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Flying Corps
by Leonard (Viking1) Hjalmarson

I know, if its made by Rowan, you have your doubts. And if you are a serious virtual pilot, those doubts are justifed. Rowans previous graphics engine suffered from compatability limits, a confusing view system, and their flight model was awful. BUT....times are changing! Rowan has written a completely new graphics engine with a realistic flight model to back up a completely new simulation.

Okay, fine, but Rowan didn't supply good TM files... Here they are! These files are designed for use with the F22 Pro and the TQS, but can be easily modified for FLCS.

TM Config Files

This simulation, released in late January, is a great coup for Rowan. Flying Corps looks fantastic, and has included even the kitchen sink! With detailed graphics based on real world terrain, intensive historical research, individualized flight models for four aircraft, and four different campaigns, each based on real scenarios and real people, Flying Corps delivers.

Installation

When you face the package you will be impressed by a fold out box that is some of the prettiest advertising you will ever see! Go ahead and take it to work to show the boys in the coffee room, just don't be surprised when they follow you home! Also included in the box is a set of SIX full color lap maps. Hmm. Something different about this simulation. Either bail out now or get ready for some fun! Okay, you're still with me, so check out that authentic WWI flying manual, all of its original 240 pages, complete with illustrations, and first published in 1918! Geez, who ARE these guys are Rowan anyway?? The only thing lacking from this package is the traditional command card with summary of keys.


Installation is a snap, although there is a bug that tells you that the if you select the large install you need 453 megs! Don't worry, its really 43 meg. Go ahead and load er up. You will find the install painless and quick. Choose your sound and music boards, standard stuff. Then you get to watch the intro film. Hey, I like this!

Hardware Req

Minimum spec is around 15 meg of disk space and a P100 with 8 meg of Ram. This will work fine, but you won't be running with all detail on and you will be waiting for disk access at nasty times on occasion. A realistic configuration is a P133 with 256 K of burst cache. A friend of mine is running at 800x600 will detail near max and gets about 10-12 fps.

You Can Fly!

When you first get into the sim you find yourself at the Options Screen, and have some some choices to make. You will want Preferences first. Get your graphics options set, flight model choices, joystick and sound, enemy AI etc. You can also access this screen with F12 while in flight.


Next you will want to choose the "Scramble" option. You will then have a choice of single missions ranging from a simple "first flight" to some more complex stalking encounters and squadron engagements. There is a choice for ground attack where tanks are the initial targets, and then you can go on to balloon busting: hey! this is fun!


When you access the Campaign selection, you will see a brief introductory film with voice overlay that will paint the picture for you. Nicely done! More on the campaigns will follow below...


When I first strapped in to my Sopwith Camel, I knew I was in trouble. The roar of the engines and the skake of the airframe as I bounced along the ground told me that I was NOT in a solid WWII fighter but a first generation slightly improved version of the paper airplane!

This was promptly verified as I banked too quickly and went into a sideslip and almost spun out. I also passed close enough to my squadron mate that I heard the wind as he whooshed past me, and my airframe shuddered with the force of the compression.... WOW! This was a new experience to be sure!

The realism found at every level of this simulation will startle you. If you are new to flight, or at least to flying prop jobs, your frustration level may approach the height of the Toronto tower (OK, Empire State Building for my American buds!). No more yank and bank, and no more power on tap when you are approaching a stall. In fact, without rudder pedals you are not gonna do very well, so might as well cough up the bucks right now!

Players can pilot each of these aircraft: Albatross DIII, Fokker Dr 1 Triplane, Se5a, Camel, Spad 13 or a Nieuport 28, and fly against 16 different enemy aircraft. Allied AI aircraft include the Be2C, Bristol F2A, DH9, Fe2b, Re8, Strutter, Sopwith Pup, and the Snipe. Central Powers AI aircraft include the AEG CIV, Albatross CV, Fokker DVII, Aviatik C, Halberstadt Dii, Pfaiz D3, Rumpler C, and the Zeppelin R.

For each nationality represented Rowan is modelling one powerful aircraft and one highly maneuverable one. Why the limitation in the number of flyable aircraft? This has allowed Rowan to model the individual characteristics of each. Rowan is breaking new ground here with the most advanced modelling yet seen in a WWI sim.

In the past the flight model has NOT been a priority. AI is so sophisticated that the pilots will take advantage of the strengths of their own a/c while exploiting the weaknesses of others. This does indeed seem to be the case, but for some reason after the initial attack enemy aircraft sometimes lose their aggressiveness. On the other hand, since they often use group tactics, it is still relatively easy to find yourself flying only half an airframe!

For the benefit of novices, each aircraft has its own dual modelling: a realistic option and a training option. Less experienced pilots may disable spins, as well as torque, wind, gyroscope and slipstream effects. If you don't have rudder pedals you can choose an option to compensate, but it really is a compromise.

And if you really are a novice, you can set enemy AI to the novice level and plan to survive a bit longer! You may also select the size of the hit bubble: from small to medium to large. When set on large you only have to get your bullets near to the chosen target in order to score a hit. This is really a large plus for those who are only beginning to train in flight.

Along the same lines, there is additional information available on screen for those who require it. Along the top of the screen, status information as well as nav info is available if selected. At its lowest level of information the status bar includes a stall indicator that changes from green to yellow to red to warn of impending stall. This display bar will even output threat warnings! While in padlock mode the nearest threat is identified with distance in meters, and compass bearing. Ditto for the nearest friendly or nearest ground target, and of course you can cycle through these. This works quite nicely and is very unobtrusive, and it can be argued that it compensates nicely for the limitations of monitor resolution and the real life Mk.I eyeball. So don't feel too guilty for using it.

Just how advanced is this flight model, you ask? Take the famous Sopwith Camel as an example. You need to pull back on the stick to turn hard right because of the gyro effects. It will correctly only snap roll in one direction(left).


Moreover, the Camel has a shifting center of gravity. At the beginning of a patrol, forward pressure was needed on the stick to avoid climbing. Later in the flight the fuel used would result in the CoG position changing and so the aircraft could be flown "Hands Off". (It would have been nice had Rowan included a cheat key for trim; with the F22 Pro pulling back constantly on the stick is a good job for Arnold Shwarznegger). Of course, aircraft will stall and spin. And it is possible to steer the aircraft on the ground using aileron (due to adverse yaw effect) as well as rudder.

Terrain, Terrain, Terrain

Terrain graphics are indeed impressive, and the pilot can navigate by simply gazing out the window and identifying key landmarks, such as rivers and roads. No, this isn't EF2000 or Comanche 3, but you'll like it! Lap maps are included with the sim. You can almost forget you are in a simulation as you soar over the French countryside with fields, lakes and even a few trees spreading out below.

Problem number one enters about this time, since it can be dashedly difficult to spy enemy aircraft with this colorful scene below you! The harsh reality is this: if you fly high against the clouds you are as easy to see as a rhino in a snowfield. If you fly low against the terrain, you will be hard for the enemy to find, but easy prey once spotted. Such are the vagaries of life in 1918!

Object detail is similarly high, and you can actually see the engine turning with the prop on the Sopwith Camel with its unique rotating engine. Of course, the resulting torque effects and their impact on flight are also modelled. Aircraft ARE beautiful, even at 640x480. I have been running on my PPro 180 with ALL detail max and the flight model options ALL toggled on at 800x600. (About 14 fps). At this resolution and with small pixels selected, graphics on my MAG 17 become heavenly. If you happen to be cruising with a PPro 200 overclocked and have enough memory on your graphics board, you will WANT to set resolution to 1280x 1024.



Even though it IS beautiful, it can be wearying, especially if you are flying above the clouds! No worries, just hit the ol TAB key, so long as there are no enemies near, and you will enter time warp mode en route to your designated waypoint. Rowan has come up with a nice toggle option here that they call "Decelerate Trigger" toggle. It has two modes: Combat and Tactical Mode. If you select "tactical" you will be dropped back into reality in time to plan your next move. You will be near to an encounter of some kind, and you can manoeuver or gain altitude to try to establish a better attack. Enemy aircraft may run when they see you!

The "combat" toggle will drop you back into sim when you are directly threatened and you may be fired upon quite quickly. Enemy aircraft will be more aggressive if this option is selected, and will not try to escape.

In sim, pilots may take advantage of targets of opportunity, at their own risk, of course. Deciding to venture away from providing cap cover for a bombing run to strafe an enemy base may be tempting, but mess up and reap the consequences as your strike force gets shot down by an enemy squadron. Still, its great to have the option.

I was flying near the front line and feeling a tad bored, so decided to check my map and head for the nearest enemy airdrome. In about three minutes I was getting close, and I was cruising at about 2500 feet when I spied some observation balloons! "Ah-ha," I said, and tossed my scarf back around my neck and adjusted my flight goggles. I dove on the first one much too quickly and barely got off twenty rounds before whizzing past. As I looked back over my shoulder I saw a parachute and the rapidly descending balloon was being hauled back to earth as quickly as the Germans could wind.

No matter, there are more! I went after another balloon, this time throttling down as I approached. When I was about 600 meters away the dawn sky lit up with flak bursts! Hmm, this may be tougher than I thought! 150 meters away the second balloon went down in flames, just as I took my first hit from flak. I opened the throttle and spun hard over with full rudder, flipping back and forth like an airborn sardine to throw off the aim of the boys with the guns.

Comms, Sound and Views

As to views, Rowan has abandoned their flexible but overly complicated view system in favor of a more conventional system including a virtual cockpit. The padlock view may be set to lose track of a plane when it moves out of your field of view or to "magically" track planes when they are obscured by a wing or fuselage. The view system itself contains various panning camera views, which while giving excellent outside views of dogfighting action, can make it difficult to stay oriented. No matter, you don't have to use panning when things are hot, and the freshly crafted patch gives you some fixed view in cockpit views. If this still doesn't cut if for you, remember that you can toggle between inside/outside padlock with one keypress, and even cut to forward view with the HOME key (remains locked so long as HOME is sent..). After a few hours of flying, I am finding this system more than adequate.

The sim itself comes with two executables on one CD: for DOS and for WIN95. Where Rowan's previous graphics engine was set at 640x400, their new engine will be limited only by your hardware, selectable from 640x480 to 1600x1200. This initial release does not have support for D3D or 3d hardware, but an upgrade will ship before long. With enhanced smoke and fog and cloud effects, anti-aliasing and an increased frame rate, it will add the icing on the cake!

The sim also features sounds digitized from actual WWI aircraft, (would you believe 20 different ricochet sounds, and different engine sounds from a Camel to a Spad?). Engine sounds will include start-ups, normal running, droning, "coughing," and diving specific tones. There will be authentic sounds of Vickers, Spandau and Lewis machine guns. As I mentioned above, flying to close to another plane will give you not only the whoosh of the air deflection, but the FORCE of the compression on your own airframe. Of course,you can also hear the engine of the other aircraft. And if you are within a couple hundred meters when your bullets find their man, you will hear him groan.

Other Features

Most modern sims have some kind of debrief feature. Flying Corps is not be an exception, and after every flight a report is presented to you that details what you hit, AND what you missed. But better still, if you are particularly successful, you will be promoted through the ranks. When you attain the rank of Captain, you will be permitted to manage your squadron. As Captain you will decide who flies, where they fly in the squadron, and the number of flyers you take with you on a particular assignment.

Variable cloud layers are the latest buzz in up and coming sims, and Flying Corps is no different. These effects are not only attractive, they give a player more hiding options. But here is a big surprise: Rowan has included a wind model! Possibly the most wanted feature in other recent sims (with the exception of Janes Longbow where it was included as an option). No more simply letting go of the joystick and expecting the world to unfold as it should....(grin).

As for those aerial melees, Rowan has placed as many as 48 aircraft in the brew at a time. For those who make the grade, once achieving Ace status (five kills) the pilot can paint his own plane. Choice is apparently unlimited: the paint shop on the base is a separate module, but the player only receives the keys after promotion.

Damage modelling is very detailed.: wings damaged or lost, fuel tank leaks, oil leaks, engine damage, control surface damage etc. Pilots will also sustain varying degrees of injury. Its a bit startling to watch the landing gear from a Fokker DRI drift by your aircraft after you shear it off with your gun. If you take hits you might have a wing bent or hanging by a thread, more hits and away it goes! When aircraft come apart, they really COME APART. Try shooting up a tent at an airbase and watch the soldiers come flocking out, taking shots at you with 303s! Rowan has also included an impact toggle if you like to see the impact.


The Campaigns


Rowan has taken an interesting approach to the campaigns, designing three scripted ones and a fourth (Battle of Cambrai) that is dynamic. Here are the details....

1. The Battle of Cambrai

20th November, 1917. A mass of British tanks, Royal Flying Corps squadrons, infantry and cavalry is approaching Cambrai, a bastion for the German army. This was the first battle where tanks were massed and used to lead the attack. With no preceding barrage to warn the Central Powers, initially the campaign was a great success. However, within days the attack petered out and by December 6th, counter attacks by the Central Powers ensured that the gains made by the British were minimal.

Bad weather during the first stages of the battle meant that there was little air activity. Later, air support was a bigger factor. The Central Powers used ground straffing aircraft extensively in their counter attack.


There were two major reasons for the failure of the British offensive. First, there were no reserves available to take advantage of the initial success. In fact, all available Tanks were used on the first attack. Secondly, the British failed to stop the reinforcements arriving on the Central Powers side.

The player takes the part of a Central Powers Pilot at the forward airbase of Flesquieres. Allied tanks have already rolled through Havrincourt, and are now approaching your airfield. Your first priority is to escape in your aircraft and hold the tanks off as your ground crew make their way to the rear base at Awoignt. The objective of the campaign is to stop the British reaching Cambrai and continue to fight until all of the British tanks, including the reserve, have been stopped.

Generally, tanks are stopped by either attacks from aircraft or by being hit by shells from field guns. Tanks can also be destroyed by close quarters machine gun fire. Your field guns will be targeted by Allied aircraft and artillery. You will be harassed by enemy aircraft and ground fire.

Here is where the simulation becomes strategic and goes beyond previous attempts in this field. In the briefing section a map will be displayed which will indicate the position of the front line. News from the front will also be available. From this information the player must decide on the most appropriate actions. For instance, if there are tanks approaching Cambrai they will have to be dealt with urgently. If field guns are being lost it will be necessary to launch missions against enemy aircraft or artillery batteries. If there is time missions against the supply point could be attempted to reduce the supply of tanks. Successful attacks on enemy airfields would result in a short term reduction in the air threat. Sounds intriguing, no?

2. Spring Offensive


This campaign is concerned with the Spring Offensive (the "Push") mounted by the Central Powers in March of 1918. The player takes the part of a new RFC pilot who arrived on the front in February. In the early missions the player has to prove himself. He needs to prove he is a quick learner and he will be given progressively more difficult and important missions. By the end of the campaign, he should have his own Squadron.

There are 4 stages to the campaign:

Initiation (1st - 4th February)

The player must prove he is good enough to go into combat. For instance, there is a training mission in which the player must try to stay close to his Commander who is maneuvering to shake him off.

Pre-"Push" (4th February - 20th March)

Consists of balloon busting and other strike missions.

The "Push" (21st March - 5th April).

During this period the Central Powers overran the Allies in the Arras-Amiens area. By the 5th they had reached within miles of Amiens. The advance then sputtered to a halt; the Central Powers had over extended their supply lines and the Allied defence held firm. During this period the player will fly a range of close air support missions.

Last Effort (6th - 25th April).

The offensive had petered out by the 5th April. However, there is still a chance of a last effort. The Central Powers are desperate to break through and take Amiens. The strength of this last effort will depend on how well the player has done in previous missions. In the last mission, the player will fly close air support missions during the first ever tank Vs tank battle. Even if the Central Powers position is strong, the player will still have the chance of stopping the advance into Amiens. Von Richthofen is killed on 21-3-1918.

3. Hat In the Ring


The Hat in the Ring was the insignia of the American 94th Squadron. Eddie Rickenbacker, the famous American Ace, started in this Squadron and in a few short months became the Squadron Leader. You are Rickenbacker, eager to achieve fame, but reluctant to lose the loyalty and teamwork that has made the squadron what it is. Objectives: Exceed Rickenbackers record, gain command of the squadron and win the Congressional Medal of Honour by the end of the war, but keep the team together at all costs.

4. Flying Corps

You are Lothar Von Richthofen, brother of Manfred, the Red Baron. Your brother has gone on leave, and you are now in command of Jasta 11. Albert Ball leads the 56th squadron against the German lines, and the Allies have seized Vimy Ridge. Objectives: Achieve the glory and fame you are desperate for by matching your brother's 52 victories. You have one month before he comes back... ...plan your missions carefully, second best is not good enough.

SUMMARY

I can't find much to quibble with in this patched release. Some of the patched view keys don't seem to work (the CTL 1-8 keys). It would have been nice had gun jams been modelled. I wish that Rowan had included a command card. A few more engagement and formation commands could have been included, ie. Engage Nearest Ground Target, Stay in Formation...


I hope that Rowan will release a patch for the CH Force FX. And please note: the TM M50 file included on the CD has a number of errors, for example the ZOOM key is reversed. Also note that the Reverse Padlock view will not work. And for those who are wondering, the coming 3d patch in June will likely also include a patch to allow two player modem connection and LAN play. This is much needed, of course, and will attract many players who will not buy the sim until they can play with real humans. Finally, the only real fly in the ointment is the computer AI (Shades of early EF2000...) If you stay low in a knife fight there is a high probability that your enemy will eventually plow in. Similarly, if your opponent likes the boom n zoom approach, he will fairly often shed his wings in his attempt to nail you... Still, their combat tactics are quite sophisticated and the multiple melees are very challenging to survive..

Overall the sim is a great leap forward, and with the coming 3d patch will be even more fun. I would not hesitate to recommend it. I rate the sim overall at 80 instead of 90 simply because the graphics are not QUITE state of the art, the canned missions lack that depth that a dynamic campaign would have given, and the sim is not now connectable. No matter, if you are into prop sims you will enjoy Flying Corps.


For an update on the coming 3d patch, go to :

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