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by Microsoft

A6M2_Zero-01.jpg (2983 bytes)One of my favorite childhood television memories has to do with a show about a flying roughneck named “Pappy” Boyington and his motley band of Corsair drivin’ misfits. The show was called Baa Baa Blacksheep, and on the nights that I was allowed to stay up late enough to watch it, it thrilled me with what I am now sure were the Hollywood versions of the adventures of Boyington and his USMC Squadron’s half-comic t run-ins with wily Japanese Fighters and overbearing military bureaucrats. Yep, if the Blacksheep weren’t knocking those Zero’s out of the sky left and right, then they were in the brig after an all night binge that ended with them bloodying the noses of their Navy compatriots. Happily, with Microsoft’s Combat Flight Simulator II: WWII Pacific Theater I can finally live out some of those adventures . . . well, the flying parts anyways.

over_island_1-01.jpg (4219 bytes)To start off abruptly (lets get to the nitty-gritty), many features of the previous Combat Flight Simulator installment have been greatly improved this time around. For instance, the enemy AI no longer has planes diving into the ground at random intervals. On top of that, the selection of player aircraft actually offers a more unique dogfighting experience due to the aircraft’s differences and more accurate flight characteristic modeling. Therefore pilots need to learn and apply strategies that take advantage of these differences (more about this later).  The damage model has improved as well, both for the aircraft that you happen to be flying at the time and the aircraft you happen to be filling full of bullets. A good part of the damage model can be deciphered through the smoke that an injured aircraft is producing, i.e. white smoke denotes damage to coolant or fuel systems, black smoke denotes burning oil or damage to the engine, and so on. All of the aforementioned improvements add up to a far more realistic and challenging flight combat experience.

weather_3-01.jpg (7318 bytes)Player aircraft for the U.S. consist of the Grumman F4F-4 Wildcat and F6F-3 Hellcat, Lockheed P-38 Lightning, and my all time favorite, the Vought F4U-1A Corsair. Japanese aircraft at your disposal are the Mitsubishi A6M2 Reisen and A6M5 Reisen, both generally known as the formidable Zero, and the Kawanishi N1K2-J Shinden, also known as the George. The latter was the late war Japanese answer to the US’s generally sturdier, faster, more heavily armed aircraft. Each of these planes offers a wealth of sim flying experience with great looking cockpits and exceptionally modeled characteristics.

A6m5_zero-01.jpg (2912 bytes)Let's talk about these characteristics. Anyone that has been around a Corsair knows that it is a very big plane, almost dwarfing its European contemporary the P-51 Mustang when sitting side to side. But what the Corsair lacked due to its its large size, specifically maneuverability and finesse, it more than made up for in speed and brute force. Coming out on top after tangling with a Zero takes a little more than luck when flying the Corsair; the pilot must learn to use the Corsair’s apparent faults, namely its size and weight, when taking on the smaller, lighter, more agile Japanese foes. One of the best ways to turn the tables is by always attacking from a higher altitude, using speed to catch the slower enemies by surprise and using the Corsair’s massive guns to rip the shreds out unsuspecting foes.  Keep in mind that there is a big difference in the difficulties settings, easy is really easy and realistic is really hard, so you might want to get used to the planes before pulling out all the stops.

The campaigns in CFS II feature the definitive WWII battles at Wake Island, the Marshall and Gilbert Islands, the Coral Sea,  Midway and the Solomons. All of these show-downs were won almost entirely with aerial might, so it is fitting that you can fly into the fray to do your part, whichever side you choose.

However limited the terrain featured in this game is-it’s mostly water-it’s an improvement over CFS I and, actually, Combat Flight Simulator 2000 as well, although it maybe the fact that CFS2 runs a whole lot smother and load times are much more bearable than CFS 2000's that makes me think this. One great graphical improvement is the aircraft modeling, which is some of the best yet in the entire flight sim genre. And weather effects are new to the CFS series, and present some unique situations. Among my complaints, which are relatively few, is the low level sensation of speed, which is not very impressive.

Corsair-01.jpg (4845 bytes)I’ve heard a lot of complaints about CFS II’s “ugly” interface, but I actually dig it. The whole Pulp War Comic thing comes of really well and tends to lighten up viciousness of WWII’s  Pacific theater. This may have been a conscious moral decision by Microsoft, and then it may not have been.

CFS II comes packin’ a 300 plus page manual; it may take more time to read that puppy than it will to finish the game. That brings me to replayability, which for flight sims is hard to distinguish from playability. After all, playing the campaign comes low on the pilot’s checklist for some flight simmers who are just out to see what a Corsair or Zero flies like. I often fall into this group. Sometimes I just feel like going out and doing some touch-and-go’s, or cruising around the patch doing a loop here and a roll over there. This is the essence of flying, and why some of us pick up flight simulators in the first place-to fly to planes that we will never get the chance to in real life. Fortunately, CFS II shines here.

Combat Fight Simulator II offers up a number of core improvements, new features and an over all polish that makes it a worthy sequel to, and improvement upon, one of my favorite flight simulators
.

Thomas Hoff

Snapshot

Ups: Great improvement over CFS I, great graphics and flight modeling, the Corsair

Downs: Low level sensation of speed not great, alarmingly large manual, relatively few flyable aircraft

System Reqs: 266 MHz processor,  32 MB of RAM, 4XCD, 350 MB of HD

 

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