Wings Over Flanders Fields - the CombatAce Review, part 4
The View from Hellshade's Cockpit
Wings Over Flanders Fields (WOFF) goes against the grain in almost every respect. Where the video game industry is fast moving away from simulations and towards MOBAs, MMOs and FPS, WOFF embraces being a sim wholeheartedly. Within the tiny niche of the gaming market that sims now occupy, WOFF isn't even one of the most popular types of sim settings, such as ARMA III's full modern combat settings or even the ever-popular World War II. WOFF is a World War I air combat simulator. It's probably one of the smallest niches within the already small niche of sims. On top of that, while the rest of the market focuses on multiplayer aspects of their games and sometimes throws in a single player experience as an after-thought, WOFF is unashamedly designed to be an immersive single player experience. No multiplayer component at all. One has to wonder why any developer in their right mind would choose to invest so much time and energy into a game that would seem to appeal to such a tiny segment of the market.
The answer becomes apparent the longer that you fly in the world of WOFF. It's passion. OBD Software, the developers of Wings Over Flanders Fields, have a genuine and seemingly never ending passion for WWI history and have made every effort possible to turn that passion into details that bring the world of WOFF alive. While it's just about impossible to cover every aspect of WOFF that is new and improved over previous versions, LIMA has done an excellent job of hitting many of the high points. I couldn't have done nearly as good a job as he has and I'm not going to try. I just wanted to highlight some of the aspects of WOFF that I feel make this sim worth investing your time into.
OBD Software offered the previous version of WOFF, Over Flanders Fields: Between Heaven and Hell, excellent support. With WOFF, they have continued their history of excellence in support after the sale in numerous ways. First, they have pushed out 21 updates to the sim in about 3 months. It wasn't all just about the bug fixes though. Many of the updates included NEW FEATURES that were implemented due to player feedback. Things such as optional visual feedback that your pilot had been shot through bloody goggles and Dot based labels that let you see aircraft too far in the distance to be properly drawn out by the sim. They also corrected Flight Model issues when they found the Morane L Saulner was flying too fast. No sim is ever going to be perfect in everyone's eyes. There will always be a new feature someone wants or a change to the way things work in the game. WOFF, like every other sim out there, will never be all things to all people, but the outstanding developer support and attention to detail means that you can be sure the sim is never forgotten or abandoned. OBDs passion for World War I history doesn't stop with shipping the best possible product that they can. If they think they have the ability to make it better, they do. It's a feature you won't see listed on the box, but to me it's one of the best aspects of the sim.
Hop onto the Wings Over Flanders Fields forums and you're going to find a bunch of virtual WWI pilots who have nearly as much passion for history as the developers themselves. And they are helpful, too. Perhaps because WOFF isn't a multiplayer game that pits people against one another, there's very little in the way of ego clashes on the forums. Yes, there are Flight Model debates but the majority of posts are about the experiences that players have had while flying in the sim. People take the time to create "letters to home" and post After Action Reports to help bring the experience more to life. WOFF can very easily become almost as much a role-playing experience as it is a flight simulator experience. They also share combat tactics and trade war stories about how they managed to survive...or not. Technical problems are handled not just by the Devs but usually by a number of community members who enjoy helping others get the most out of WOFF. Again, you won't see the Forum Community listed on the box as a Feature of WOFF, but make no mistake, it's one of the very best experiences of the sim and not to be missed.
For such a relatively newly released sim, WOFF already has had some very enjoyable and useful mods created for it by its growing fan base. ArisFuser is a renowned modder from other games and has created a stunning Cloud Mod for WOFF that really is quite impressive. There is a Pilot Backup Utility Mod by RJW that keeps your pilot "safe" and restorable in the event something bad happens to your hard drive or install. Given how attached people get to their pilots in WOFF, this is almost a Must Have utility. Bletchley's Mission Types mod offers a variety of different kinds of missions to fly above and beyond what's already included in the dynamic campaign. RAF_Louvert has created an excellent Verdun Region Map to print out and help you fly, while 77_Scouts News Mod (v2.0) adds to the in-game immersion with a greater variety of historically accurate news stories for you to read between missions. There's even a JSGME WOFF Mod Builder Kit that helps users make JSGME friendly mods that are easier for everyone to install and use. Not to be left out is the mod from AnKor. It is the D3D9 Self Shadowing Mod, which not only adds some incredible self shadowing effects to WOFF, it also "magically" adds frames per second to many of the users' experience, making the sim fly smoother than ever. It really does need to be seen to be believed and it adds an incredible new level of immersion to the sim. All of this in just a few short months since release. Considering how "against the grain" WOFF is, in terms of the audience that it appeals to, it's clear that many of the users are just as passionate about getting the most out of WOFF as the developers are about putting great things into it.
As one of the lucky few who got the chance to fly Wings Over Flanders Fields before it was officially released, I have to repeat what I said when I first flew it. The AI alone is worth the price of admission. It's not a bunch of fixes to the scripts of the previous version of AI in OFF. It's completely re-written from the ground up to have the AI pilots take into account an entire range of factors and then actually make a weighted decision about what to do next. No random "dice rolls" telling them what to do. Just a few of the things the AI takes into account is how much ammo they have left, how much fuel, the state of their plane (is it damaged, etc), how far behind enemy lines or their own lines are they, do they have an altitude advantage or disadvantage, what is their skill level (Novice, Veteran or Ace), the morale level of their squadron (poor, normal, elite, etc) and so much more. No longer does every fight end up being "A Fight to the Death". The AI wants to complete its mission, but more importantly they all want to make it home alive too, which is much more realistic. If things start going bad for them, they look for a way to exit the combat and head home if possible. They don't usually give up altitude without a good reason. If the fight does make it down to the deck, they know how to fight effectively there too. Yes, you will run into rookies who freeze and make dumb mistakes when the shooting starts. You will also run into highly skilled pilots who use their plane's abilities to best effect. After all of these months flying WOFF, each encounter is still different. I can't just look at an enemy plane and say "Okay, when I attack he's going to do this, then this and then that." I literally don't know how he will respond, and that keeps every combat air patrol mission exciting. I don't know who I'm going to meet or how they will respond. It's a big war up there in Wings Over Flanders Fields and you'll find rookies and aces alike. But unless they are an Ace with a distinctively painted aircraft, you really won't know who's who until the shooting starts.
The last thing that I want to talk about is something that the people who fly WOFF regularly are already keenly aware of. Getting the most out of WOFF requires an investment of your time. The planes are not easy to master. They all have different flight models and the conditions around you can change in a hurry. If you are planning on going out and "winning the war" Call of Duty style as a one man destroyer of air forces, be prepared to start a lot of new pilot careers. It's just not easy. It takes time and patience to truly master what WOFF has to offer. In fact most of the regulars on the Community Forums for WOFF will tell you that they are only good at just a few of the huge stable of planes that WOFF ships with. Making it a year in WOFF is a real feat to be proud of. As an Allied pilot during Bloody April in 1917, surviving for even two weeks can be a major challenge, especially if you don't "cheat" and use any of the visual aids like labels to see other planes far off in the distance. WOFF has a Quick Combat mode to just have the fun of instant dogfights in, but the real glory and power of WOFF is in its huge, dynamic, single player campaign. Take the time to learn the planes and fly the missions. It won't be long before you start to wonder how anyone survived the real air war of 1915 - 1918. Many of them didn't.
From my cockpit, given the huge number of planes that can be flown right out of the box, the massive time frame of the war in which to fly them in, the incredibly large number of squadrons to choose from and the variety of dogfights from a "thinking", non-scripted AI that really does fight to survive, Wings Over Flanders Fields offers an amazing amount of "bang for the buck". I expect that I will be flying it for many years to come, especially if the Developers keep adding expansions like the recently released "Fokker Scourge" (rumor has it that Gothas are on the way!). All in all, for anyone that loves World War I air combat and history, Wings Over Flanders Fields is tremendous value, potentially costing mere fractions of a cent per hour for you to enjoy its rich, detailed and dynamic world.
When you find yourself flying along on a patrol in your umpteenth hour in WOFF, trying desperately to keep your pilot alive yet still searching for that next kill even as you struggle to complete your mission, that's when it will probably hit you like it has me. This is where developers who are insanely passionate about their sim truly pays off. The depth of immersion is hard to describe. It just has to be experienced and that's exactly what Wings Over Flanders Fields is for anyone who loves WWI aircraft: an experience not to be missed.
My personal rating for Wings Over Flanders Fields is: 5 - Must Buy
The View from Adger's Cockpit
Modders and more modders
I just wanted to mention that the OBD developers actively encourage 3rd party mods. AnKor's self shadowing mod is highly recommended (and it's going to be implemented into WOFF in the near future). Sweetfx works well. Arisfuser's HD Cloud Mod is also excellent; then there's Bletchley's Mission Mod and 77 Scout's News Mod. I think that the modders should get some recognition somewhere!
Patches and skins
We've also (so far) had 21 patches: improvements made, FMs changed etc. The Official Aircraft Skin Pack # 1 available here - it REALLY adds to the atmosphere in WOFF (especially the German Jasta squadrons). To be flying with some of the war's aces, all with there own individual aircraft skins, is just breathtaking. Arto "Paarma" Karttunen,Terry "Makai" Kerby, Mike "Sandbagger" Norris and last but not least James "OVS" Romano deserve massive credit for the incredible skin work.
I've been running WOFF on a Phenom 2 955 processor o/c to 3.5 GHz, 1 GB 5770 ATI GPU, 4 GB of DDR2 RAM, on workshop settings 5,3,3,5,5 and getting more than adequate frame rates (with sweetfx and Ankor's mod).
I love the new medals and awards. The AI has had a massive overhaul since OFF and HITR. I love waiting on the field to see if my flight returns and lands! Matt Milne's music is brilliant. The graphics are phenomenal and what the Devs have done on the CFS3 engine is incredible.Take an early dawn patrol in the Alsace region...breathtaking!
The interface is cleaner, Workshop and key bindings screens are smarter and easier to navigate. WOFF also seems less prone to CTDs compared to OFF (I've had 2 in over 100+ hrs of flying). Looking back, in comparison I'd rate OFF Phase 3, 7.5/10, OFF Phase 3 and HITR, 8.5/10. I've also flown Knights of the Sky, FE1 & RoF and WOFF batters them all into submission. It's not just the greatest sim I've flown...it's probably my greatest game I've ever played, a mindblowing piece of work
My personal rating for Wings Over Flanders Fields is: 5 - Must Buy
The view from Dagger's cockpit
I am a WW1 nut, and will try any flight sim that has this type of flight in it. I cut my teeth for this era flying Red Baron 3-D and became hooked. There have been several titles released that fit this era, but most fell well short, BUT there were a few that made it. After setting it up and getting some seat time, Wings over Flanders Fields seems to be one of those that do a great job at filling the void left by RB3D. I found installing this sim was easy, just a few clicks and I was ready to go. Nothing but the usual, So time to set everything and make it the sim I want. This was very easy. There were many options to choose from, and even dynamic weather, we’ll get into that more later, to options for careers and more goodies. I double checked my stick commands, and made some notes for commands and was on my way.
Quick missions and on the campaign trail
Launched the game, and decided before anything, to take a quick mission. This is a fun way to start. The scenery was pretty good all things considered, and the planes themselves were a lot of fun. The enemy AI were set to be easy to get my kills, so they weren’t very good, but they did try to evade and engage me some. I flew around some, checked my controls and looked around to see where I was. I decided I was ready to become a WW1 flying ace! So I jumped into a campaign.
There are many choices in the campaign; again I like this. I started and was flying a recon mission. I did noticed the control seemed sluggish in the early planes. I wasn’t sure if this was intended, or just my stick,. But I liked it. I am no expert on flight models but they seemed pretty good. I did notice I could set the trim on my aircraft, which I doubt any WW1 flyers could do. I also liked the fact the German AA didn’t start as soon as I was in the air, and while it was there and I had to be careful the gunners weren’t exactly expert shots. Landings were fairly easy after some practice, but without care you’ll end up on your nose, or worse.
Here’s my take on the game, so far: not complete as I want to do a better review after completing a campaign. First I tried it on several different machines, and got decent frame rates with the settings tinkered with on all of them. So you won’t have to run out and buy a huge gaming machine to have fun and see the detail in the sim. The graphics are decent, better than RB3D even with the Promised Land mod, but not quite as good as some of the newer games. I didn’t expect it to be, using an older game engine, but was surprised by the detail I did have. I also liked the fact I could set the weather and amount of detail I wanted to help with frame rates on lower end systems.
From the user point of view, it is a great sim to learn WW1 flight sims on. There are many options the user can set to customize the game to their machine. There are a few things I noticed, but nothing that can’t be fixed. Over all I give this sim a big thumbs up. Simmers don’t have to have a top of the line machine to run it and get a great gaming experience, and if offers many planes that are extras in other games. Also I like the fact it is a WW1 sim, did I mention I am a sucker for anything WW1 and this one will be on my system for a long time!
This is one of those "Have to have it, right now" sims. On my gaming system it looks beautiful, and takes an older sim to a new level. This will bring a tear to the eyes of us older Red Baron players. The cool thing is nothing more to buy, you don't have to pay for planes you really want, and getting to see the front from the air is pretty cool! The only thing missing is the caster oil in your nose, the wind in your face, and the feel of your scarf flapping in the wind behind you.
It's great. I give it a: 5 - Must Buy
This concludes the CombatAce review of Wings Over Flanders Fields!
All screenshots in part 4 are courtesy of Hellshade's Screenshot mod.