Microsoft Combat Flight Simulator
This is a cold, cold game. Unlike this month's other WWII flight sim, which tries to create a real sense of being there, and practically invites you into the game with a friendly handshake and offers of casual sex, Microsoft's effort seems content to revel in the mistakes of its civil-based sibling by going all-out on the engine dynamics and then forgetting that people without a C++ Honours degree are going to have to use it. Okay, that's a slight exaggeration. But to say MCFSis user-friendly would be like saying Jim Davidson is funny. Let's pluck an example at random from the key commands: radio communication. Which key do you suppose you have to press to activate radio communication? 'R' perhaps? Nope. 'C' maybe - for Communication? No.. Er, T for Talk? No. It's 'B' - for Bloody stupid key assignments, perhaps. And why not 'R'? Because 'R', ladies and gentlemen of the jury, is used for setting time compression. Of course!
First Links, Now Flight Sim
MCFS also suffers in that it's not very engaging in its efforts to lure you in and keep you there. The training modes are pretty good, with a typically angry American officer shouting commands at you as though you're an imbecile.
The single-player missions are also quite interesting, with some nice quirks to them: shoot a German officer's staff car from under the Eiffel Tower, or rescue a downed pilot from a German airbase, for example.
But MCFS falls over in the campaigns. There's no sense of realism on offer here. The best way to describe this is to outline a sample career of my own. I created a character and started with the USAF in the Battle over Europe (you can also play through the Battle of Britain for either team, incidentally). My first mission was a simple patrol - easy enough, fairly quiet, no kills. My second mission, however, didn't occur until almost two weeks later. Suddenly I was taking off from a different airfield with a whole new bunch of wingmen. No attempt at forging a realistic career was being made (unlike European Air War - reviewed on which does this very well). Worse still, I got shot down, killed in my prime. However, it didn't seem to do my career any harm, as I was still able to move on to the next mission as though nothing had happened.
In total, my career (spanning two years) took place in just a dozen or so missions, and I died in at least half of them. Out of curiosity I restarted a new career in the same service and discovered that I was replaying exactly the same missions all over again. No attempt at dynamic campaigning, not even a hint of slight randomisation. All very poor, frankly.
You're Being Picky, Surely?
Certainly the engine is very nice - one of the best I've experienced to date. But then you'd expect no less from the Flight Sim 98 people. The eight aircraft on offer all behave with subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) differences. The sound is first-rate too - really thumping cannon noises and engine sounds that appear to be spot on. Also, and much more importantly, the dogfights are particularly good. The enemy planes behave with impressively varying levels of intelligence, and you never once feel as though you're up against mindless computer drones.
The much-heralded damage models are a touch confusing to evaluate, in that there's usually very little evidence of their existence. I'm sure that under the bonnet, so to speak, every bullet is calculated, categorised and assessed, but on the surface it always seems as though the plane you're shooting at is firing a mass of confetti at you. Occasionally a wing falls off or a plume of smoke erupts, but it just doesn't 'feel' any more or less realistic than any other game. Graphically it varies. The planes themselves are very nice, and the mountains, valleys and other 'countryside' areas look superb. However, the urban landscapes don't fare quite so well - Microsoft have never
managed to get this right. Fly over London, for example, and you get a large flat 'city' texture-map with several famous landmarks dropped on top. There's quite a lot of them, agreed, but only in the Central London area. And besides, it has an eerie 'ghost-like' air to it It just doesn't feel like a real city; instead it's more like one of those architect's models you see in town halls.
What Microsoft have got is a very good flight engine, and for some people that's more than enough. I'm sure that Microsoft Flight Sim fans will lap up its realism, its modelling and the options to update the game manually with customised scenery disks and the like. But for the rest of us, it's just one of the first games in what's soon to be a crowded WWII flight sim market. One of the first, but certainly not one of the best.