Microsoft Combat Flight Simulator Preview

Microsoft attempts to parlay its commercially successful Flight Simulator into a World War II combat sim. Tahsin Shamma takes to the skies to whether Microsoft can pull off this endeavor.


If you've picked up a copy of your favorite gaming magazine this past month, or you're the kind of Internet surfer who likes to watch the continually updating advertisements on web pages, you're likely to have noticed an interesting trend. There are quite a few World War II flight simulators on the way. This Christmas and the months beyond will showcase enough World War II combat simulators to make you think your desktop PC is an airbase circa 1942. There are more than four WWII combat sims coming out this fall and deciding between them is going to be as tough as choosing between a Spitfire Mk IX and a P-51D Mustang. But for those of you who want your gaming dollar to stretch the limits of play value, Microsoft's Combat Flight Simulator could definitely get your Göring.

To start off, CFS features many of the same features as the other upcoming titles, so you won't have to worry about it being an outdated sim. The now-standard 3D hardware support (via Direct 3D) in 640x480, 800x600, and 1024x768 modes will be available. However, the game will require a fairly substantial PC to achieve good frame rates. To help speed the game up, Microsoft has decided not to go with satellite-imaged terrain, but instead use polygonal surfaces with photo-realistic terrain details mapped onto them. The result is ground detail that looks as good as many other combat sims, while at the same time giving you a definite feel for a real landscape.

The game also features many of the planes popular in the WWII European theater of war: the Hurricane Mk I, Messerschmitt Me 109 E and G, Focke Wulf Fw 190 A8, Bf-109E and G, Spitfire Mk I and IX, P-51D Mustang, and P-47D Thunderbolt. These aren't the only planes that will make their appearance in CFS, but these will be the only ones available for players. You can expect other great aircraft such as the Ju-87 and the P-38 Lightning to be gracing your gun sights as you fly. Once again, as is standard in top-notch flight sims, the planes are realistically detailed down to the metric system of the Luftwaffe planes. Microsoft has also called upon real WWII pilots to give them firsthand accounts of combat during WWII and to help keep the flight model realistic. The result is a more accurate feel of combat, right down to the type of smoke that billows from a damaged engine (white for coolant damage, black for engine damage) and the effects of torque during left turns.

If you're wondering about missions, CFS uses scripted missions, but they're certainly not all run-of-the-mill ones where you defend air bases and take down bombers. In fact, they've added a bit of intrigue to the sim by creating some missions with a bit of adventure in them. In one such encounter, you're told that one of your squadron pilots is a spy and must be dealt with. To help you out, the commander has sent the squadron out on a "fake" mission for the sole purpose of rooting out the traitor.

Combat Flight Simulator's greatest strength could be that it uses an adapted version of Microsoft's long-running Flight Simulator engine. This modified engine is used in such a way as to make future missions and aircraft add-ons a breeze to integrate. In fact, the engine is so similar that adapting planes from Flight Simulator 98 takes only a few minutes. Then, you can just copy a file over to a CFS directory and you're flying Cessnas over Berlin during a bomb run. In similar fashion, you should expect to see some user-created missions available online from other CFS enthusiasts. With this mission flexibility and the easy import technology, what could start out as just a middle-of-the-road combat simulation game could turn into a great buy for newcomers and experienced pilots alike if the software is supported well by the CFS community.

Don't be intimidated by all this if you haven't flown that many simulators before. Microsoft has also supplied a nice manual complete with artwork from George Rarey, a cartoonist and commercial artist who sketched the daily life of fighter pilots. The result is a very easy-to-read, nonconfrontational manual that explains everything beginning pilots need to know. If things go as planned from here until the November ship date, Combat Flight Simulator could be an excellent value for fans of Flight Simulator and newcomers looking for replayability in their World War II sims.

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