Wings of Glory
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So what does this have to do with anything?
For some reason, this dark period in our history holds a strange fascination both for propeller heads and flight sim writers. So I guess that it was inevitable really that Chris Roberts, the man responsible for the Wing Commander and Strike Commander series, would eventually turn his attention to the war to end all wars.
As a result we have a new cd-rom outing. Wings Of Glory. Symmetrical faces and out of synch lips are allied to a storybook which guides the player through the career path of his character. Naturally, being a flight sim from the Origin stable, the graphics are pretty good and all the links have been done neatly. The selection of aeroplanes is perhaps a little small, and progress seems rather linear, but generally first impressions are favourable.
You mean you've decided?
Only on first impressions. Don't get all judgmental on me. I suppose I should make a confession now. I like Origin games. I also like flight sims. And I particularly like First World War flight sims. In fact. I bought Red Baron (remember that?) when it came out, all those years ago. and still have it on my hard drive. The way that the plot and characters are developed is still a pleasant change from the normal sterile intelligence reports. There is even a degree of humour incorporated, but more on that later.
Flesh it out a bit, then
Well, the game places you at the beginning of January, 1917, at St Marie Capel. a Royal Flying Corps base on the Franco Belgian border. In case you aren't aware of the background, a full motion video introduction shows you that this is indeed a multimedia game, and explains that you are at war with the Germans (gosh - is that what was going on?). You are a Lieutenant, and you are currently nursing a hangover. Your CO is furious with you and your best mate is both a dipsomaniac and as camp as a row of tents. But worse than all this, you are American. Very American. And your lips don't move in time with your speech. Despite your lowly rank and disgraceful conduct, you still command a flight and appear to have some worth within the squadron. As you succeed in your missions, your CO warms to you and actually says nice things sometimes.
What are the characters like?
Two dimensional in every sense. Ignoring the rather overstated facial peculiarities of the people involved, they don't gel as well as those in earlier Chris Roberts offerings. Some of them look a little too odd but the most damning thing about them is their accents. There are a lot of Brits living in the States, so why the hell didn't Origin use them for the voices? Instead we have "actors" (sorry to all you real actors out there - these guys skills are actually rather an insult to the profession) whose accents are worse than Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins. I mean, nobody speaks like these characters. Not even in EastFnders. This is a really serious screw up. and I refuse to forgive it.
Forget the characters, what about the game?
Well, like a number of recent offerings, this looks damn good. Origin set the trend really with Strike Commander. You know, shit hot graphics, superb detail, beautiful landscapes and a frame rate so slow you could measure it with an eggtimer. So you bought that dx/2 you'd had your eye on and everything was okay. For a while, anyway. The bad news, folks, is that you need a serious piece of kit to run this at anywhere near a decent rate if you want it to look good. It will run on an a DX33. but it is s-l-o-w. Having said that, it doesn't jerk around like earlier things did. Well, not as much anyway. It just takes an eternity for anything to happen when you move the stick. As for the sound, it's brilliant and the music is just right. Maybe I'm just tired, but I could have sworn that the effects were in stereo They certainly do a lot to add to the atmosphere, which at times needs all the help it can get.
Yeah well, it would be apart from one small thing. The flight model. Okay. I admit that I have never flown a Sopwith Pup. But having spoken to a number of people who have, and looked it up in all my reference books, the general consensus is that it would turn on a sixpence, and would out-manoeuvre pretty well anything else in the sky.
But how about shooting at things?
Combat is as good as the compromised flight model will allow it to be. The sound effects are especially pleasing, with the other engines all changing pitch as appropriate, as well as your own. The excellent graphics make it easy to see what is going on as well as adding a great dollop of atmosphere. Tracer bullets are well done and the sight of bits flying off the target as you pepper it is really satisfying. To add a little variety to the proceedings, there are also strike missions involved, some of which offer poetic licence in the form of rockets! Now again, I am happy to admit that I am not the world's number one history of close air support boffin, but I am seriously unconvinced that we had rockets in 1917. Apart from anything else, rockets and doped canvas are not a good combination. Still, rockets you have, and they are quite good tor redesigning small buildings, trains etc. Ground attack is actually easier on a slower machine as you then have time to line up and fire before things get too threatening. But there, as they say is the rub.
So go on, what's the catch?
Ah yes. The catch. Of course, there has to be one. doesn't there? And. of course, it's a beaut. You see. this game really does look bloody good. Detail is there in abundance. The aeroplanes look right. The ground looks good. Your cockpit is wonderfully detailed. The sky is lovely. Even the sodding trees look good. But that means an awful lot of little textured polygons racing around your screen. And that in turn means an awful lot of little textured electrons racing around your processor. So many, in fact, that unless it is a truly Ninja-esque chip, like a p-90, perhaps, a lot of these electrons will trip over each other in the rush to squeeze down the narrow corridors inside and get kind of held up. And that means, of course, that our old friend Jerkovision will come and visit. Now I know I said that and visit. Now I know I said that I it isn't too jerky. Well. I guess that is true until you really come to the crunch, liven then, jerk probably is the wrong word to use. Lurch would be more appropriate. Okay. Lurchovision it is. Anyway, the result is that the gap between frame updates becomes so great that your control inputs are vastly magnified as nothing happens quickly, and you suddenly lurch into a new position and attitude. Normally, this is not where you want to so you initiate another lurch in the opposite direction. In this way. you gradually overcontrol your way into the group or manoeuvre yourself to exactly where your opponent wants you. But, and this may seem a paradox, the whole process remains strangely smooth and fluid. The odd thing about it is the it is actually far more frustrating to have a smooth slow game than a jerky one. It just set that you can compensate better if you can actually see the problems.
Alright then, what's the verdict?
The jury is still out at the moment, but I'm afraid it isn't looking to good. I have this thing about flight sims. They need to offer three things; proper simulation, reasonable graphics and something to them different from the others. Wings Of Glory is not the best simu on the market by a long way but it isn't too bad.