by Ed "Brandor" Reddy
If there ever was a flight simulator to take the 'also ran' spot in the WWII Prop sim arena, Luftwaffe Commander(LC) is it. LC arrived last Christmas without so much as a peep.
Under these circumstances, I was curious as to why such a 'unique' game was given little or no hype, considering the attention to Janes WWII, CFS, and EAW.
LC is unique in that it is based on the 'German' side of WWII simulators, an approach that SSI seems to market successfully; their team focus tends to be specifically for the German 'side'. As part of SSI's "Digital Combat Series", Eagle Interactive has stepped up to bat in the WWII simulation plate.
Having toyed with this latest flight simulator from SSI, I now understand why simmers have not acknowledged this game. But first, let me put it into perspective. Ever go to a movie because of a neat movie trailer you saw but only to be disappointed because all the good movie scenes were in the trailer? My same feelings apply to Luftwaffe Commander.
It is apparent this is a low budget B movie simulator is showing the rushed Beta development (or lack of). It was rumored to be in development (beta) last November but suddenly - it's on the shelves! "Huh?" I asked myself…
While most combat simulators offer a wide variety of environments, LC brings you something no other WWII simulator can offer - a complete tour of all German war fronts from 1937 to 1945.
Campaign play begins into the Spanish Civil War of 1937, and it offers two levels of difficulty - Iron Cross (with selectable difficulty levels) or Knights Cross (all difficulty levels are on). Flying for the Nationalists in the Ju-52 BI-plane, the game works through historical elements during the Spanish War, including base transfers, time-lined introduction of new aircraft. The campaign eventually moves into the Battle of France, the Battle of Britain, the Russian Front, and finally the Western Front.
However, surviving each war seems to be almost impossible. I've been trying to get a campaign going by playing each mission without any ambitions, but I seem to either get shot down or collide with another aircraft. When I get hit I don't try to bail out. It seems it takes about 2000ft before your guy will open his chute - which is a HUGE bug. I bailed out of my Me-109B at 2000 feet at 60 knots (my engine died) in a slight climb. One would think that you can bail out in perfect conditions like these.. but I was not high enough.
Core Rating: 70
I could go on about what I dislike about the gameplay, so I will put into point format some serious flaws/shortcomings and some neat features:
· Wingmen are useless. They fly along side and communicate a little with you, but there is little or no chat during engagements or after a melee. Don't expect much support from your wingman. Call for a 'watch your 6' - they don't show up-maybe they are watching Baywatch?
· Flight Model - there is a lot of complex flight modeling detail put into LC. It's possible for example to exceed your Angle of Attack and Stall your plane at high speeds. Damage from gunfire reduces the roll rates, speeds, and maneuverability. Leave your Cowl flaps closed at low altitudes and your engine can overheat - it will start to smoke and loose horsepower. You can crash-land your plane - with damage to your prop and underbelly.
And the detail list goes on and on. However … the damage (graphics wise) is far from spectacular. Explosions are poorly done, damage points on different planes are somewhat difficult to find, and it seems that some flight models are simply wrong. For example, speed damage and maximum takeoff speeds for the Me-109B are wrong, and difficulty levels from Iron to Knights are so slight there is little noticeable difference.
· Damage Modeling - Let's just say that when compared to Combat Flight Simulator, it's the same in some areas, but worse in others. Don't expect spectacular explosions, wing damage, or fiery crashes. LC is in the basement for Damage Modeling in WWII sims.
· The menu screens at the start up look sharp and offer little functionality. Button click points are way too tiny, organization of the items on the screen seem misplaced. For example, there is a "Fly Now" option in the main screen - talk about a useless "Instant Action". It takes FOREVER to find an opponent, your climb rates are pathetic, and the plane you are flying may not be what you wanted to fly. What you do want is in the Single Player screen, called "Air Combat" but that screen is compact with a cumbersome options layout.
· Under the Single Player screen, the Single Missions offer a fantastic view of aviation war history. Pick and choose many different missions under historic flight conditions. There is a lot to be explored here, but expect bugs, stupid AI in your opponents, and your wingman is as helpful as a wet sock flapping in the wind.
· There is a lot of functionality built into the cockpit. Cowl flaps, manual gear pump, elevator trim, and prop pitch (climb,cruise,descent) are some of the simple and easy to use functions. There are 2 view types - fixed windowed positions, and 3D Cockpit. 3D cockpit offers a free flowing view inside the cockpit, but gauges are not functioning.
Fixed window views allow quick views to fixed positions over your wings, and behind. The Padlock offers a smooth transition view of your opponent in the 3D cockpit, but in the fixed window, a jerky switch from view to view is useless for combat. The Padlock is completely unrealistic as it never breaks lock if the target plane goes out of view.
· If you're viewing the aircraft under the "Aircraft Familiarization" screen, some of the planes have recorded interviews of WWII Luftwaffe pilots, giving their perspective on the plane - along with a brief bio of the pilot. This is perhaps one of LC's best features, a feature IMHO that shines out amongst all the WWII simulators today. It's great to hear their stories!
· Missions and your Wingmen - could someone please go out and hit the guy in the head who wrote the scripts for the Campaign missions? Often the AI of your wingmen are so bad, they all fly into the ground, leaving yourself fending off 10 enemy fighters… only to watch them also fly into the ground. And don't expect to get awarded for kills, for some reason if you shoot down a plane, you don't get credited with kills. Some missions have other flaws - your landing gear is below the ground level (oops).
One would think that with today's technology, use of the latest graphic cards should be utilized. LC offers 640x480 ONLY. European Air War(EAW) designers got a huge chunk taken out of their hinds for releasing a 640x480 version until they patched it to allow higher resolutions. I hope that a future patch offers higher resolutions than the 8-year-old 640x480-screen size.
Game graphics - um…plane detail and paint is worse than EAW, but on par with Microsoft's Combat Flight Simulator (CFS). Clouds look like a painted backdrop - I've seen better clouds in Chuck Years Air Combat(CYAC - one of my all time favorites). Landscape is somewhat Flight Sim98ish, smoke from bombs looks like a big ghost doing a belly dance. Cockpit gauges look arcade style and unpolished. Support for most graphic boards is offered at 640x480.
Who really knows what a Me-262 sounds like at startup? I don't. How about a Me-109G - maybe if you were at an airshow and saw one. From what I can hear through my headphones, I'm not dismayed, but I'm not impressed either. Average sounds and explosions.
This game has a serious AI problem. I never in my life have seen so many planes simply crash into the ground during a dogfight. While fighting 2 I-17's over my base in Spain, they were on my six. I pulled hard left then right, forcing both to overshoot. Suddenly both turned right and dove into the ground…I guess they must have been watching "Baywatch" too.
At 15000ft, expect average maneuvers at maximum AI skill level. AI skills are way too easy IMHO, but for the novice, this is a great way to get some practice… as long as you stay high. There are some obvious flaws in AI. Oh yes, one note. Don't get too close to bombers. The gunners have an uncanny ability to track your plane at 500kph- a bit too accurate. It's a challenge to get on their six to take them down.
User Interface/Mission Planner
LC's user interface, as discussed under Gameplay, is somewhat unique, but not very functional. Some menu items could be left on the main screen, but are hidden behind "Single Player". I personally would have only used single screen as the main offers three choices - Multiplayer, Single, and Fly Now. Mission Planner? What Mission Planner? Oh, the developers must mean the "Air Combat" screen… It not a mission planner, is an instant Action options page. Note: I am guessing that screen divisions are there to hide a lack of game options.
I've had more fun driving to my Seven-11 than flying Luftwaffe Commander. Missions took forever to fly, coupled with poor Gameplay, average graphics, overly difficult missions, LC is not fun. It's a unique simulator, but not much fun to be had.
It took me about 2 hours to understand all the complexities of LC, the interface, and the cockpit commands. The game is not hard too figure out how to use, and all commands are functional and easy to manage.
I'm disappointed, actually ticked off. I was expecting a fabulous simulator from the producers of Su-Flanker, and Steel Panthers. SSI is known for their finesse in making core war games and simulators, but somewhere in the rush to get this game out for Christmas, they forgot quality control. What does this mean for Flanker 2??
There is an underlying quality and uniqueness to Luftwaffe Commander that had they of polished the mechanics, it would be a gem of a simulator. However, I'm left with a piece of software that cuts me up every time I pick it up. With the competition putting out simulators like European Air War and Janes WWII Fighters, Luftwaffe Commander does not even come close to the quality other products offer.
Total for Category = Category X Weight Percent
Overall = Total Score / 520 (Total for Weight) * 100
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Last Updated January 31st, 1999