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GF! Archival Version Copyright 1995-2004

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Ups: Solid flight models, beautiful graphics, handy interface.
Downs: Very high system reqs, lag, lousy campaign, no personality.
System Reqs:
Pentium-133, 16 MB RAM, 4X CD-ROM, 200MB Hard drive, 3D card recommended.

To: Microsoft Games

From: Mr. Dick, Games Consultant Extraordinaire

RE: Microsoft Combat Flight Simulator

So, the big flight sim seems to be falling a bit on its face, eh? Early reviews are lukewarm, you have some sort of CD fiasco out in California, and the as-yet-unreleased competition is licking its chops. Desperate, you resort to desperate measures. So you meet some creepy software wonk at Green Lake Jake’s, he gives you my number, tells you to call in Mr. Dick, Games Consultant Extraordinaire, to set things right. And I will, but it won’t come cheap. You saw Pulp Fiction? You remember Mr. Wolf? That’s me, only for PC games. And yes, it’s a lot less messy.

Let’s start with the title. Microsoft Combat Flight Simulator. You pay someone to come up with that? It’s dull as hell. Look, I know you’re reaching out to the Flight Simulator fans—but they’re a different animal from your combat fly boys. Those guys like simulating landing Piper Cubs at county airfields, flying cross country on a computer, for God’s sakes, without even blowing anything up. I try to be tolerant, you know, and anything someone wants to do in the privacy of their own home, that’s between them and their maker, but those guys creep me out, landing pretend 747s at Midway in their pajamas before milk and cookies and an early bedtime. That’s just sick. You can get away with a name like Flight Simulator for those people, I mean, it probably excites them, but that’s not the name you want for the audience you’re trying to reach. Your combat sim boys are more tequila-and-pickled egg types. They want some color in the game—and you can start by changing the title. Remember when sims were called stuff like Red Baron and Battlehawks 1942 and Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe? Go with that trend; my personal suggestions are Hitler’s Nazi Deathplanes!, Biggles Saves the Day!, and HE’S ON MY SIX! HE’S ON MY SIX! OH NO! DAKKA DAKKA DAKKA ARGGGGHHH! NEEEEEWWWRRRWWWWMMMMM BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!, which I feel really captures the spirit of the period. By the way, I have all these titles copyrighted, so try any of that "appropriation" stuff and I’ll see you in court. It’s not like you haven’t been spending time there lately, anyway. And it’s not just the title; the whole game could use an injection of soul. What were these guys listening to during development, National Public Radio? Next time, pipe in nothing but Parliament/Funkadelic.

That’s the work that’s cut out for you, because, you know, as a flight sim, Combat Flight—uh, Hitler’s Nazi Deathplanes! works pretty well. The flight models are not bad at all, and I like it that you can set the difficulty on easy, medium, and hard. The easy (40% realism) setting’s a hoot; it’s like driving a bumper car at the county fair, only with a big machine gun on it, and there are few things finer. I was having a bit of a self-esteem problem the other day, but after a couple belts of rye and couple hours playing the Battle of Britain campaign on easy, I scored like 115 kills in 20 missions, and I felt much better about myself. The medium (80%) setting is also a bit of an ego massage; the planes handled a little squirrelier, but stalls were still a little too hard to get into and a little too easy to get out of. Add to this no black out/red out effects and enemy planes that are both fragile a bit obtuse, and you can still become a one-mission ace. The 100% setting’s tougher; it probably won’t satisfy ultra-hardcore combat sim guys, but most will find it challenging enough. It’s nice to finally see G-effects kick in here, you get to set your own fuel mixture (the joy!), and the enemy gets really, really, good. It’s also nice to be able to mix and match these levels, so you can, if you wish, fly at easy with the G-effects on. And big kudos on the damage models, which are extremely detailed and realistic. I dig how, when you get hit during combat, a message (or series of messages) will pop up and let you know (with great specificity) where you’ve been hit. So you guys did a good job on the flight models. Not the greatest ever, but damn solid. Congratulations. Don’t let it go to your head.

I’m gonna pat your back here on the graphics, too—with a big qualification, however. The 3D photorealistic terrain is gorgeous, and flying over London and Paris and strafing beautiful renditions of the Tower Bridge and the Eiffel Tower is a wonderful gaming experience. With the exception of some very noticeable seam problems in some scenarios, the terrain is very well implemented. Clouds and explosion effects are less spectacular, but do the job. The planes are nicely rendered as well. They look good both on the ground and in the air, even though in combat the really nice details don’t kick in until you get fairly close to other planes. The problem with the eye-popping graphic, boys, is that it takes a monster of a machine to run them smoothly. I ran HND! on my Pentium 300 with a Voodoo2 card and 128 megs of RAM, and in most of the campaign and single-player scenarios my frame rates ran between 14-25 fps. This is with the graphics on moderate, mind you. Playable, sure, but not screaming numbers, and that’s what I want, by God. Sometimes the fps got up into the 50s, but during furballs numbers in the 20s were more typical, and when I rumbled at really low altitudes, I sometimes experienced considerable chop, something you do not want at all in a fighter game. So either optimize this thing or cut down on the foofery.

I like the interface; it’s effective and handy, and you get plenty of view options, including padlock view and virtual cockpit. Being able to implement optional aids to help ID and track enemy planes is nice as well; it makes up for the traditional flying game problem of not being able to swivel your head around. There are problems with the map view, however; it’s difficult to change to this view in combat, and even though it has zoom levels, it’s just about useless, since it’s also given photorealistic treatment. Please, just gimme a nice topo map that shows me significant landmarks, where the bad guys live, and how to get home. None of which things show up in your map view.

So look, Hitler’s Nazi Deathplanes! has a solid flight models, good (though glacially slow) graphics, and a nifty interface. That’s the good part. The problem is, what you got here is exactly what you advertise. A Combat Flight Simulator. What you ain’t got is a game.

The game elements of the sim, i.e., the missions and campaign, really lack personality. Though you get 25 single missions, and some of them try to create a bit of drama—like destroy the Nazi general’s staff car, or strafe the Allied invasion at Omaha beach, or rescue a downed pilot—they all play out pretty much the same. You take off, you get to your mission waypoint, you shoot up everything, mission over. This sense of sameness is highlighted by the limited number of playable planes in the game—only eight, including two versions of the Me 109 and two of the Spit. Unfortunately, this dullness also extends into the campaign games (Battle of Britain and Battle over Europe). Neither of them is dynamic, and they also lack any sense of continuity. Most missions end when you kill everything in the sky; there’s no sense of white-knuckle tension as you limp back to base with a shot-up plane, because you probably can’t find the base anyway on the lousy map view, and who cares anyway? Even if you crash and die, you can go on the next mission with your record intact, as if you’re some undead zombie pilot. You also don’t have any idea what squadron you’re flying in or whom you’re flying with. You’ve got no clue if your wingman is an ace or a rookie—and this may not matter much anyway, because in combat all your comrades tend to go their own way. Apparently nobody is familiar with the concept of wingman here. Occasionally you’ll hear a buddy ask for help, but there’s no way for you to do the same. You feel strangely isolated up there.

And maybe that’s what’s lacking most in the campaign game—the feeling of being a member of a group of tired, grim, determined pilots whose efforts are really making a difference in the war. No matter what you do—even if you crash—the campaign proceeds in exactly the same way. There’s no real narrative, or rather, the narrative is always the same—so other than seeing how many more enemy planes you can shoot down, there’s no reason to replay the campaigns. Again, this emphasis on the single pilot at the expense of the larger picture is probably a leftover from the dread Flight Simulator mindset, but it’s one that should have been expunged from HND!

So I got two final suggestions. Here’s my advice if you want to put out the game this could have been and should be. Keep the flight models as they are, but change the title and attitude of this game, optimize the graphics so people can actually play it, introduce some sort of teamwork and camaraderie within squadrons and missions, and get someone to write a branching campaign that has a degree of compelling drama in it. Of course, you can attend to my other suggestion, which is this: you’re Microsoft; you’ve got a both a built-in mainstream market and niche market with the Flight Simulator geeks. You’re gonna sell a ton of these things no matter what you do, so why bother? Hey, no skin off my nose. I get paid either way (and in small, unmarked bills, thank you) and after all, European Air War and World War II Fighters should be out very, very, soon.


                                Mr. Dick