by Paul Cockeram
World War II. Europe. 1943. The Allies' front line pushes forward into Europe, challenging the Axis' hold on precious strategic positions. This war is waged primarily in the air, as dogfights streak the sky with large-caliber bullets and the yellow sizzle of tracer rounds. Your overtaxed engine whines as you pull off a last-minute maneuver to get the German ace into your sights. Just before you pull the trigger, your children ask about dinner, and the phone rings. Reluctantly, you realize it's time to emerge from the most detailed and immersive World War II PC combat flight simulator ever.
Microsoft launches you into the skies with MS Combat Flight Simulator III. But the emphasis in this version, ironically, is taking players down to earth, as the tree line and the ground have become much more detailed. Northern Europe's farmland is visible down to the rocks in the fields, and you can almost smell the pinesap in those trees. Anti-aircraft guns will also make an appearance, mixing up strategy and threatening to ruin your day. On the inside you're protected by a fully rendered cockpit--complete with rudder pedals and control sticks that move as directed. Bombers feature a glass floor for watching the rolling green hills and enemy installations slide by. A heads-up display features flight instruments and a targeting cone to help keep you on the right track. And if things get too hairy, you can soar into the clouds and take a moment in their hazy white cover. Of course, so can your enemies.
In this release, your pilots will operate on a sliding scale of attributes detailing their gravity-force resistance and eyesight. As they fly more missions, their g-force resistance increases, but as they age their eyesight weakens. In order to compensate you can bring in reinforcements by having friends fly with your squadron or man your plane's guns or bomb bays, via internet or LAN.
Mission styles include air superiority, close air support, and tactical bombing. However, the most exciting aspect of CFS3 is its interactive, non-linear missions that change every time they're played, so that no mission is ever the same twice. Enemies attack from different directions at different times. Subsequent missions regulate themselves according to the player's skill in previous missions, so that novice players face easier missions than skilled players in the same campaign, and missions are always challenging without lapsing into the impossible. Moreover, the campaign isn't just a linear collection of missions-it's your whole tactical strategy. AI-controlled allied planes fly simultaneous missions in other parts of the map, or your friends fly those missions in multiplayer, so that the front, and the whole war effort, progresses at once, with differing results each time. The game just keeps recreating itself, making replayability virtually infinite.
There are more than thirty different airplanes to choose from, all of them faithfully created from the original specifications. Also included is a simulation of an airplane that never really existed. At the end of the war, allies discovered German plans to build a flying-wing style plane. While there's no evidence that the plane was ever built, CFS3 made those plans a virtual reality. Now you can sit in a pilot's seat the German air force could only imagine.
Start limbering up that trigger finger-takeoff is scheduled for this fall.
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