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Aces High. IL-2 Sturmovik. Flight Sim 2002. For a genre that was virtually dead in the water last year, 2001 has seen a virtual U-turn in its fortune. The flight sim is back, and it's back with a vengeance. So the latest sim to take to the sky is WarBirds III. And whereas WarBirds II was a seamless transition from original WarBirds, the third instalment has had not so much a facelift, as full-frontal plastic surgery. The first thing that really makes you sit up and beg are the graphics. While it's still not quite up to IL-2 Sturmovik standards yet, it's very close. Sturvomik is slated for release in November, but WBIH is in continual development, 40 which means continual improvements and downloads.
The upgrade from the 2.x incarnation ha6 been a bit of a double-edged sword. On the one hand the full 30 cockpits, tracer smoke and a host of other features are a huge step forward. However, while the old game had more than 50 different aircraft, WarBirds has less than half that number.
But the key word here 'for now'. The old version reached a glass ceiling. The game engine had a maximum number of aircraft that could be added. Want seme more? Tough luck. WarBirds III ha no such limitations. The only thing holding back the addition of new aircraft is design and development. Which sadly, does take a while.
The other facet of WarBirds that separates it from H2 is the style of gameplay. IL2 is first and foremost an offline single-player game. Sure, you can get up to 32 players on a LAN or small server, but that's your lot. WarBirds Ulthough, is an online thoroughbred. While it has some offline content, it's just a sandpit play area to learn the basics. If you want to play in the big leagues, you need to get yourself into the online arenas. While this can be quite daunting for new players, IVarBirds has a dedicated staff (trainers) who'll get you over the steep learning curve - a nice little feature.
But great graphics don't mean a great game. There are two types of play at present.
Missing In Action
While these are definitely one of the most fun aspects of the game, the lack of plane types does make for the occasional fudge or two. Cue the old gripe about lack of planes. The other complaint is the lack of strategy in the game. At present it's 'shoot down a plane, wash, repeat' until you're blue in the face. And even though there are land targets to take your B17 or B24 (notice the lack of British planes here), its still using the tired old formula from 2.x days. While the developers are promising great things in the future, they're playing their cards close to their chest. In the words of developer Dan Neault: "Give it a little more time - the systems should be public soon. Until we show the whole deal! cannot even begin to talk about how much that's going to affect WarBirds III, because people won't fully appreciate what it has to offer." Watch this space.
WarBirds HI has great potential and it's cheap to play and loads of fun. You can even get the software off last month's cover disc. What more do you want? Smart.