as though the whole world and their grandmas are developing a similar game. Aren't they just a little bit anxious that their super-realistic World War II , flight sim may get lost in the crowd? Jose Pinero, product manager for Microsoft Combat Flight Simulator, is aware of it though: It's like the year of the World War II air combat game. We didn't plan for this. We knew about one or two of them, but not about the other seven or eight. MCFS is the answer to the question that everyone's been asking for 16 years: Where are the guns? No one can sit behind a civilian flight sim for the first time without instantly doing the Cguns'joke, and it seemed inevitable that Microsoft would eventually give in to the pressure. Most people are just surprised that it took them this long, and that they waited until the market was packed with like-minded titles.
I think there's a market for everything, says Pinero. Some people will just want to get the joystick and basically aim around and shoot at whatever. But there's also a strong market for people who want to have the closest experience of being a WWII combat pilot. I think that's where the experience of having built flight models for 16 years is going to be an incredible advantage.
Accuracy has always been the key to Microsoft's flight sims, and MCFS is no different. Listening to Pinero talk about the various damage models and flight dynamics contained in the game is enough to make a layman's head spin and a physics professor's skin-flute become sexually swollen. A typical sample: We're taking into account the way the Earth's atmosphere behaves and the number of air panicles per square inch at different altitudes. Air particles! They're simulating air particles, for God's sake!
And bullets. Each bullet has its own flight model, and damage is calculated by measuring the path a bullet takes into your plane and what systems it affects. Bullets are being modelled all the way up to a fraction of an ounce, and each different type of bullet has a physics model, laughs Pinero. Bullets from a P-51 travel in a different way to bullets from a Spitfire because of mass and weight and shape. This is just basic physics, it's not rocket science. We are doing other things that really are rocket science though.
Such as... rockets? We have the German V-l, and for that we created a brand new flight model that takes into account atmospheric pressure, wind, temperature - just like a plane. There's even a mission where somebody shoots up a V-l and you have to intercept it, which is pretty cool. The thrust of the game is that you can fly any of eight planes across two of the war's most important campaigns - the Battle of Britain and the Battle over Europe. Play on either side, flying Spitfires, P-51s, Thunderbolts, Messerschmitts and Focke-Wulfs,.all of which have hyper-accurate flight models.
Often in sims, the balance between the player's flight model and that of the computer's is somewhat disproportionate. In Red Baron II, for instance, it was almost impossible to keep up with your seemingly turbo-charged wingmen as you took off on a mission, rendering flight formations useless. Here, Microsoft have gone to pains to ensure fairness across the board. Says Pinero: We model the enemy planes by calculating their flight stick positions at all times, which means they can't pull any weird manoeuvre that you can't do.
Once again, the damage model plays a significant part here too. Enemy planes calculate damage in exactly the same way yours does -more so in certain cases. You may be lucky enough to shoot at somebody and hit the pilot directly, killing him, says Pinero. How the plane reacts is actually based on which way the pilot slumps in the cockpit and how he moves the stick.
While all this sounds great on paper, the real test is how this frankly astonishing level of detail transfers into the gameplay. One of the main criticisms levelled at previous Microsoft flight simulators has been that while no one can question the accuracy of the dynamics, the games themselves have had a cold, almost clinical feel about them. Flight Unlimited II appeals more to some than Flight Sim 98 simply because of its lighthearted approach.
Luckily, Pinero was here to do more than just talk about MCFS. With the current build installed on our office machine (and having glossed over the slight 3D accelerator compatibility problems - when are they going to let D3D go?), we asked him to ram the realism levels up to the max and put us on the runway in a Spitfire.
Engines on, throttles up to full, brakes off and away we went. Down the runway we rolled until... the nose dipped and the Spitfire somersaulted off the tarmac and split into a thousand pieces on the grass nearby. Hmm, harder than we thought.
Second attempt, and with a more gradual increase on the throttles we were airborne. Half an hour (as well as several rolls, loops, shots, crashes and explosions) later and the initial impression remains. No one can argue with the technical aspects of the game, both visually and dynamically. The flight models certainly feel very nice (albeit from a layman's point of view). The graphics are equally impressive as long as the hardware is up to it, the enemy behave just as you might expect them to and there's a nice selection of aircraft to fly, but will this be enough? By going down the ultra-realism route Microsoft have made their intentions pretty clear. Just like their megaselling Flight Simulators, MCFS is essentially a simulation, not a game, but that doesn't mean it can't be fun at the same time. It's a tall order trying to keep the prop-heads happy and at the same time offer something to the people who just want to fly around and shoot stuff. One thing's for sure, if you get a buzz out of flying then you'll be on cloud nine.
Download Microsoft Combat Flight Simulator: WW2 Europe Series
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP