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Microsoft Flight Simulator
The current version is called FS98, and is about number six in a line of very popular, very sincere flight simulator programs. Thousands of planes and countless scenery packages are available on the internet and from other sources. This is really the mother of PC flight simulators, and if you are a flight simulator fan, you should own a copy.
User can choose many levels of realism, ranging from easy to very realistic with rough weather, navigational tasks, radio communication, other air traffic, and even simulated technical problems.
Reasoably good, however, best results are acheived by selecting medium levels. The high detail levels are not so well-functioning, probably because the program has been optimized not to put extreme demands on user hard-ware (in itself a commendable choice).
Wether this is a game at all can be discussed. There are a number of adventures posing game-like challenges, but otherwise this is a pure simulation program, and as such it is excellent. Actually, you might say that the game-play is fully user-definable: Take off in a Chessna, go to 10,000 ft and fly straight, and you will soon be bored stiff (unless a really hard-core flying enthusiast), but take an Extra 300 under a few bridges and between some sky-scrapers, and you will soon get that adrenalin kick! Anyway, there is no fixed story, you make it up as you go.
Quite moderate. Microsoft claim that it will run on a 486, but a 133Mhz Pentium is more like it. Joystick not really neccessary, but it is more fun. Sound-card supported, but you may get tired of droning engine sounds after a while.
Microsoft Combat Flight Simulator
For short CFS, this takes the MS flight simulation engine into the realm of action games. Placed in a WWII Europe theater, it takes you through some of the hottest aireal combat you can experience without actually taking a physical risc! Both planes and scenery can be imported from MS Flight Simulator, giving almost endless possibilities for extra fun. This is one of the best WWII simulators currently on the market.
User definable from fairly easy to very realistic, but dogfighting in a WWII plane was never easy! The creators of this game have gone to great lengts to acheive realism in fighting: Weapons function realistically and damage inflicted on planes are realistic, you can actually see debris flying from the part of the airplane you are hitting. Ground targets (ships, buildings, vehicles) are not so good: When destroyed, they explode and just vanish without a trace! No ruins or wrecks; here is room for improvement.
Graphics are about as good as they get at the time of publishing (1998). Beautiful textured landscapes and detailed planes. The 2d cockpits are a class apart: Fully photo-realistic views of actual cocpits and working instruments. Excellent! You can even see scratches in the paint. 3D cockpit, on the other hand, is very primitive.
When planes are hit, you see debris flying, smoke or fire belching, even parts falling off and whirling down through the air. The boxy clouds are a letdown, seems they ran out of time when they came to the clouds. Really a pity!
Good. Several levels can be chosen, from free flight over quick combat and single missions to long multi-mission campaigns. AI control of the other planes in the sky makes for realistic friends and foes. Game-play is good and quite varied, the progress of a mission is very much dependant on player actions. For instance, in a dogfight mission, you may chose to stay on the scene till the fighting is over (if you survive that long), or you can break off and head for home if your plane is damaged. The stories behind some of the missions are a bit corny, but still- .
As FS planes can be imported, you can fly WWII missions in modern (or WWI) planes, if you will. It is a very special experience to fight the Battle Of Britain in, say, an F16 (and not easy at all!). Add-on planes and missions are appearing in ever increasing numbers on the internet.
MS say 200Mhz Pentium minimum, but better is much recommended. 3D accelerator supported and recommended. A good sound card should be used. Force feed-back joystick supported. A good joystick is a must for this game, although it is possible to play without. This is a state of the art game program and it requires state of the art hardware.
Combat Flight Simulator II
The sequel to MS Combat Flight Simulator was released late in 2000. Let me start by saying that CFS2 is all that CFS was: An exciting combat flight simulator, and one of the best on the market. Especially it is notable by the open architecture which, in keeping with ages of MS Flight Simulator tradition, encourages add-on producers, who in the years to follow will expand this game into something far beyond the original release. Thus CFS2 is certainly worth its price.
However, how does it compare to CFS? Well, in the opinion of this writer, it must be classified as an upgrade to CFS, not a new program, not even a sequel.
Improvements are in the following areas:
Things that are not improved:
Overall impression of the game:
The movie clips in CFS have been replaced with cartoons. Now, this is a matter of taste, but personally I dont think it is an improvement, not with the enormous amount of authentic war footage available, especially from the Pacific Theatre. And if cartoons are to be used, at least they could have been much more sophisticated than those flashing or panning stills.
As mentioned, plane graphics are clearly improved. Also, when planes are hit, authentic-looking and sounding explosions occur, crippled planes draw smoke trails all over the sky, parts of planes fall off, etc. Ships dont just blow up leaving a crater in the sea like in CFS, they burn, smoke and sink in a fairly real-looking way (though much too fast). You can still sink a destroyer with machine-gun fire, though.
The overall impression of flying in the Pacific area is quite well simulated. Unfortunately this also means that, like the real Pacific, if you do anyting in real-time, it gets extremely boring. Many CFS missions over Europe were fascinating to fly in real-time, but this is mainly out of the question with CFS2, unless you just love flying over vast expanses of sea, occasionally dotted with small more or less featureless green islands.
All this might sound as if I dont like CFS2, but thats not so. CFS2 is as good a WW2 combat flight simulator as they get right now, and it is certainly worth its price if you like combat flight simulators at all. But there is no risk of running out of ideas for CFS3.
Hans Egebo / MRC_Hans
"The engines are stronger, the guns are bigger, the dames are prettier" --- Microsoft's own punchline really says it all. Let my hurry and say that many of my fellow flight-sim fans are much more enthusiastic about CS than I am, so this review may be a bit on the negative side.
First of all, I cannot really think of CS as a flight simulator game, its a first person shooter game that pretends to take place in the air, but flight characteristics have purposefully been simplified to a point that has long since been passed by any serious flight sim. However, since it does not really pretend to be a flight simulator, I can only blame my own expectations for any set-back here.
Crimson Skies takes place in a fictional world. The time frame is the 1930'ies, the place a broken-up United States. Most traffic has moved to aircraft of various kinds, and society has broken up into rivalling, or even warring, fractions. Piracy and lawlessness is rampant.
In this set-up of western+pirate+Robin Hood+air ace romantics, we take the role of the charming, daring, and basically noble air pirate Nathan Zackhary and fly wild and wacky missions against -- well, against pactically anybody.
Gameplay is good and varied, the humor level is high. The game has a refreshing political uncorrectness, and the charming daredevil conversation gives it a light and pleasant tone. The difficulty level seems quite good; for a seasoned combat flight sim pilot, the flying challenges are limited, but that is fully offset by the complexity of many of the missions and by the effectiveness of the AI (more on this later).
The planes are truly in the realm of Science Fiction, from a flight-sim point of view: Extremely agile, simple handling, excellent power to weight ratio, and very potent weapons, they are not a product of the 1930'ies in any time continuum. Actually, if the US had been capable of bringing such plane technology into WW2, Allied troops would probably had stood in Berlin sometimes during 1944! But since this is purely a game, that is beside the point. Fact is, the CS planes make for nice tempo dogfighting. As a somewhat hard-core simmer, I personally miss the feel of a good simulation, but there is all the action anybody should need!
The AI is surprisingly good, especially when comparing with CFS2 which is its contempo- rary from MS. The CS computer planes have all the aggressivity of CFS1 AI and all the stunts from CFS2, plus a few ---- I actually saw an AI fly through a tunnel!
The graphics look fine. Actually, the graphic structure is fairly simple, but CS has the advantage of not having to depict reality. Instead, the fantasy world and the graphic engine have been nicely matched to produce nice, efficient, slightly cartoon-style images. Actually, flightsim builders could learn a lesson here: Well-functioning cartoon graphics are much better (and much less demanding on your hardware) than flawed "realistic" graphics.
Hard-ware requirements are remarkably modest. As usual the claims on the box are ridiculous, but on my 400mHz box with a definitely out-dated graphics accelerator, CS runs smoothly.
Open structure: CS gives the option of designing custom planes from some fixed building blocks, otherwise there is little add-on possibility.
Multiplayer: There ise full multiplayer facility. I have not tried it yet, but of course CS multiplay must be a pure reaction and tactics competition since the plane handling challenges are limited. For CFS (1and2) there was a long learning curve before you mastered all the intricacies of optimal flight maneuvres; I would expect CS to have a much faster learning curve, which in turn will probably lead to a shorter life expectancy.
Conclusion: Crimson Skies is certainly fun for its money, and its pure fun. If there is only room on your budget for a flight simulator, however, it is not the right choise. If you happen to be a female, you may find the somewhat macho style of the game repulsive, in which case I also do not recommend this game, but since the vast majority of flight gamers are males, MS can probably live with this.
--- Uhhh, and dont buy it for the dames they mention; there is precious little eye candy in the way of dames in the game.
Hans Egebo aka MRC_Hans aka --- oh, never mind