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Found 12 results

  1. Killerfish Games's PC version of its iOS WW2 naval simulation/wargame takes the high seas by storm! I started playing PC games on a system with a 14" screen and an early Pentium, and I'm not about to go back there, so I watched with interest but from afar, when I saw Fred 'Heinkill' Williams's affectionate and very favourable SimHQ review for the iOS-based Atlantic Fleet. Sometimes, though, dreams do come true, it seems, for a PC port has just arrived, after the developers completed the work and updated the graphics for the new platform. Since the release of Fighting Steel and Destroyer Command in the late 1990s, it's been a bit of a famine for WW2 naval simmers, broken recently by the arrival of the rather good Victory at Sea. Well, now we also have Atlantic Fleet, so it's time to cast off, put to sea again and enjoy the feast that's followed that famine. And Atlantic Fleet is indeed a veritable multi-course meal of a feast, for anyone who remotely fancies tugging on his (or her) virtual seaboots and taking to the high seas to fight out some of the classic sea battles and campaigns of World War 2. Your mission is to preserve, or sever, the vital sea-lanes which kept Britain fighting against Nazi Germany, bringing vital supplies of food, weapons and raw marterials of all kinds to the British Isles...or not, if the Kriegsmarine has its way... Atlantic Fleet iOS was the sequel to Pacific Fleet, and while our US cousins might regret it, I for one am very happy that Killerfish decided to get their PC feet wet with a port of the more recent, more modern game. I was brought up on a happy diet of Airfix 1/600 warships from the same theatre and the great little Eagle 1/1200 kits, released in themed sets like the Battle of Narvik, complete with accounts and maps of the relevant action. I soaked up films like Battle of the River Plate and Sink the Bismarck!, and later Ludovic Kennedy's excellent BBC TV documentaries on WW2 warships and battles - his later, excellent book Pursuit - the sinking of the Bismarck is on my desk as I type this. It was probably in the 1960s BBC documentary series The Valiant Years that I first heard Winston Churchill's famous observation that '...the only thing that ever really frightened me during the war was the U-boat peril'. Of course, while he was talking about the submarine threat to the supplies that kept Britain alive and in the fight, for much of the war the Kriegsmarine's surface units were also part of the threat that so concerned the great British war leader. And the air power of both sides played an important role. One of the joys of Atlantic Fleet is that when you step back into those dark and dangerous days, you can re-fight the Battle of the Atlantic and its most famous historical actions on, above or below the waves. Installation and features At time of writing, Atlantic Fleet is distributed via Steam - at a mere £6.99 Sterling. As we will see, for a game with high production values, engaging gameplay and an historical depth and coverage that would put many a full-price simulation in the shade, if not to shame, this is a very considerable bargain, to put it mildly. I gather there are no plans to offer a different distribution channel and while I prefer the 'good old days' of standalone game installation, I have had no bother at all with any of the excellent Steam-based games I have purchased (Victory at Sea, Wargame: European Escalation and Wargame: AirLand Battle being the others) and would not consider passing up on a good game merely because of that. I must start with Atlantic Fleet's high production values - these you will see from the moment the game loads. Here's the main menu screen. The ship seen here is the famous German battlecruiser Scharnhorst,* lost fighting against the odds at the Battle of the North Cape - which you can re-fight in Atlantic Fleet. Scharnhorst's brave showing prompted Admiral Fraser in Duke of York to say afterwards to his officers "Gentlemen, the battle against Scharnhorst has ended in victory for us. I hope that if any of you are ever called upon to lead a ship into action against an opponent many times superior, you will command your ship as gallantly as Scharnhorst was commanded today". Such is the world of steel ships and iron men that Atlantic Fleet re-creates for us. But I digress...can't help it, I feel the hand of history on my shoulder, as TCB once said. *...and yes, before you start posting corrections, I know the ship above is actually a Hipper class heavy cruiser - Prinz Eugen, probably - not Scharnhorst, but I couldn't resist the quote above and don't have a menu pic of Scharnhorst, to hand . The point is, it looks great, it's animated, with camera pivoting around the ship, and there's a different ship each time. See, here's another menu shot, and this time, it's one of the big German destroyers, several variations of which appear in the game: Atlantic Fleet is single-player only, so you will not find here any way to blow up anything other than an entirely virtual foe-man. You do, however, get a sombre but really effective musical theme to accompany the menu, and you can have music in-game, too. Taking the menu options from the top, first there is 'Training Missions'. These missions are actually rather useful, and a good way of ensuring that it is the enemy who ends up like this, and not you: And again yes, you heard right, you can drop the camera below the waves, to get this view, complete with rather scary grinding and booming ship sinking sounds; As for those training missions, which will hopefully reduce the frequency with which your own ships feature in such scenes, here's what you get. Again it's nicely presented, with good artwork and a clean, crisp interface. I did mention the high production values, didn't I? Here's the intro screen for the torpedo training mission. I really like Atlantic Fleet's artwork and the general design: Load the mission and you get a little scenario, here a Royal Navy destroyer steaming alongside a hapless German merchantman. You click your way through a series of topic boxes, to learn the lesson. You can toggle the topic box on and off, for a better view. They each do a very good job of taking you through the relevant drill. This is where you may first get to see the Atlantic Fleet mode of gameplay, and its most prominent feature is that it is turn-based, like a wargame. The sequence is: You move-You shoot-The enemy moves-The enemy shoots. We'll see how this works in more detail, later. Continuous gameplay would be better, and certainly more simulation-like, but it is what it is, and I soon got quite comfortable with it. Jumping ahead to the last menu option, we come to 'Options/Help', and here's what you get: As the menu title suggests, some of the things listed on the right of the screen above are options screens, others are help. The 'home' screen, above, lets you tweak various gameplay and difficulty options, as you can see. The 'Default controls' screen lets you re-map keyboard commands, like this... ...while the 'Damage Report' is a help option and looks like this: I find it all very well-presented and impressively thorough, very well up to the standards of PC sims and better than many I've seen, including the very best. My main interest in a WW2 naval sim or game is the ability to re-fight historical or hypothetical battles, and it's that option we will look at next. Here, we will see how Atlantic Fleet's gameplay comes together, when the shells, torpedoes and bombs start flying. ...to be continued!
  2. Mudspike have published a preview of CAP2 which it seems is the follow on to the early 90s sim CAP on the Commodore Amiga which was really good for the time. Ok, let’s do a quick experiment. We’ll need a measuring rule, a bucket and (optionally) a towel. I’m going to list some things from a new PC flight sim coming out in 2015 (yes you read that right, this is like ‘Bigfoot Found In Walmart’ breaking news) so let’s set up the experiment: Place the towel on the floor. Position the bucket beneath your lower lip. Here’s the features of this new flight sim: AV-8B Harrier II with 3D clickable cockpit using TrackIR and HOTAS support. Single Player emphasis, with Multiplayer Co-op available, including drop-in play. Dynamic Campaign engine. Flight and Naval Strategic fleet battles. Carrier Ops. Wingmen, Helos, Civilian traffic in shipping lanes. Realistic campaign map set in the Straits of Hormuz using 250,000 sq km satellite imagery and modern graphics. Dynamic Campaign engine. Yes, I just said it again. Ok, now let’s use the ruler and see how much drool just entered that bucket. I’m betting a good couple of inches, so feel free to use the towel now and go rehydrate. We haven’t had the chance to get our hands on this title as yet, but Sim155 reached out to Mudspike and we set up this short Q&A to see what’s up: Q1. What’s the balance between single and multiplayer content in CAP2? Is this primarily a Multiplayer game? I’d say it is 50-50. For single player there’s a collection of training missions, single missions then an open ended dynamic campaign. For multiplayer there’s quick start dogfight, fleet defense/attack and fleet vs fleet. In addition any player in a campaign can invite players to join in a mission and take the place of AI controlled wingmen. Q2. What’s a good comparative title for CAP2, it seems similar to Gaijin’s Apache Air Assault – is that a fair comparison in terms of sim fidelity and gameplay? Fun and action more than hardcore simulation? I’d say we lean more towards a simulation than AAS. CAP2 has a strategic element in campaign mode which I don’t think you’ll find in many titles. Q3. I’m old enough to have played Combat Air Patrol on the Amiga 500 (great game btw), what would be the main advances Ed and the team have been able to feature in CAP2 on today’s more powerful hardware? Glad you liked it! With CAP I developed a 3D engine in 68k assembler as we didn’t have GPU’s. With a CPU running just over 7Mhz you could see the impact of just a few extra polygons. Now we’re pushing millions of polygons per frame we can draw pretty much anything we want. Terrain in CAP was limited to a few blue water polygons, CAP2 has over 250,000sq km of geo accurate terrain. Shaders allow us to render complex atmospheric lighting, water, shadows and post process effects. Reference material is one of the biggest differences between developing CAP2 vs CAP. Back in the 90’s I wrote to the DoD asking for material on CVN-71 and actually received info & pictures a few weeks later. Today you’ve got a thousand images/movies/schematics available in seconds so things have changed massively. Thanks to Ed and the Sim155 team for taking the time to answer our questions. We can’t wait to find out more, especially on the dynamic campaign side. For those that loved the gameplay fun of Strike Fighters and IL-2, this looks like a really nice ‘fidelity middle ground’ with a mix of tactical fleets mixed in. Awesome. More here http://www.mudspike.com/combat-air-patrol-2-preview-interview/
  3. Strike Fighters Android Review

    Who here has a smartphone? Or a tablet device? Or more and more frequently, one of both? Chances are, especially as a member of this forum, where most discussion is about games based on a computer, you have at least one of what are commonly called "Mobile" devices. More importantly, how many of you use these devices for something other than work? The majority of you do unless the device is company owned (even then that may not stop some of you). Mobile smart devices have become an increasingly integral part of our daily lives. And the numbers suggest they are becoming as important or more so than your computer. In fact, in 2011, half of the computing devices sold were mobile. Even more interesting is the amount of revenue mobile gaming (defined as gaming on a non-dedicated mobile device like a smartphone or tablet) earns, over 8 billion dollars in 2011. 2011 also saw mobile gaming earn more revenue than Sony and Nintendo (PSP and DS) combined. Does this mean PC gaming is dead, of course not. But it does mean that mobile gaming represents a significant market to be tapped into. And some traditional PC flying simulation developers have decided to expand their Intellectual Properties (IPs) into this new market. There is precedent for this move. Major gaming IPs such as Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, or HAWX, already have a presence in PC, Console, Handheld, and Mobile space. Games that were once limited to PC/consoles can now look and play very well on mobile devices. Initially, they were dedicated gaming devices such as the Playstation Portable, but now smartphones can rock out with games like GTA III or Max Payne, not to mention other IPs. Traditional PC flight simulations have tended to stay within their market (ie there is no Microsoft Flight Simulator console version or a DCS for the Nintendo DS). Usually due to the restrictions mobile devices put onto simulations, they haven't been very practical (lack of screen, keyboard inputs, computing power, etc). This has started to change, due to the increasing power mobile devices have. Which brings us to today. ThirdWire (TW), makers of the Strike Fighters (SF) series of combat flight simulations, has come out with its first mobile gaming application (or app) called...you guessed it, Strike Fighters Android (or SFA). Overview Right out of the gate, you are not going to get a desktop simulation experience on a mobile device...period. Those expecting such are in for a major disappointment no matter what you play. But, once you get over that restriction, your experience can be surprisingly enjoyable if the app works well. How did TW do on its freshman app? Read on! As a mobile app, the requirements are pretty short...in this case, this is only compatible with Android OS Version 2.3.3 (Gingerbread) or newer. The assumption of course is that any device running 2.3.3 or higher has the power to run SFA relatively well. It also requires 42MB of storage, which can be high compared to a lot of apps, but low compared to games like HAWX. The main reason for the size of the program is that all the content is in the program...there is nothing else to download, merely unlocked. The price is perfect for everyone...free! SFA is based on the Freeimum business model. Basically, you get the game for free, with a basic aircraft (the F-100A). You earn additional aircraft by either playing the game and advancing, or buying individual aircraft at $0.99 each. The game is ad supported, but purchase just one aircraft and all the ads are removed. More on the 'earning' process later. After the splash screen, this is what greets you: This is the main screen which most other navigation originates from. From top to bottom and left to right: 1. Yellow box - Level number 2. Green bar - Current points / Points until next level 3. Yellow key - Number of 'keys' available to unlock aircraft 4. Upper center box - Press to 'recalibrate' accelerometer 5. Gear - Settings screen 6. Campaign box - Campaign and current year progress (year disappears once campaign is complete) 7. Arrow keys - Used to cycle through available aircraft 8. Lower left circle - View specifications of current aircraft 9. Lower right circle - Plane symbol = Go fly Dollar Symbol = Purchase aircraft Key symbol = Unlock aircraft Lock symbol = Aircraft locked, no purchase or unlock key available (usually this is due to lack of internet connection). Settings screen: Most settings here are self explanatory, with the globe symbol being a link to the ThirdWire website. Specifications screen: Again, pretty self explanatory. Before we go fly, lets expand on how you get new aircraft and progress in the campaign. In the early game, keys are earned through level upgrades via points (100 points per downed aircraft) and by shooting down 5 bandits in a particular aircraft (does not have to be in the same game session). Every 5 shootdowns results in you advancing in the 'campaign' by one year. Note that as you continue to accumulate points, every level upgrade requires more points to get to the next level. Once you complete the campaign, the only two ways you can get additional aircraft is either purchasing them or earning points...the 5 shootdown accomplishment doesn't earn anything after ending the campaign. Also, even if you have keys available to unlock aircraft, the game will not let you unlock aircraft newer than the current campaign year. The only way to 'skip ahead' is to purchase aircraft. And those purchased aircraft do not unlock any other aircraft early (if you're in 1968 and you buy a F-16, you still can't unlock any other newer aircraft with keys). As you continue to advance in points, bandits' skills increase and they become more numerous. Their equipment gets better too. You can go back to play earlier aircraft (they are locked into a specific year) and you will encounter bandits appropriate to that year. Their skills and number do remain at the higher levels. Available player aircraft get better as you advance in years, with more and better missiles, increased performance, RWR and decoys (expendables). One thing that is not so obvious is time to play also increases...you can start out at 1:30 minutes per session and be up to 4:00 minutes by the end...time is dependant on particular version of aircraft, not just general year and basic model. Here's what it can look like once you'd played a few dozen times: ZOMG! F-16 in USAF colors! Enough about getting all the planes...how does it play? The fastest way to describe it is if you have played any of SF series in Instant Action with most of the 'helpers' on, and in 'Chase View', you'll feel right at home. Your typical screen: The consequences of 'spray and pray'... Look familiar? As folks who play the SF series of PC games know, TW tends to recycle a lot of stuff. SFA is no different, from the aircraft models and textures, to the terrain, effects, and even voices for 'Red Crown' and your (non-existent) wingman. The terrain and weather both randomize...it looks like the IsraelME terrain, sometimes with different, green textures from VietnamSEA. Bandits are shown with red boxes around them, with red triangles around enemy missiles. You'll see small red circles leading when enemies are close...basically they are 'aim dots' if you have a gun. When enemies are off screen, red arrowheads replace the red square, and a solid red triangle replaces the red triangle outline (when RWR is available) for missiles. The red arrowheads 'flash' when you are being shot at by an off screen bandit. The radar is omnidirectional, showing bandits in green, and if you have RWR, your missiles will show in yellow and enemy missiles will show in red. One thing to note is the scale is not uniform...the closer ring has a higher resolution. In other words, the inner ring is about 2 units, but the middle ring is about 5 and the outer is about 10. ZOMG! Teh Sexplane! Time to play is in the upper left, along with the pause button. Incidently, when paused, this is the only time you can change views and focused aircraft using the accelerometer and arrow keys on either side of the screen. When you are unpaused, it will revert right back to Chase View on your aircraft. No other views are available. I'm the guy in front... Upper middle is the recalibration button. Throttle controls, airspeed readout, gun and missile sights, altitude readout (including radar altitude when low) and weapons status/firing buttons are in the middle row of the screen...left to right to lower right corner. The throttle is sort of a blip type device....the aircraft defaults to near corner speed, and the throttle arrows are used to speed up (using AB if available) or slow down (using speed brake if available). However, once you release either, the aircraft will attempt to fly back toward corner speed on its own. The weapon status indicators are the firing buttons...just press them to fire. The lower left indicator is your RWR/decoy status indicator/deployment button (if you have decoys). Deployment works the same way as weapons. The accelerometer in your device is for roll and pitch control...there is no on screen joystick control available. Aircraft tend to be accurate appearing, flight controls moving correctly, and effects like smoke trails, afterburner, and gun smoke looking just like the PC version. Plus, missiles appear to be mounted properly, and will disappear as they are used, on friendly and enemy aircraft. Sounds as already noted come directly from the PC version, including radio calls. Gameplay Enemy aircraft are like balloons, usually destroyed (with no debris other than an explosion sprite) with a single missile or gun hit. Your aircraft can usually take a few gun hits or 2 missile hits before being destroyed. There is no degradation of capability or visual damage when getting hit other than a 'pop up' red bar showing total damage. No takeoffs or landings are included...you always start right in the action. The flight model is obviously more toward arcade as in stalls are not modeled (you merely mush down when you get slow with very little nose track). Aircraft appear to have built in G limits in that you can't over-G in either direction, which means your turn radius gets large and your nose track slows down as you get too fast. Notably, induced drag appears to be modeled...so techniques like unloading while accelerating appear to help verses just pitch and power modeling. Aircraft definitely have different FMs for each one...the MiG-17 is a hoot as a gunfighter. Collision between aircraft do not seem to be modeled, but ground impact is...both you and bandits are vulnerable to cumulus granite. Bandits start out as slow turning 'ducks' but get increasingly higher aspect and more aggressive as you advance...tending to come at you waves of 2 to 4 aircraft, up to a maximum of about 10 bandits on screen at a time. They seem to employ missiles properly. Missiles are limited to reflect real world loadouts. Guns are unlimited, with a twist - when you run out, you get auto reloaded...but it can take up to 15 seconds. That doesn't sound like a lot of time...but when you total gameplay time at most is only 4 minutes...it can be an eternity! Especially since you run out just as you get into optimal firing position (see first gameplay screenshot for an example of how NOT to use your ammo). Decoys are also limited...use wisely. They appear to be 100 percent effective when used. Missiles can also be defeated by maneuver...usually attempting to force a missile overshoot is the best way. Sadly, you won't be that effective against later missiles. Missile tactics are probably the most interesting part of the game. Infrared (IR) missiles have a round circle that shows up in your HUD...semi active radar homing (SARH) missiles use a diamond cursor. The cursors are auto targeting and will tend to home in on the closet in parameter target in front of you. To simulate the early IR missiles that were not all aspect, they won't try to track a target if the aspect angle isn't met. Both types of missiles have max and min ranges...outside those parameters, the seekers won't track either. Finally, SARH missiles work like the real thing...if you turn away from your target, the missile will break lock, unlike IR missiles which are fire and forget. BlueJay 4, do you have the target...? After all that, there are still more considerations. Once a missile cursor is tracking a bandit, a percentage counter starts winding up, giving you a probability of a hit if the missile was fired at that instant. Once it reaches 99 percent, it and the cursor start flashing. For IR missiles, 99 percent also means the lock 'tone' increases in volume. Most of your shots are guaranteed at this point. The problem is that early missiles have relatively slow cursors that are easy to pull off the target, resulting in the counter resetting. The counter itself is slow in the early missiles. It forces you to be smooth while tracking a bandit...assuming he's agreeable and assuming his friends don't take advantage of the 'rope a dope'. The game also penalizes the launch if you are pulling too hard or if the full up lock is transitory (say if the bandit breaks hard into you just after you fire). Considering some of the aircraft have no guns and not a whole lot of missiles (CF-104), it means every shot needs to count. Later aircraft have all aspect missiles, faster moving cursors and faster countdowns. But all your opponents have the same improvements...and they outnumber you. I have not been able to tell if bandits have expendables. RWR indications are as noted before but aircraft without RWR will still get a 'Missile Launch!' call and will get the red triangle outline on the missile if it is visible. Aircraft RWR will get the familiar 'lock on' and 'missile launch' tones from the PC version. Later aircraft have ECM listed, but I have not seen if that makes a difference in gameplay. Once you are done with your flight, this is the debrief screen. Guess which aircraft I was in... Again, very familiar looking. This is also where you will get notified if you have earned new aircraft/progressed in the campaign, etc. The game uses the Unity 3d engine, and my experience was very stable, no glitches, crashes or force close occurred with all the playing I did. It was smooth, only bogging down sometimes when the number of enemies exceeded 12. This has been fixed in a recent update. Conclusion Is this game worth getting? Value wise, considering it is free, it is hard to say it isn't worth at least trying. Buying aircraft is a different question. All aircraft can eventually be earned, so you don't have to spend a dime...just a lot of time doing the same kind of mission over and over. Is this a reasonable simulation? The answer is no...it is more an arcade game, though the missile employment shows some good simulation like aspects. Two excellent examples of flight simulation for mobile are F-Sim Space Shuttle (a shuttle approach and landing sim) and X-Plane. Both are much closer to actual simulators...and X-Plane has multiplayer! But no combat. Is this a good air combat game? The answer is yes, but with caveats. In some ways, it can be considered more like an 'air Quake' because it's basically you against everyone else, and the type of mission remains the same, with no takeoffs, landings, air to ground missions or cockpit view. But, the variety of aircraft is second to none, with many aircraft you can't find anywhere else on any platform except the PC versions of SF. ZOMG! Commie planes! A great example of the features I would like to see in a future mobile version of SFA is Air Navy Fighters for mobile. It has cockpit views, multi cameras, realistic takeoffs and landings, and a terrain/mission creator. The amount of flyables is small (F-18, F-14, and C-2), there are no air to air missions, and the air to ground weapons seem a bit too magic. In conclusion, for a freshmen attempt to get into the mobile space, SFA is solid offering. Blending arcade action with variety of aircraft that no one else offers, reasonable price to unlock aircraft, and a gaming mechanic that makes you want to earn 'just one more unlock!', you will find SFA a way to have some SF goodness anywhere you have your Android phone. Now if can just get enough points to unlock that guns only Mystere... Reviewed on a HP Touchpad running Android 4.0.3 (Ice Cream Sandwich).
  4. Steel Armor - Blaze of War

    No, sorry, not a review, just a link to my recent mission report, as it sort of developed into a more review-like thing. But rather than now move it here, I thought I should post a link. And it's an excuse to post some screenies and offer a few more observations. The mission report/review thing is here. This new release of SABOW has succeeded in getting me playing a sim that I had left in a drawer for over a year, deterred by the fact I wasn't massively a fan of either of the two playable tanks, the steeper-than-usual learning curve and the 'sim within a wargame' approach (which also reduced the appeal to me of Rowan's Battle of Britain/BoB2). However - partly thanks to elements in the new release that make it easier to get to the tanksimming - see mission report for details! - I'm now a fan. Even to the extent that I'm beginning to see the wargame side less as something to be bypassed as far as I can, and more as a feature with a lot of potential and depth; one which I can actually enjoy as I choose, as well as the tanksimming side. Even though everybody in SABOW seems to speak Russian - possibly an advantage, as I know nothing of Farsi or Arabic and am at least beginning to learn some of the Russian terms used on the intercom- I am really digging the animated crews and the fact that all my tank commanders have names as well as unit IDs. And now I'm getting the hang of it, I'm finding there's attention to realistic crew drills that are approaching the technical excellence of Steel Beasts, with the advantage of being able to see the guys alongside me. Panzer Elite still has more hotkeys and an interface more optimised for a tanksim rather than a wargame. Steel Beasts better implements the team radio net and the use of callsigns on the map as well as on the air. But with the relaunch, SABOW has for me the mark of a really top-tier tanksim. And I believe we can expect further updates - there have been several already, since the relaunch, including those which added 'instant action' options and now also a firing range variant, complete with on-screen tips which play out as your M60 drives up to the firing point. Using these tips, for the first time I tried out the drill for getting a range from the tank commander. Go to the gunsight that has the simple reticle. Hit Ctrl (this gets you into 'cursor mode') and with the mouse, put the little crosshairs which appear onto your chosen target. Click on the rangefinder icon - it's the one on the left of the third-from-the-left strip of icons, below seen from the gunner's station... ...and you will then see the icon grey out briefly, hear some clicking sounds and then see the icon light up again. This tells you that your TC has ranged the target with the stereoscopic rangefinder and keyed the result into the analog ballistic computer, setting up your sight for that range. Lay your gun and fire! And you can use a similar drill for the other, graduated sight in the M60 or T-62 and get a verbal range, estimated visually instead. All rather sophisticated, and the firing range mission with its tips is just one example of how the new release's features seem intended to improve the accessibility of the tanksim element. It certainly worked for me! I've still a lot to learn about SABOW but I'm now hooked and would definitely recommend it as a tanksim, alone, whether or not you expect to appreciate the wargame element. Gotta go - I'm due back on the range!
  5. X-Plane for Android Review

    As part of the 'simming on the go' series of reviews, CombatAce looks at Laminar Research's X-Plane for Android. Normally, we would not review X-Plane because it is a civilian flight simulation...and after all, we are CombatAce. However, X-Plane for Android has some limited air combat options. In addition, it is a well regarded flight simulator, using 'blade theory' for flight dynamics and even includes multiplayer. So we decided it was worth a look. How does it fly? Let's jump in... As you can see at the top, this is the screen that greets you when you start X-Plane. Nice reference to the full PC version right there in the screen...more or less free advertising! And speaking of which, normally X-Plane on ALL platforms is a payware program, but due to some sort of patent issue, the Android version is free! Looking at the Google Play store screen for X-Plane, you would think it has a remarkably small footprint. What isn't specified is that after you install and start it, it has to download more content before it would run. This only has to occur once, but makes it unclear how much space the program actually takes up. The current version requires at least Android version 2.2 to run. Included in the basic free level are several aircraft and terrains. Terrains are a decent variety, ranging from southern California to Austria to Hawaii, etc. Aircraft are mostly light general aviation, business jet...and a JA37 Viggen hidden in the back! Additional aircraft and/or terrains are available for $0.99 each. The terrains are more famous areas, but additional aircraft are a really wide variety from the A380, F-22, Huey Cobras, to more exotic types like the XB-70 and X-15. Unfortunately, the first obstacle to getting some air combat goodness rears its head. Only certain aircraft have air combat capability...namely, fighter types like the Mig-21, F-14 etc. No bombers or helos have combat ability in this program. In addition, none of the air combat capable aircraft are free...the Viggen isn't armed. Since I wanted to shoot stuff, I ended up purchasing teh sexplane (F-14) and the B-1B to see if we could drop bombs (nope). Settings X-Plane, being based off the PC version, means you have the power to tweak just about everything in the flight scenario, as is typical for this kind of program. The following thumbnails show all the different option screens , click on the appropriate link for a more detailed view. Location Flight Conditions Weather Conditions Time Of Day Weight and Balance Failures Aircraft Calibration Most screens are pretty self explanatory, there is even an accelerometer calibration screen, to get detailed readings on what the phone/tablet is sensing. Basic Flight The flight typically starts with a HUD view: Basic pitch and roll controls are through the accelerometer. The secondary controls are on screen, including things like sweep and flaps. Note that except for the rudder, the other secondary controls have a 'lag' associated with them...ie you use the control to 'set' the flaps, then a dimmer marker which actually shows the position of the flight control moves to match what you set. Nice touch of realism to those controls. To bring up additional views or the options, merely touch anywhere on the screen not associated with a control. Several transparent tiles will pop up temporarily, and disappear after about 5 seconds. Touch any of them while they are visible to change or activate the desired option (see the flight dynamics screenshot for more detail on what this looks like). Included views (besides the default HUD view): Cockpit view. Cockpit views tend to vary from aircraft to aircraft, but they are all similar in that there is no view outside, betraying X-Plane's civilian based roots. A better description would be Instrument View. Flyby, fixed location, and external views all look roughly similar, just different in how they interact with the camera. One glaring omission is lack of any flight data in these views. X-Plane also has a replay function, where you can look back and replay the action from different viewpoints. You cannot alter the outcome, and there are some glitches, usually related to visual damage still showing even if you rewind before the point where the damage occurred. Flight Dynamics The way aircraft feel in X-Plane are the highlight of this program. Aircraft are affected by weight, speed, Gs, etc. in a very believable fashion. This is not surprising, based on Laminar Research stating that 85 percent of the flight dynamics code in the PC version is incorporated into the Android version. The aircraft just seem to feel right compared to most other flight programs on Android. There are some exceptions...the F-14 for instance seems to gain speed far too quickly when the wings are swept back. X-Plane has a nice option to actually 'see' what it is calculating in real time on the flying surfaces. You can see the vectors for lift, drag, and thrust all change as you fly the aircraft around. Quite fascinating from an air enthusiast point of view. Minor nit...the B-1B does not appear to be calculating lift from the body...whereas the real thing generates over half its lift from the fuselage when the wings are back. Flight controls appear to move correctly...makes sense based on how X-Plane works. Weather, turbulence, wind are all modeled. Aircraft and terrain collision are also modeled. Overstress, surprisingly, does not seem to be modeled. The terrains 'wrap'....you simply appear at the far side of the map when you hit the edge. Lights are on all the time and no atmospheric effects (vortex, Mach 'cones', etc) are modeled. Damage effects are limited to big flames when destroyed. No airframe destruction is modeled...when hitting the ground, you simply bounce along until running out of momentum (while flaming of course). Carrier Operations Depending on the aircraft and terrain, you can launch and recover on aircraft carriers. The launch feels a bit simplistic, but the recovery makes up for it. The combination of the flight dynamics, sense of speed and grading system urges you to try to nail it down, giving you a challenge you'll keep coming back to. How we lookin? Part of the enjoyment of flight simulation is viewing the aircraft we enjoy flying. Sadly, X-Plane models are uneven in quality. The civilian models aren't bad...planes like the Avanti are quite nice. But the same can't be said for at least the military models I played with. Some screenshots: The last screenshot is my B-1B model that I created in 1995 for Microsoft Flight Simulator 5.1. It is kind of sad to see a model created almost 15 years later that actually looks worse than mine. Stretched and mirrored textures, inaccurate or excessively blocky contours characterize the 3 military models I played with. I'm not looking for the PC version in visual fidelity...but something at least to the quality of the ThirdWire Android offering would be nice. It mainly just adds to the feeling that the air combat was just 'tacked on' in X-Plane. Lets shoot some stuff down! If you're looking for variety in your air combat, you won't find it here. You and your opponent's armament consists of guns and Sidewinder missiles. That's it. For single player, there is no choice of opponent or armament. You can choose where to duel though. As mentioned before, only certain aircraft are even armed and only certain terrains allow for air combat. Based on the screenshots, you would think there are things missing. And you would be right. Other than the 'box' around your opponent, there are no visual or auditory cues to let you know you have a lock. No gun reticle, funnel or line. There is a cue at the edge of the screen to show the direction of your opponent when he is off screen. No ECM or expendables are available. You do get an audio warning tone if your opponent has a missile in the air. Basically, most of the time, your shooting consists of either launching a missile and praying, or filling the windscreen with the target before gunning him. Missiles themselves seem to be all aspect (having been face shot a few times to verify this). Based on what I could tell, any modern western fighter you buy will have the MiG-21 as its opponent...mainly because that seems to be the only eastern block aircraft available for X-Plane. The AI opponent is a little uneven. I did notice that he would sometimes use a vertical loop verses a horizontal turn to maneuver. But there never seemed to be much blending of the two to turn at an oblique angle. It doesn't help that the AI cheats...I found him on the ground sometimes, fully intact but making like a tank...which makes trying to get 'in plane' difficult. But I can verify that a strafing kill works... Multiplayer There is possibly a redeeming characteristic of air combat in X-Plane we haven't talked about yet...multiplayer. X-Plane supports multiplayer over wifi. Within multiplayer, collision and air combat effects are modeled (with sometimes hilarious results). Both devices have to be on the same wifi network. Connecting to each other is pretty easy...just wait until you see each other on the Multiplayer screen and then select. Minor issues include each player can have totally different simulation situations (ie different locations, weather, time of day, etc). Which means if you pick different terrains, you won't ever see each other. Or the playing field itself could be very uneven. The largest issue with multiplayer is because it is wifi only, you have to be in the same local wifi network. Which means you're hanging out together already. In which case, why not play something more optimized for multiplayer (like a console). In addition, both of you must have purchased aircraft that are air combat capable. PCs and consoles do multiplayer much better in that you can game over the internet...something you can't do here. Conclusion X-Plane is a good mobile flight simulator...but it isn't so good at air combat. Highs include fairly realistic flight model handling, especially for the civilian aircraft, and a wide range of adjustments available for the simulation 'world'. Lows include very uneven external model appearances, and sometimes dodgy combat AI. Multiplayer can be fun in specific circumstances. I would recommend trying X-Plane for Android for basic flight simulation, but have a hard time justifying spending money for the available air combat. Reviewed on a HP Touchpad running Android 4.0.3 (Ice Cream Sandwich).
  6. The verdict! Before we get down to brass tacks here, as a lead-in I'm going to run briefly through another SP campaign mission, illustrating some of the features that I think are worth highlighting at this point and have influenced my own verdict on IL-2 Sturmovik: Battle of Stalingrad. This was a third effort at flying an intercept in a Yak-1, from our base north of Stalingrad to an area south of the city. Previous efforts had failed to meet my personal objectives, partly as I'd been happy to play the flight leader and see what happened when I cut the others loose on the target, resulting in them shooting it/them down (the good news) and me missing out on XP and unlocks and awards (the bad news). This time I decided to go in first and have my flight cover me. As seems normal with a repeated mission, the general target area was the same but the other details had changed - time of day (it was now dusk), we had a different flight plan and height, there were four in my flight instead of three and the targets were different. So there is some variety here, if replaying a mission. Time was short so I appreciated the option to choose an air start, mission by mission. Here we are (one Yak out of shot) on the leg in to the target/Action Point, with the mini-map zoomed out. Turning the 'HUD' off removes labels from aircraft and the map, as well as turning off the instrument readouts. In the brief run-in I experimented with formation changes which the AI executed slickly. I then gave them a 'cover me' command to ensure they didn't attack the enemy on sight, but stuck with me instead. Our targets turned out this time to be two He 111s escorted by I think a single 109. I made a beam attack on the two winter-camouflaged Heinkels while to my complete satisfaction, my flight moved in to get between me and the Messerschmitt. This resulted in a dogfight after a bit of jockeying for position, with the 109 initially going wide and attempting to threaten my flight-mates from above and behind, rather than rushing straight at them. My shooting hasn't got much better (the most recent update cuts the current lag between trigger pull and weapon firing, which will help) but it wasn't long before I had one of the bombers smoking. I took a noisy hit or two in return, but without suffering any serious damage. The visuals and effects are gorgeous, with vestigial tracer smoke trails, fantastic aircraft and lovely environmentals, like the terrain and clouds softly caught by the light of the setting sun. The finest of aviation art could do little better than this. I mean, look at the sun glinting on the props of the distant Heinkels, in the bottom pic. Beautiful. Having damaged one bomber and needing only to shoot it down (or damage one more enemy) to complete my mission goals, I decided to cut the flight loose. By this time the Heinkels were rapidly receding, once more escorted by a 109 and two of my flight reported they were too far away to engage. At this point some searchlights came on below and picked up the German bombers. After a few seconds held in the searchlights they turned left, probably having bombed whatever was protected by those lights, down there in the darkening snowscape. I led the flight after the Germans and repeated the dose. This time, my flight got the 109 and I was able to put in a couple more passes at both bombers. The one I hit first started straggling. As I was coming back for another pass at the smoking Heinkel, I saw him turn sharply. As I watched, his nose gradually went down, until he was falling from the sky, Clearly, the damage I had inflicted had become critical and he was doomed. The crew thought so too for they started bailing out. A kill! Though now very low on ammo, I decided to have a crack at the last Heinkel, which I had clipped with a burst earlier on. With a bit of luck I might nail him with my last few rounds; if not, I would call in the rest of my flight to knock him down. He was now very low and I suddenly noticed that he had his gear and flaps down and that his landing and navigation lights were on. Looking ahead of him, I saw an airbase, to which the German was evidently on his final approach. Evidently, the pursuit had taken us some way over into enemy territory! Now, it was my turn to be caught in searchlights, German ones this time! I fired off my last rounds at the big German bomber, then broke up and away, pursued by some desultory flak. Out of rounds at last, I climbed up and turned away, calling my flight back into formation. I wasn't going to risk our virtual necks in low-level operations over an enemy airfield, for the sake of finishing off one damaged bomber. The searchlights lit me up one last time as I banked around. Last I saw of the Heinkel, he had decided to execute a go-around and perhaps fly on to a less dangerous airfield. I left him to it. Darkness was creeping in on us and I didn't want to dally. Heading back towards friendly territory, a headlight on the ground to my left drew my attention to what I could see was a train (visible just above my canopy, in the pic below). This might have made a good opportunity target for my wingmens' remaining ammo, had I felt like risking them. Which I did not. A little further on, back over what I took to be friendly territory, a town was burning, perhaps the target of the He 111s earlier. If so, we had avenged our comrades! Soon, we were over the town of Beketovka on the Volga just south of Stalingrad, providing an excellent reference point for my final leg home and confirming the the fidelity and attention to detail with which BoS has recreated the battlefield's historical landscape. With the burning city itself below my left wingtip and looking down to my right, I got a shock to see some enemy aircraft wheeling about, low down over the frozen Volga. They looked to be single-engined types, possibly Stukas. Whatever they were, they did not molest us and with ammo low and in my case gone, I decided that honour had been satisfied and that we should all continue back to base, just to the north. The scale of this sortie had been small, but it was beautifully formed. The superb visuals; the sounds, the radio comms; the tactical handling of my flight; the air combat; the activity on the ground including searchlights and trains; the credible behaviour of the AI; the barren landscape with its battered towns rolling beneath us; the chance near-encounter with another German flight going about its own business...this mission alone was proof positive for me that BoS delivers a combat flight simulation that is deeply engaging on every level. And at the end of the mission, I actually could not wait to run through the results and check out what points I earned and what I might have unlocked! I would love to see flight results - kills and losses - added into the little sequence above which would be just enough to elevate BoS's mission handling to a much better level. But I have to say that the sim's distinctive approach to the player's role and his or her progression is something that, as a steadfast simmer, I can not only learn to live with, but to appreciate. Even if it were otherwise, to answer the question I left hanging at the end of Part 3, the depth and richness of the flying and air fighting experience delivered by BoS missions is really first class, worth coming back for more and the price of admission, on its own. Before I move on, just to cover briefly a couple of loose ends, below are the screens which show (top) on a 'Pilot card', your game profile's vital stats and (bottom) on a 'Plane card', where you stand with the unlocks for a particular aircraft, which shows both what you have unlocked, and what's left to unlock. And finally, while I haven't done any level bombing yet, here is the view from the Heinkel's Lofte bombsight, and what you see from the bombardier/navigator/airgunner position, looking back into the cockpit...which incidentally, famous test pilot Eric Brown disliked as contrary to appearances, pilot visibility was poor, dangerous in bad weather and producing a 'hall of mirrors' effect in strong sunlight. And just to be clear, missions aren't always as small-scale as the one described above. Two missions later, still flying my trusty Yak, four of us escorted six Sturmoviks on an exciting and successful low-level strike on German motor transport, ignoring a formation of 109-escorted Heinkels which were level-bombing some of our guys just over the front line. We fended off some intercepting Messerchmittts, one of which was my next kill after a difficult chase as, damaged by an early hit, he manoeuvred desperately to avoid me. That and at least one kill by a wingman was compensation for the one of our own that I knew we had lost Out of rounds I was chased towards Stalingrad by a German fighter, who gave up when a wingman rejoined me. Together we flew north back to base up the Volga, past blazing ruins in Stalingrad and the famous grain elevator, ignoring the Stukas buzzing angrily over the river. The BoS skies can be busy as well as dangerous. Perhaps only Russian developers could have recreated the time, the place and the combat so well. And so to the reckoning... Each CombatAce reviewer will have their own assessment but for me, this is a difficult one. It’s hard to avoid comparisons with other combat flight sims, especially with the original IL-2, which BoS's branding naturally invites. We do need to remember here that the original IL-2 is a product that's matured over almost exactly thirteen years of development and modding. And I think we need to take a deep breath and count to ten, before we rush to judgement on BoS's unconventional approach to some of the basics. In the developer blog, they point out that the unlocks are content that's been made available freely (albeit after 'grinding') rather than as Down-Loadable Content payware, as in RoF. It's also apparent that 1C/777 hoped or believed the unlocks would actually appeal to some players, likely including people used to 'grinding' from playing those 'other genres'. Like it or not, the BoS SP campaign approach - the unlocks, the pilot levels and awards and the lack of pilot and squadron identities - doesn't mean BoS can't deliver a solid, convincing air combat simulation experience. I find that BoS does exactly that, with considerable polish and flair in very many respects. Are the unlocks et al a show stopper for die hard fans of the combat flight sim genre? Your call, but not for me, absolutely not. The relatively recent tank sim, Steel Fury - Kharkov 1942 (SF) has no role-playing elements worthy of the name, in sad contrast to say, Panzer Elite. And SF's stock campaigns are just sets of scripted missions (with some replay variability), covering but a few weeks in May/June 1942 in a single area of operations. But once you've made a plan from the map, loaded the appropriate ammo and ordered your driver to advance, while the rounds begin to fall and the tracer starts to fly, the experience of playing the mission itself is actually very engaging. It puts you right there, leading a tank platoon into battle in a small-scale but reasonably convincing simulation of a WW2 all-arms, company-level operation. What SF does, it does more than sufficiently well, to pass muster as a top-notch tank sim, in my books and for many others. Despite limitations elsewhere. So let it be with Ceasar. Or said of BoS, in my view. Like SF, BoS lacks some features I would like to see, including some I consider quite important. Some of the features it does have, nicely implemented though they are, I'm not crazy about. However, for me, in the round, and judging first and foremost from the experience BoS delivers, upon release, of flying Eastern Front air combat in WW2 (as opposed to simply 'flying WW2 planes') this is a great new addition to the combat flight sim genre. We have a decent set of superbly-rendered aircraft (soon to be joined by an AI Ju 52) with a great feeling that you're actually flying or fighting from them. We have an historic battlefield rolled out before our very eyes, with adequate levels of ground activity, pleasing to the eyes and recreated in a depth and to a level of detail which more than compensates for the limited breadth of a single area of operations. We have the opportunity to fly small-scale but reasonably challenging and generally convincing sorties over this battlefield, as the battle itself unfolds, in its successive phases, where history, not the player's actions, determines the course of events. The air-to-air and air-to-ground action can be as visceral and exciting as any I've experienced. Sure, a little more suspension-of-disbelief-building in mission presentation (and less 'gamey' objectives and terminology) would be nice...but when you're up there in BoS, over that white-frozen but beautiful virtual landscape, in that nicely-rendered virtual cockpit, fighting for your virtual life while the war goes on around you, all other things seem somehow less important. Back down to earth, here are my pros and cons. Pros Beautifully-rendered aircraft, especially externally Great feeling of flying combat aircraft Beautiful (if snowbound!) environmentals Generally very good combat experience Good developer support & exceptional engagement Good aircrew animation Good planeset Good set of well-presented on-screen aids Ability to fly, gun or bomb 'Complex Engine Management' adds depth (if you want it) SP campaign follows the main phases of the historical battle Crisp, clean easy-to-use interface and high 'production values' Mostly, decent AI Mission Editor is opening up additional SP campaign possibilities Cons No real pilot persona or historical squadrons in stock campaign Unlocks could be handled in a more historical fashion (or opted out of) No padlock in campaign Edit - padlock IS now functioning in campaign, as of the pre-Christmas 2014 update Limited ground control/tower presence 'Gamey' terminology in some places Wingman command windows large and centred Near cloud effect interferes with aircraft rendering And since life's not all black-and-white, just to expand on the above assessment... Some room for improvement? In campaign, no ability to view your flight's results post-mission, just player's solo achievements Difficulty organising flight in making effective ground attacks Formations are sometimes small, even for the Eastern Front Aircraft could be visible further away, without icons/labels Formation-keeping - there's a certain amount of straggling Laden bombers seem a bit too agile Aircraft lack individual/unit markings Stock SP campaign mission briefings rather bland Landscape perhaps a little too bland, even for 'snowbound' Own pilot is invisible, in 1st person view Greater ability to fine-tune on-screen aids, within presets, would be useful Limited flexibility of graphics adjustment (presets) And the score? I make no allowance here for longer-term potential or the desirability of 'supporting a new product in a niche market'. Nor am I having any regard, either way, to any (sometimes rather fraught) discussions of, or opinions expressed about, BoS, elsewhere. However, I am making some allowance for: the fact that a manual is coming; the prospect of user-made campaign mission sets, which have already begun to appear; a facility to incorporate user-made 'skins' which is I believe coming; and the fact that an AI Ju 52 is definitely being produced, filling the big planeset gap. The mission editor is reported to be tricky to use and we may never get pilot logbooks; but sets of scripted missions, able at least to give the player an identity and an historical squadron, will likely see the arrival, over time, of a decent supply of at least adequate, and possibly very good, 'conventional' if not 'dynamic' Single Player campaigns, which will boost longevity. So, remembering that I'm rating only the Single Player element here, on this scale..... 5 - Must Buy - Delivers a consistently outstanding experience with minimal flaws that do not detract from the gameplay in any significant way. 4 - Highly Recommended - Delivers a fun and enjoyable experience well worth your time and money, despite some room for improvement. 3 - Recommended - Delivers a solid gameplay experience with a few irritations that occasionally disrupt enjoyment. 2 - Difficult to Recommend - Delivers some of the promised fun, but not without significant problems in the gameplay experience. 1- Not Recommended - Delivers a sub-par gameplay experience; doesn't fulfill its promises; offers more bugs than fun. ...this reviewer's final score is: 4 - Highly recommended As things stand, with a few non-critical reservations, I would recommend the new sim to any air war enthusiast and in particular, to those with an interest in the Eastern Front or in the Soviet or German warbirds which fought there. BoS should also appeal strongly to those who relish the extra realism of being able, if they choose, to manage their airscrew pitch, mixture, radiators and all the other stuff the real pilots had to handle. I have found IL-2 Sturmovik: Battle of Stalingrad to be a detailed, well-produced, enjoyable, effective and rather beautiful evocation of the air war over and around one of the decisive battles of the Second World War. Which, I guess, is about what it set out to be. But - unlike the Stuka below - we're not quite finished here yet! Coming next - the view from the other reviewers' cockpits...including Multiplayer!
  7. KwikPit Review My quest for a simple home built cockpit started a few years ago after seeing some of my fellow flight simmers have their own pits. I looked at building one but I do not have the technical knowhow to even begin making plans for that. Next I looked on the net for some plans to make my own. I found a couple…then I realized I have no business trying to cut wood etc. Fix an ICBM, I can do that, work with wood? Not happening Kemosabe. So know what? How about maybe buy a real pit from an aircraft junkyard and restore it. I made some calls and here is how most conversations went. Me: "Hello, I’m looking for a pit of an old fighter to salvage to make a home built cockpit." Junkyard Owner: “Oh not one of you guys again.” Me: “I take it you get a couple of calls like this a year?” Junkyard Owner: “Yep, you guys are weird.” Me: “Ah thanks, I think. So what do you have?” Junkyard Owner: “I got something you can use and you have to come pick it up yourself in Arizona.” Me: “How much?” Junkyard Owner: “$1500 and you’ll need a tractor trailer to haul it.” Me: “Oh, wow it’s that big? Hey Sheila can I have, oh, what, it’s this big, not in your house,ok.” Junkyard Owner: (Laughing) I heard the conversation. Me: “Sorry sir to have bothered you.” Well there goes that idea. Now what? How about that Obutto thingy? It looks nice and it’s functional but not the look I’m going for. Well this blows, I’m getting nowhere fast. So I shelve the idea for the time being. Fast forward to about a month ago. I was rekindling my hope to find a pit I could use at home. So I hit Google again, this time I typed in ‘home cockpits’ and there on page 3 was a forum with the word ‘KwikPit’ in it. So I Google it and came up with http://www.kwikpit.com/. I started going through the site and what I found was what I am now calling the “Holy Grail” of quick and easy pits. I started going through the net looking for any reviews of the pit. I couldn’t find a single one. This thing looks like it’s the answer to most simmers prayers. Yet no one from what I could tell has said a word about it. So I send an email to the customer service asking about the pit and could I get a review copy of it. I gave them my phone number and within 45 minutes I get a call from Greg at Kwikpit. We begin discussing the pit and just general BSing back and forth. Come to find out he is a retired USAF munitions troop from the B-1 world. Being recently retired from the USAF myself we had a lot to talk about. We get back to the pit and he explains to me that he sent off a pit before to get a review done and the person never did one. He tried to get money for it since a review wasn’t being done and never heard back from the person either. So needless to say he was very apprehensive to give me a pit to review. The back-story on the Kwikpit Company was that Greg wanted something to leave his simming and racing gear in place without having to tear it all down later when he was done. Greg searched the net and found too little info on home built pits and the ones he did find could run up to $30,000 unfinished. Most simmers cannot afford that. Also he noticed that some people would start a complicated pit, taking them years to build, only to give up frustrated. So having this info Greg decided to build his own pit. He started with several plans and he gave them to people so they could build their own. Some of his customers asked why he could not do a kit. His plans for the pit were simple enough, he would need to find a way to machine the wood and yet keep it compact and light. Thus the Kwikpit is born. Greg’s goal is to fill the price gap so that the average simmer can have the experience they wanted and not have to mortgage a house to get it. Greg also is the President, Owner, CEO, CFO, janitor and cleaning lady of Kwikpit. In other words he is a one man show. I assure him I will do a review and not leave him hanging. He agrees and on 19 Sept my pit is in. I just had surgery on the 17th so I was in no condition to put the pit together. The weekend of the 22/23 Sept gets here and my wife drags me out of the house to start working on the pit. Mind you I can’t put together a thing as my leg is still messed up. So Sheila helps me paint it and put it together. I took pictures throughout the process to show you what was done and how it assembled. I am sorry for the quality of the pictures, my good camera is broken. So I ended up using my iPhone 4.You will get the general idea though. The box weighs in at 65 lbs. It is very well packed in styrofoam and card board for stability. The pit is made from furniture grade particle board, so it is heavy duty. After the box was opened we separated the pieces and started to paint. I used Rustoleum Painters Touch Ultracover 2X. I covered the pit in flat grey and it only took two coats. The particle board didn’t soak the paint up as bad as I thought it was going to. The 2nd coat was light. I took flat black to paint the entire surface where the TM Warthog and monitor will sit. It took about an hour to get everything painted and an hour for it to dry. Painting it flat gray with my little helper. The sides are painted, now beginning the top and the armrests. Top and armrests complete, and here is the finished painted pit. I had my sons haul it up stairs for assembly. Meanwhile I took my computer apart. Here is what that disaster looked like. My wife started to put it together for me while I read the instructions. Here is KwikPit during the assembly process. The only problem during assembly was the bottom brace. The wood is a little thin down there, so the screw started to split the wood but I fixed that with some gorilla glue. The whole assembly process took 20 mins. Fully assembled. I didn't paint the back piece as you will not see it. The KwikPit is very sturdy with very little play. I'm beginning to put the computer together. Final product. The armrest is not wide enough for the whole base of the Thrustmaster Warthog but none the less it works just fine. My likes: 1. Easy of assembly 2. Compact size 3. The price is only $199.95. This puts it well in most simmers budget. My suggestions: 1. The whole thing could be about 4 inches wider. 2. The thin wood where the bracing bracket goes are subject to slight splitting. In conclusion: This really is the holy grail of simming cockpits. Simmers who want a pit without having to go through the trial and tribulations of getting one together this is exactly what you need.
  8. The Single Player campaign The SP campaign is nicely tied into the historical battle. When you kick it off, you get a campaign selection screen; this lists only Stalingrad but the fact there is such a screen suggests other campaigns could be added later. Having selected the campaign itself, you get this screen. From it, you can see that BoS divides the battle into 'Chapters' (which though not totally sequential, historically, could have been more militarily termed 'phases'). You must make a certain amount of progress in each Chapter, before you can move on to the next. However, you can continue to fly missions in completed chapters, even after you have moved on. Each Chapter has an introductory video. These consist of an historical summary narrated as a voiceover to a highly-stylised animated representation. I'd have preferred the more conventional historical newsreels here, but hey, you can't please everybody. Having started the Chapter 'Prelude to Counter-Offensive', you're invited to 'Choose [a] mission' from a map which shows that the 6th Army has pushed a salient into the Soviet lines, occupying all but the eastern fringes of Stalingrad itself. This corresponds to the operational situation just before 6th Army was trapped in the city by Operation Uranus. The attention to the historical detail here I find most immersive. Even if, like me, you're not a particular student of operations on the Eastern Front, to see a well-researched map with the positions of each side's armies and divisions marked out helps draw you back in time, as you look at an authentic military representation of the battlefield at the start of a momentous campaign. You're prompted to click on an airbase, to begin. But most bases are either inactive map markers or greyed out. In fact, at this point, you're in training, and you can only start at one airfield, flying one type of plane, and on one type of mission. Click on the only 'unlocked' airfield - Rakhinka - and all is revealed, step by step. Your aircraft is a LaGG-3, a neat but somewhat underpowered Soviet machine which realised its full potential only when given a big radial, becoming the La-5. Below is the campaign 'Select mission template' screen, illustrating the different options and the range of available campaign missions. Let's run through the options, starting with 'Duration'. A 'Short' mission - note the clock icon - is an air start, requiring you only to fly from a starting or entry waypoint, on to the mission objective area, and then to a finish or egress waypoint. A 'Full' mission includes the same basic sequence but starts you on the airfield, requiring you to fly to the entry waypoint and from the egress waypoint, fly back to the airfield and land. You get fewer 'experience points' for flying 'Short' missions, incidentally. The 'Difficulty' options enables you to have, or to dispense with, Complex Engine Management and in-flight markers or aids - though in 'Normal' mode, which was my choice, you can hide these visual aids, in-game. Below that, you can see the types of mission available. For your very first sortie, you are restricted to a 'Short' (air start) duration and have only to fly two legs, from entry waypoint to objective waypoint, and then from objective waypoint to egress waypoint. You only find out that this is a training mission when you start it and after the mission has loaded, see the full mission 'Briefing' map, as in this one: Here's a shot taken in-mission, with the visual aids turned on. It's nice to see that my LaGG now has a winter scheme, with moderately-weathered temporary 'whitewash' finish. I'll now run through all the mission result screens you get, when you complete this first, simple mission. I'm devoting all this space to these screens because they neatly illustrate just how the Single Player campaign progression/unlocks/experience points thing works, in practice. First, you get this, which is self-explanatory... ...then come these screens, showing you how many 'experience points' you have been awarded and how far you are, on your way to the next 'Level' of pilot... Next comes this, telling you that your 'EXP' has unlocked some goodies, in this case a 23mm cannon: Even though you haven't made 'Level 2 pilot' yet, mission completion has earned you a 'Young Pilot Certificate', which I'm sure is fictitious but sounds corny enough to have been real in the 'socialist paradise' that was the 1940's USSR. Finally, here's the mission results summary. I believe the 'In service' factor is a modifier, in this case giving me 100% of the earned points as I'm still 'In service' - alive and un-hospitalised as the conclusion of the mission, at a guess. What can I say? Not a pilot persona in sight; no option to join an historical squadron; no logbook. Not quite what most of us would expect from a combat flight sim, what with pilot 'levels' and unlocking stuff. CFS3 awarded not-dissimilar 'prestige points' which affected some pilot skills but at least there were no unlocks (apart from new planes arriving on their service entry dates) and you had a pilot persona, although you could not directly choose his squadron and the campaign itself was in an alternative WW2 universe where German shipping sailed the English Channel in daylight. This isn't what I'd have preferred and I hope that we will at some point get something like a Rise of Flight-style 'beta Career' and/or a Pat Wilson-style campaign generator. At the very least, I think we can certainly expect a more conventional approach from themed sets of single missions, built using the upcoming Full Mission Builder, so far just open to a few but at some point, to be on general release. I have to say that - unconventional though it is - I find the current BoS approach is in most respects both neatly designed and well executed. For example, the 'Select mission template' screen is liberally provided with on-screen tips, which guide you through the setup process. I'm not saying I like it, mind, but I can't help but admire the execution. Some players may actually favor the radical BoS take on delivering a Single Player campaign experience. It did actually get some votes in a developer poll, though many more wanted it either taken away or made by-passable. Anyway...subsequent training missions expand your repertoire, taking you on ground attack and intercept sorties and introducing full duration, ground start missions. Like beating up this convoy of Open Blitz trucks, complete with Hollywood-style German crosses on the doors. This driver made a run for it but he'll be needing a new truck, as well as a change of underwear, most likely. ...to be continued!
  9. 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. Developer support 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. Community experience 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. Modding community 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. The AI 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. Time 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. In closing... 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. Performance 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). In closing... 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 Getting started 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. The Verdict 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.
  10. OBD Software Raises The Bar for WWI Air Combat Simulation! What can players expect? Wings Over Flanders Fields - 'WOFF' - is the latest in a line of World War 1 air war sims that started with a modest but promising freeware mod for Microsoft's Combat Flight Simulator 3. The first commercial installment, Over Flanders Fields - Between Heaven and Hell (a.k.a. 'OFF Phase 3'), quickly made a name for itself. Features included much the best out-of-the-box, all-flyable planeset of any WW1 sim, complemented by thousands of meticulously-researched colour schemes for its planes and authentic orders of battle featuring the British, French, German and later (with the aptly-named 'Hat in the Ring' Expansion Pack) the US Air Services. Above all else, OFF wove together all of these elements to deliver an immersive and absorbing single-player campaign that enabled you to fly and fight for you chosen side, changing bases and aircraft as the war around you progressed, from 1915 through to the end of the war - if your pilots survived that long! So what's different about WOFF? Well, it's a long list, but in short, it does all of what OFF did, but bigger and better, with some brand-new stuff to boot. Notably, WOFF features: A re-worked, more polished 'WOFF Manager' interface with a great new musical score; Much improved maps, both in-flight and for briefing/debriefing; Optional pre-deployment training missions for your virtual pilots; More realistic missions, flight strengths and briefings; Improved terrain graphics - the terrain textures and scenery objects are transformed, with (amongst other things) better treelines, more natural-looking rivers and new airfields and objects, while No-man's Land looks more convincing than ever; Improved aircraft graphics - OFF's rather bland cockpits now have absolutely exquisite textures matched by new external 'skins', while there are tweaks to some of the 3d models and a DX9 mod by Ankor adds dynamic self-shadowing, which really gilds the lily; Some new aircraft, including a BE2c with - at last! - a flexible Lewis Gun; its predictably-unsuccessful single-seat fighter derivative, the BE12; the very widely-used Morane parasol; and the superb high-flying Rumpler CIV recce two-seater; Totally new and much superior Artificial Intelligence - not only is air combat more convincing, the AI can now keep formation much better; A host of other improvements, not least the ability to (try to!) clear stoppages ('jams') and much-needed enhancements to the view and wingman command systems. System requirements, ordering and installation The system requirements for WOFF are substantially higher than its predecessor and are listed here. Supported Operating Systems are Windows 7 (64 bit) or 8/8.1 (also 64 bit). The minimum recommended specs are an Intel 2.6GHz CPU; 560GTX/640GTX (or equivalents) GPU with 1GB of video RAM; and at least 4GB of system RAM. I am actually running WOFF in Vista 64 on a 2.33GHz multi-core CPU with some background processes turned off. I have 6 GB of RAM but believe it or not, only a 512MB 8800GT video card. On this system I can't rack up the anti-aliasing as far as I'd like and the terrain and detail settings are set low. But though the FPS is often down to about 30 and can get a little choppy at times; and while panning can be sluggish; WOFF is playable, for me - just. And that's with both high-resolution aircraft textures and Ankor's self-shadowing mod (of which more later). The planes look great - even the dialled-down terrain and scenery looks wonderful. I could probably improve performance by turning off the high-res aircraft textures and most of all, by reducing the size of the scenery texture (.dds) files in a suitable file editor (as Pat Pattle has reported doing with good results, over at SimHQ). So...if you have been holding off because you have a slightly 'sub-spec' system and are on a budget, you may at your own risk still want to give WOFF a try now, certainly if you are prepared to upgrade should you find you really must and can do so without having to wait too long. WOFF is available only by online order from OBD's WOFF website and at time of writing, is priced at $59.99 US (plus any local taxes like VAT in the EU). Options are digital download or DVD by post. Also available, by digital download only, are: a pack of over 4500(!) historical 'skins' for your planes; Matt Milne's atmospheric musical score; and the first official expansion pack, 'The Fokker Scourge'. If opting for digital download, once you've purchased and got the email with the link, you can kick off your 4.4Gb download. You must have CFS3 for WOFF. When installing, you can either use your CFS3 CD/DVD or as I did, point the install wizard to an existing patched cfs3.exe on your PC. After that you can burn your download to DVD; it fits on a normal DVD-R. Simple! To their credit, the developers have issued patches to add features or address such issues as have emerged, post-release. At time of writing, the current patch is to version 1.19, available here. Happily, this installs over any previous version, so installation is a breeze. The new interface The previous 'OFF Manager' was a pretty comprehensive interface to the sim's many settings and gameplay modes; but it had some rough edges. One of WOFF's main achievements has been to knock off the rough edges and provide a more polished interface. I make no apologies for covering this in some (mostly visual) detail because it's a crucial component of WOFF - both functionally and in terms of the immersion it contributes - and because it's one of the things that has been considerably improved, over OFF. The first thing you'll notice is Matt Milne's new menu music. His score for OFF was a hard act to follow and at least one theme has been rolled forward into WOFF. Nearly all is new and it's a worthy successor to the original score, notably the main menu theme which is suitably dark, dramatic and foreboding. Here's the OFF main menu screen. The background picture - a row of Fokker triplanes, here - will change with successive visits. Looking at the menu options, 'Leave' exits the sim and 'Credits' does 'what it says on the tin'. 'Workshops', bottom right, is the place to start, as this is where you select graphics and realism settings - it's not tabbed, but all in one screen, which has changed somewhat since OFF. The latest version of the 'Workshops' screen looks like this, which shows you just how many settings you can change here: Gone is the 'CFS3config' tool that OFF users will know, replaced by the ability to set the main display settings here in the 'Workshops'. As before, you can turn off gun jams (stoppages) but now, if you leave them on, stoppages can affect individual guns and you have a chance of being able to clear them, in flight - which was impossible, in OFF. As in the latter, you can elect to have confirmation of your kills dependent on acceptance of your claims in combat reports you write after the mission. New stuff includes the fact that injuries to your pilot can be displayed in-game - options are blood spatter (in red, or in black for the squeamish) or tunnel vision. There really is a lot of stuff you can adjust here, to improve looks, tweak performance or increase/relax realism or difficulty. While we're talking 'setup' it's worth mentioning that - while there's no manual as such, that I can find anyway - there is some neat stuff installed into a 'Toolbox' folder - specifically a 'WOFF Toolbox' program whose most useful feature is a great little keyboard and joystick control assignment utility. There's also some helpful guides online, here. EDIT - the same documents can be found in the game folder OBDWW1 Over Flanders Fields/documentation. Moving on from the 'Workshops' and returning to the main menu screen, the next place to go is 'Pilot Dossiers'. Before you fly in any mode, you must create at least one pilot, and this is where you do it - the Enlistment Options screen: You choose your nationality and can then go for 'Campaign Auto Deployment', top of the screen, with or without preliminary flight training missions. Alternatively, if you want to pick a specific unit and starting period, you can instead use 'Manual Squad Deployment', button bottom right. If you choose the latter, you get an improved version of the old OFF squadron selection screen, like this one, which I used here to start a career with the pioneer Bristol Fighter squadron, No. 48, starting in March 1917: If you're familiar with OFF, you'll notice at once that the map has been vastly improved from the original, which was rather poor. And you can click on tabs which bring up helpful additional information, before finalising your selection - for example, here's the 'Craft' tab for the 'Biff' or 'Brisfit' (represented in WOFF, as in OFF, by the F2B version rather than the original F2A) - with a nice rendition of the squadron's mount in a wooden hangar, though the accompanying text mistakenly says it's a 'bomber': When you've made your choice of unit, you can enter a name for your pilot, in your 'dossier' or logbook. Here, WOFF will record your flights and campaign achievements. The representation of this document is another big improvement over the OFF version. Your squadron marking (two white bars in this case) is displayed top left and you can cycle through a selection of different authentic period photographs for the logbook itself. In this career, I've opted to be a brother of the CO, William Leefe Robinson VC, posted to France after shooting down a Zeppelin over England! At this point, having set up the sim to your taste and created your first pilot, you are now ready to take to the skies over war-torn Europe! Coming in part 2 - the planeset; graphics/sound; the air-to-air experience; and gameplay modes
  11. War Thunder Beta (1.35) Review

    War Thunder Beta Impressions by Mats "Centurion" Liljeroos http://warthunder.com/ War Thunder by Gaijin Entertainment is an air combat game set in World War 2 and the Korean War time period, and features an impressive almost 300 aircraft to date! And it does not cost a single cent to buy, which would have seemed too good to be true a couple of years ago. The free-to-play concept certainly has proved successful these last few years, and it seems that almost all multiplayer titles these days adopt the free-to-play or f2p concept at some point, with massive boosts in revenue as a result. For the consumer, the f2p concept has some very obvious strengths, the biggest being that no money is required up front, allowing the consumer to sample the offerings for however long he or she wishes. The largest criticism of the f2p model is that is actually free to play, but pay to win, and that the player has to pay to have any chance at succeeding in the game. War Thunder is a free-to-play title, but is it pay-to-win too? And is it a serious air combat game? Installation and introduction War Thunder is currently in open beta, the last major update was version 1.35. The release date for the full version is not disclosed, but there is already at this stage a large amount of content implemented, and the developers have stated that they will not perform a reset of player stats once the full version goes live. The game is available for Steam or stand-alone, but you will have to register an account for the game that will track your achievements. As stated previously, the game is indeed free so the threshold to install the game and give it a whirl should be quite low. The download is about 5Gb in size, nothing exceptional in this day and age. Once downloaded and installed (I went for the stand-alone route) clicking on the game icon will take you to the launcher that ensures that you have the latest version and also offer the latest news regarding the game. Once actually in game and logged on, you are treated to a somewhat bewildering array of menus and a view of you first aircraft for the nation you chose to play for. The choices of nations are USSR, USA, Britain for the Allies, and Germany (which also has Italian planes in it's roster) and Japan for the axis. There is no requirement to actually stick to that said nation, however. The first launch also prompts the player to set up controls and complete a basic training mission.[/size] Main screen Economy After a little while, the menus will start to feel rather familiar, and the UI design is actually rather well executed. The main elements are your player profile, with a separate level rating for each playable nation. A higher level will give access to better planes through the research panel. The planes will, however, cost you which brings us to the in-game currencies. Yes, you read right, there are two in-game currencies: Silver Lions and Golden Eagles. Silver Lions are earned for more or less everything and are not really in short supply while Golden Eagles are the premium currency, and these are generally bought with real money even though they can be earned in-game in certain special cases. The good news is that the majority of the planes in-game can be bought with Silver Lions, the bad news is that certain planes actually need to be bought with Golden Eagles. For the most part, these planes are special cases like captured enemy planes, and I am fine with those being charged extra for. If you want to fly for the USA but still do that in a Bf109 you should be forced to pay in my opinion. My gripe is that USSR players are forced to pay Golden Eagles for lend-lease planes like the P-40 Kittyhawk or P-39 Aircobra, even though these were employed en-masse by the VVS. Be that as it may, there are a lot of planes available for Silver Lions and the planes are divided into logical technology-trees, forcing you to think about what you want to fly not only now but also later on.[/size] Research panel. The planes to the far right are premium planes, avaliable either as gifts or for purchase by premium currency. Once you buy a plane the basic idea is that you receive a second-hand, slightly ragged example that needs repairs and upgrades to operate at maximum efficiency. These are unlocked by flying the plane and symbolic sums of Silver Lions, and do make a difference for the total performance of your plane. Upgrades range from an engine supercharger to new machineguns, and are overall rather reasonable and realistic, and makes the time between level-ups seem meaningful. And they are a great excuse to fly just another mission! Planes are assigned to different slots which each have their own air and ground crew that can also be leveled up, allowing you for example to decrease the re-arming speed or increase your pilots g-tolerance. An almost fully upgraded plane Gameplay There are three main modes of gameplay that will earn you experience points and Silver Lions: Arcade, Historical Battle and Full Real Battle. These differ rather much from each other. Arcade is an all-out furball over fictional, but oh-so-pretty, landscapes. There are no limits on plane nationality and the players can respawn for as many times as they have crew slots with planes. In arcade you also start out in the air and all planes have an WEP (Wartime Emergency Power) boost that can be used for a short while. Machineguns and cannons are reloaded in the air as well, making for some pretty hectic gameplay. If you just want to get in there and have a fast round or two of flying, arcade can be your pick. Because you are allowed to respawn, it can also be a lot less frustrating for beginners. The arcade scenarious are divided into various mission types, ranging from ground strike where the elimination of enemy vehicles is number one priority, to airfield domination where the team wins by holding a number of airfields that are captured by landing on them. Both are good fun and can be surprisingly tactical. The historical battlefields are a bit more low-key, but well made nonetheless. Historical battles are more realistic in the sense that you start on the runway and can not change plane after dying. If you run out of ammo you need to land to reload. The flight dynamics are also more apparent and stalling as well as spinning is a more distinct possiblity, as is ripping your wings off if you try to manouver too hard while having a high airspeed. The maps are based on historical locations and have various objectives. More often than not the game ends with one side loosing all of their aircraft. Historical battles are good fun and better to fly with a joystick since the lead marker that shows you where to shoot in arcade battles is absent, and thus the mouse aim players advantage in accuracy is a lot smaller. Full Real Battles (FRB) are just that: Full realism simulation, with all engine and flight dynamic settings enabled. Mouse-aim is not permitted meaning you need to have a controller like a joystick, since the "mouse joystick" is very counter-intuitive, and you can only view from within your cockpit. In this mode, some kind of head tracking is probably very helpful to keep situational awareness. On an interesting side note, War Thunder is ready out of the box to support the Oculus Rift VR headset, and as you might know the production Oculus Rift is set to be released sometime next year. The latest version, Beta 1.35, has added a new setting, called “Events mode”, which are customized battles with varying settings, for example a specific day of combat during the Battle of Britain where only the historically correct aircraft get to participate. An event. Flying in War Thunder really brings me back to the days of Il-2 Sturmovik, which was the last WW2 sim I played. I'd personally say the feel of the flight dynamics are rather excellent, and coupled with the quite granular hit and damage modeling makes for some very satisfying dogfights. In Arcade mode the flight model is definitively more forgiving and entering a flat spin is damn near impossible, meaning that you can yank your controls around with abandon. In HB and FRB you need to pay more attention to energy management and your planes characteristics. Limping back to base in a shot-up plane to re-arm and repair can be exhilarating in its own right, which is a good testament to both the flight model and damage modeling. I made it! There is also a lot of extra events and special commemorative days that gives players discounts for certain aircraft, and during some events you can even earn free aircraft that are otherwise premium for kills or other tasks. So if you just got a month long slot opened in your calendar, there certainly is a lot to do in War Thunder if you really want to have at it! For those who are not too keen on multiplayer gaming there are some single player missions avaliable, but the AI of your opponents and especially your wingmans leaves a lot to be desired. If you are prepared to overlook that you can fly custom battles, single missions and even a dynamic campaign versus the AI. You can also play these mission with friends allowing for traditional co-op play. Overall though, the game places a lot of emphasis on the multiplayer component. A single mission Controls As I mentioned earlier you can either control the game by just a simple mouse and keyboard combo or then a joystick. There are many different types of ways to set up the controls, so if you have a joystick, rudders, throttle and even one of those trim switch controllers with a lot of programmable levers and aim to fly FRB you can map things like propeller pitch or fuel mixture to these in addition to all the basic controls. I think this is a great approach, as there is something for everyone and even new players that may not own a joystick have a good possibility to just get into the game. One should not scoff at the mouse aim either, because it more than makes up for its lack in turning proficiency for its deadly aim: putting well aimed shots is a lot easier with the simplified mouse control than with a joystick and making small corrections is quite easy. If you want to fly with a joystick you can opt to use a simplified control scheme that has a “instructor” that prevents you from stalling and spinning your aircraft. After going into a few flat spins and crashing because of poor energy management in a P-39 Aircobra you might want to consider this. The author certainly did. In FRB mode this is not available, however. It should be said that the control issue is a pretty big one, since the super accurate shooting that the mouse enables makes joystick flying in the arcade mode a bit impractical if you want to really rack up a good score. Flying with the mouse is still amazingly fluid and you can really feel like a good pilot zooming low over the threetops. Only in the FRB mode does the joystick actually become a necessity. Planes, planes and more planes The plane set is satisfyingly large, and no matter what nation you chose there is a lot of choice. Want to fly a nimble biplane fighter or a lumbering four engine bomber? There is a choice for you. The planes are ranked approximately by year, so you start out with mostly bi-plane designs of the 1930s and move up from there. Korean war jets like the F-86 Sabre and MiG-15 represents the top-of-the-line. And don’t worry, the matches are set by plane rank so you won’t have to take on Me-262s in your I-153 Chaika. There is also a lot of stuff to upgrade for each plane making the time between levels more meaningful. You can also customize the look of your plane by adding decals and changing paint schemes, however the selection of different paint jobs is pretty small and a lot of these are premium meaning they cost golden eagles. Here you can see my P-39Q with two custom decals. If you have a premium account, you can apply up to four decals! The planes are modeled to satisfying detail and feel "right" in the handling. Things like roll and turning rate and armament really does make a difference in the battles and you find yourself researching your next purchase pretty tediously. The level of detail is quite high If you for whatever reason feel limited by the choice of aircraft, you can check the official homepages release roadmap and note that there seems to be plans for damn near every combat aircraft that flew for the various nations. One can only wonder how long it will take before this huge plane set is a reality. Graphics and sounds I have been playing computer games and sims for over 15 years, and I can remember the time the first graphics accelerators came out on the market. By that I wish to say that I’m not very easily impressed by graphical gimmicks anymore, but I’ve got to admit that War Thunder is stunning to look at. The planes are modeled and textured beautifully both on the inside and out, the terrain is rendered wonderfully in full detail and the light and atmospheric effects are like icing on the cake. Flying from inside the cockpit towards a setting sun with light-shafts and shadows dancing around while you look at a misty valley below is almost poetically beautiful, only to be torn apart seconds later by the chattering of gunfire and bursting flak shells. I can only imagine what it will look like while wearing the Oculus Rift. The sounds are also excellent, heavy machineguns have a satistfying "oomph" to them and the sound of cannons like the Yak-9K's NS-45 45mm cannon is downright terrifying. The engines sound convincing and they sputter and whimp when damaged in a convincing manner. And it is all comped by a suitable orchestral sound track that never gets annoying. Ultra low graphics The graphics are excellently scalable and there is even an Ultra Low mode for those with older machines that eliminates most of the graphical fireworks in exchange for a lot more frames per second. I initially run the game on my laptop in ultra low but after some trickery I managed to update the graphics drivers to the latest Catalyst version, and after that I consistently get 30+ fps even on my laptop on higher graphics settings. All in all, the graphics engine deserves the highest of praise! The future Obviously, War Thunders imminent future involves getting out of the beta phase and adding more planes and scenarios. In addition to that, the developers aim to introduce player controlled ground and naval forces. There are some early screenshots of the ground module available, but no concrete details yet. Only time will tell how well these additions will work. The official homepage has a roadmap page which lists planned new features of War Thunder to be introduced during open global beta: The earliest changes: personal statistics; squadrons (clans); enhanced game balancer; new missions, locations and game modes; major update, new menu and interface; further FM corrections; new aircrafts (check the Release Tree section); economic model update; Other updates: localization for more languages; control over ground vehicles and battleships; tournaments; player authored missions, and full mission editor; «World War» game mode; bomber cockpits; voice chat. So there certainly does not seem to be a lack of effort on the part of Gajin Entertainment. In a recent new update they have stated that playable ground vehicles will be added to the open beta during 2013! War Thunder is also scheduled to be a launch title for the PS4. Conclusion War Thunder offers a lot of content for potentially no money at all, so there really is not much negative to say about that. The business model chosen means that progression is a bit on the slow side if you decide to not buy any premium currency to speed things up or invest in a premium account which gives you even more experience points. On the other hand, the slow progression means you get to spend a good deal of time with each plane you get. Ultimately, your enjoyment in this game will not be down to the actual game but to whom you play it with and what your preferences are. Competitive multiplayer gaming is not for everyone, and the game is a whole lot more fun if you have a friend or two in your squad to cover your six. There are frustrations in this game, but so far I have encountered a lot less of them than in other multiplayer titles. Voice communications and a bit of planning can go a long way in this game, and helps you avoid frustrating deaths. Perhaps the best of all is that in the end, it all comes down to player skill. A good pilot can thrive in this game even if they don’t put a single dime into it. Score: Gameplay 4 / 5 Excellent flight dynamics and damage modeling coupled with a wide array of supported devices means anyone can hop into the fray and not be at an disadvantage. The game really captures the excitement potential of the air combat genre and it is all too easy to say to yourself "just one more mission". The only downside is the somewhat lacklustre single player portion, but on the other hand it is great that the developers added it in the first place. Graphics and sounds 5/5 Simply stunning visuals that run smooth as silk, comped by excellent sound effects and music. Overall: 4,5/5 It is really difficult to find serious faults in this game, because it offers so much for basically nothing. And it seems that War Thunder has found that balance that makes playing without paying quite viable while rewarding those that do sink a few bucks into it. I bought a premium plane just as much for the better stats it offered as to support these developers, and the future certianly seems bright for the title!
  12. Il-2 Sturmovik: Cliffs of Dover In The Beginning The name invokes certain feelings in flight simmers. For the last 18 months, those feelings have generally been a mix of rage and disappointment, judging from the comments from the online community. Using "Il-2 Sturmovik" for a sim which has not only no Il-2 Sturmoviks in it, but not even any Russian planes (aside from the recent addition of the non-WWII Su-26), is an attempt to trade on the reputation of the series before it. The original name, Storm of War: Battle of Britain, would've been more appropriate. I suppose Ubisoft felt they needed the extra marketing muscle, but it didn't matter. The retitled acronym for the sim, CloD, turned out strangely prophetic. The release in the West in July 2011 was a mess. Quite frankly it wasn't even a beta, it was an alpha. There have been multiple patches, official and beta, with the last official release in Sept 2011. Now the "final" (more about that in a bit) CloD patch is here. Everything that is going to be changed or fixed has been. At $30 on Steam, is it worth the asking price for those who don't have it? For those who do, does it deserve a second look? Read on my fellow suffering simmers... What The Sim Is CloD has both offline and online play. Offline is simply not up to the standards set by the previous Il-2 titles. Two scripted campaigns, a few single missions, and a dozen or so quick missions are all that you are given. The single and quick missions have some inaccuracies, but are generally fine if you're not overly picky. There is an RAF campaign and a Luftwaffe campaign. The RAF one is a sad attempt at having a storyline and its reach exceeds its grasp. The consensus is you shouldn't bother with its historical anachronisms and the bizarre "Spitfire girl" scenario. There are better free RAF campaigns to play instead. The Luftwaffe one is better, but not amazingly so. It's a decent representation of the German side of the BoB with the ability to fly multiple types, but it has no real cohesion. You're not proceeding chronologically, it's more "here are some 109 missions" followed by "here are some Ju-87 missions". If you want to like it, you probably will. If you're expecting a great campaign experience, you probably won't. There are also the quick and full mission builders for those who want to go the do-it-yourself route, although I've always preferred to play others' missions to my own. Something is always inadequate about any I've made for myself. There's also a good little training module more or less teaching you to fly in the Tiger Moth. It's good for what it offers, much better than the previous Il-2 sims had. You won't spend too much time there, there are only half a dozen scenarios teaching things from takeoff to landing to spin recovery, but it will be a good experience while it lasts. It's purely about flying, no combat is included. Online was supposed to consist of coop and massive dogfight missions, like the previous Il-2 releases. So much for that plan. While the original release and early patches made MP a frustrating affair, the final patch has smoothed it out. There are several servers that are regularly teeming with players in massive dogfight arenas, getting the most out of what CloD offers. I'd dare say the bulk of the developer's attentions were spent on this mode and it shows. There are several large servers out there supporting dozens of players, and if you liked this in Il-2 before, you'll like it here as well. Coop is another matter. It doesn't work like it did in older Il-2 games. It doesn't work like in most other sims. Usually, it doesn't work. Some enterprising and determined community members have tried to cobble together a way to fly coop in CloD, consisting of using "dummy" planes and other sleights of hand, but it's a pale substitute for what the title should have had out-of-the-box, or at least after a final patch...namely at least what the original Il-2 in 2001 offered. If this is what you want CloD for, don't waste your time. Remember the great experiences, starting with Il-2 Forgotten Battles, of either single missions or a dynamic campaign in coop? Cherish those memories. Or load up Il-2: 1946 or its predecessors. Don't look to CloD. The World of CloD So how does CloD look? Overall excellent, with several exceptions. The planes and cockpits are flawless. The lighting on and in them is wondrous as you turn and dive, changing the angle of the sun. There is a slider for weathering and its amazing how much it adds to the overall effect. I can't imagine anyone would be displeased with the cockpits, they set a new standard. The damage looks great, albeit not as good as it was before. For performance enhancement reasons, in the last patches the level of detail was reduced. That applies to all the graphics in CloD, actually...the unpatched and unplayable slow and buggy release version looked better for the most part. It still is as good as any other out there, it's just no longer clearly the best. This is most clearly seen in the terrain. The terrain is ok. Better than the older Il-2s, on a par with DCS, but not quite up to Rise of Flight. The weather has a meager implementation aside from a nice little frosting of the windows in clouds. While time of day is done well, there just isn't that dynamic weather that was discussed during the sim's development, and even the static weather is simple. What clouds exist are certainly not best-in-class. Compared to older Il-2, it's somewhat better, but CloD's level has been surpassed by other sims. Now to be clear, all this is with the graphics at top levels. On my i7-2600k/GTX570/4 GB RAM Win 7 64-bit machine, I'm satisfied overall with how the sim looks and flies. The performance is as good as say ROF without making odd tweaks to my system or the game files to achieve it. One jarring exception is FSAA. The sim has an option for it, but it really doesn't make much difference. While on the positive side it barely affects performance, on the negative side it barely affects the visuals! Instead, I have the in-game FSAA off and turned on FXAA in my nVidia driver panel (because forcing FSAA on there didn't work either). I'm not sure if AMD owners have SMAA or a similar option in their drivers as I've not had an AMD card in a couple of years now, but FXAA gives the best improvement in appearance/performance hit tradeoff for my system. Artificial Myopia The AI in CloD is not an improvement over the Il-2s that came before. Perhaps if you specify "when X happens" you can point out an improvement here or a lesser reaction there, but overall I'd say the AI is more or less the same. Those who found the AI in Il-2's gone by lackluster performers will have a similar reaction here. The increased tendency to sit ALMOST on a target's six and then fire the entire ammo load, missing by a wingspan or more, is certainly a worsening of the old AI behavior. What seemed to then happen only on occasion is now a regular routine. In fact, the best way to avoid getting shot down by the AI is to get them on your six and fly straight-and-level while they run out of ammo. Then you turn around and chase them down, and as they will often RTB on some sort of autopilot in that case it's very easy to drop on THEIR six and take them out. Friendly AI is abominable, as always in the Il-2 series. Radio commands to them are an exercise in futility. If you enjoy getting attacked by the enemy while your wingmen watch mutely, only to have them bravely charge in and deliver the coup de grace as you hammer away at an enemy's six, robbing you of the gratification, then look no further than CloD! The Planes CloD has a decent array of planes that fought in the Battle of Britain. It unusually includes a couple of Italian planes, and likewise excludes a few more-pertinent-to-the-conflict planes like the Do17. It has as flyable: Bf109E1,3/3b, and 4/4b Bf110C4/7 Blenheim IV Br20M G50 He111H2/P2 Hurricane DH5-20/Rotol Ju87B2 Ju88A1 Spitfire I/II/IIa Tiger Moth Su26 (or more aptly named Sir Not Appearing In This War) In the AI-only list, we have: Avro Anson Bristol Beaufighter Bf108 CR42 Defiant Fw200 Gladiator He115 Sunderland Walrus Wellington I'm not what many would define as a hardcore simmer (any more, 15 years ago was another life). I don't really care if the Spit IIa's time to climb is 10% too slow, or the speed at which a 109E's wings rip off is 10% too low. I just care that every plane is relatively the same; that all the planes time to climbs are 10% too large or whatever. If the 109E errs 10% high and the Spit is 10% below, that means the historical comparison between the two is blown. As long as they're both wrong in the same direction, the relative performance differences will be maintained. I'm not flying time trials or other test pilot stuff, I'm a combat pilot. I want tactics that worked in the war to work here, and tactics that failed to fail here. I don't want to see a plane that got nowhere in the war be an F-16 in comparison to its contemporaries! The rest is rivet-counting fluff that doesn't affect actual gameplay. If my top speed is 30kt too low, but so is my adversary's, I'm fine with that. If I'm flying a plane that should be able to boom and zoom my adversary's plane, it better not be slower! If I'm flying a nimble dogfighter that relied on agility because it had a low top speed, I better not outrun him! The previous Il-2s had some planes that were "off" in that respect, the Pacific Fighters stable being generally the worst offenders. Chase my P-38 down in a Zero will you?? CloD seems to avoid this by and large. I've read reports that some find the Stuka TOO good, or that these planes' ceilings are too low, these planes wallow where they should soar, etc. Personally I've not experienced that, with the caveat that while I have hundreds of hours in the Il-2 series, I've only been able to put about 10 hrs into CloD. I just haven't been able to muster the desire to do more than that yet, honestly. So it's possible there are FM weaknesses I will take note of with more flight time that have yet to rear their heads. A pleasant improvement over older Il-2s is the armament. While before every MG was a .22 at best and every cannon shell a virtual grenade, in CloD you can actually shoot down a 109 with nothing but .303s and still have plenty of ammo left over. You can even get several if you're both lucky and frugal with your trigger. The cannons are indeed more powerful, but not overpowerful. Combined with the strides forward in damage modeling, it means you can expect to actually fall to an enemy's MGs but not instantly shatter under their cannons. Sound, UI, and Other Bits The Sept 2011 patch redid the sound coding for CloD, and it's a vast improvement. Il-2 always had poor sound, and CloD's was actually worse. It's now better than Il-2 ever was. Real engine sounds were sampled and instead of being offensive it is now quite pleasing to the ear. Provided you enjoy the roar of a Merlin, of course. The sound is now one of the highlights of CloD. The UI is what we've come to expect from 21st century sims...bare bones, utilitarian, and serviceable. It's a backhanded compliment to say "the UI isn't a trainwreck", but really the most positive way I can describe it is "it works." Not confusing, clearly laid out, but ultimately sterile. Still, it will not hinder your simming experience, it just does nothing to enhance it. Like its forebears, CloD has Complex Engine Management for those who yearn to do it "like the pilots". It's modeled here in all its complex glory for those who enjoy tweaking their engine and prop configuration for optimal performance in a given flight regime. A confession: I don't care for it. I've heard all the arguments, that it's more "real" to have to contend with flying AND fighting, that it's possible to get the plane to perform better than with the engine on auto, and so on. It's just not for me. I prefer to imagine I'm doing all those things on a "personal autopilot", as those who've driven a car with manual transmission will attest to...you just do it without thinking about it. I'm sure if I had as many hours to dedicate to flying WWII sims as I spent driving a stick shift I could learn those mixtures and prop settings just as well. However, I do not. I let the sim do for it me and concentrate my time on what I enjoy doing--flying the plane and fighting the enemy. Stalls, spins, torque, and wind and turbulence are plenty for me to feel it's real enough. As I said, I'm not what would now be considered a hardcore simmer. I was one in the 90s, when the sims had less to learn and I was either in school or freshly out. My life has changed, and so have my simming habits! To those who scoff and look down their nose because they "let the computer do it", I say back off. It's not your job to decide how others enjoy their sims. Sim and let sim. End of the CloD This last patch was final. There will be no more patches for CloD. Maybe if something is found horribly broken there will be some hotfix, but be assured there will be no more major fixes or changes. 1C has moved on to the sequel, likely to be Battle of Moscow, although as always plans could change. According to 1C, the next time CloD will be updated is when the sequel is installed on top of it. Any features not here now will not appear till then at the earliest, and it will not be free. On the plus side, the sequel will either integrate with CloD (allowing all fixes to back-port to CloD) or it will have all CloD's content inside it in some way allowing you to fly it inside the new sim. So for those of you who bought the sim a year or more back and have been waiting for the definitive fix, go ahead and try it again. If you've been waiting for this patch to buy, how you feel about it will likely depend on what you expect from it. If you spend your time on servers online flying with and against other humans, chances are you will be satisfied with CloD's state. I won't say "thrilled" necessarily, again your expectations may vary, but CloD is now capable of succeeding Il-2 in the online dogfight arena. I'd say $30 for a product you'll probably spend 100+ hrs in is a great value. If you can find it cheaper elsewhere, I'd say you'd get even better value. If your interest is in offline or coop online play, the verdict is different. Minimal offline content and what is there is of questionable value. There are the mission builders if you want to make missions yourself, but personally I've never enjoyed missions I make myself. Others make them, some for free, so go ahead and look online for some, but quality of course varies. There are payware campaigns from Desastersoft that many find worth the money, especially for the features it adds on top of just good missions. It does require spending more for CloD, of course, but it will give you the single player experience that a top end BoB sim would be expected to offer. Coop? Well frankly it's broken. For a feature I used more than any other in Il-2, from 2001 to the present, to be in such a state was particularly hard for me to bear. We won't be seeing a fix for it in CloD, although if you decide to get the successor you might have some hope. Here are the words from the developers themselves on the issue: "Redoing co-op is a huge task. We are a business. We have to make a profit somewhere somehow. We cannot keep pumping resources and releasing free patches for Cliffs of Dover forever. And regarding not using our products in the future if we do not redo co-op now. I believe the majority in this community actually will. If we offer a much more comprehensive co-op experience in a future product, and especially if such an experience still allows you a trip back in time to fly some Spits and 109s over the Channel, well, I really hope that most people will want to get the sequel. To reiterate - I've never said that we'll never address co-op, I've only said we cannot do it within the Cliffs of Dover project." So there it is, the nonfunctional coop will never work in CloD without buying another product from 1C to enhance or supplant it. Unlike some in the community, I've never hated CloD, I've just gone from "profound disappointment" to "disappointment." Il-2 was a classic, despite its flaws (which IMO were many, from some quirky FMs for certain radial planes like the Fw190 and P-47 to the maddening friendly and enemy AI), because of everything it had and did right. CloD is now a decent WWII sim...and it will never graduate beyond "decent". Poor to lackluster campaigns, a smattering of single missions that are nothing special, broken coop MP. The online dogfighters and mission makers will likely be satisfied. What will happen with sequels/addons/integration with CloD may make it better if you spend more money on it, but as is it's well...forgettable. It's not the film you see on Saturday and spend the next week raving about (how good or how awful it was), it's the one where you start thinking about dinner before the credits roll, and come Wednesday have a hard time recalling what the details were when someone asks you!
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