The days we have awaited for months are upon us: the arrival of the first of the handful of pre Christmas World War 2 sims.
Microsoft's Combat Flight Sim is already on shelves. Next week Microprose European Air War hits the stands. And on my desk sits a new beta of Fighter Squadron and Janes WW2 Fighters. (For AV8Rs review of the demo see WW2 Fighters Demo).
P38 on tarmac.
I've just spent a half hour with WW2 Fighters attempting to gather some initial impressions. Let's look at this new arrival from three perspectives: a multimedia product, a game, and a military flight simulation.
Janes Multimedia Product
The interface is striking, to say the least. Janes has continued to develop their virtual interface since the early Longbow days, and the metaphor of the military base becomes the military museum for this release.
From the Museum one can visit a variety of collections: movies, aircraft, and historical data. For example, one can watch a film clip from the second world war. Or, you might click on a statuette to view information on a famous ace. Finally, you can also visit the aircraft on display, pan around the outside, or even hop into the cockpit. A tour guide tells you about what you are seeing.
As a game WW2 Fighters is brimming with atmosphere. Layers and patches of cloud and fog, the pastel shades of sunrise and sunset, special effects to dazzle the eye: it's a graphical feast!
But more than merely a feast, its a canvas. It brims with atmosphere, and it shows the artists touch at every pause. Sometimes it borders on surrealism, but mostly it is simply beautiful.
The music is also striking, however. As I lifted off the runway I realized there was something oddly familiar about it all. Had I been here before in a previous life? Sorry, I don't believe in reincarnation. Well, maybe it's Jung's collective unconscious... Ah, I know! I've been here in the movies!
I think the best description of the game, from the feeling/experiential perspective, is a sense that you are flying in a WW2 movie. I love the music. Some are going to turn it off, but others are going to play this game for the atmosphere alone. If the artists at Janes don't win awards for this one, something is wrong with the Universe.
Sound is excellent, voice is excellent, as it must be if immersion is the goal. There will be support for Creative Labs new architecture in the Sound Blaster Live, which will likely be THE sound board of choice for this simulation.
But what about frame rate? Well, if you have the hardware, you can crank
settings to the max and still get 15 fps. I threw the beta on my PII450 with TNT, notched resolution to 1024x768, cranked effects to the top, turned cloudlayers ON, set terrain detail to 3 (4 is the top), and moved object detail to the top. I also selected COMPLEX engine sounds which adds depth and detail to the sound modeling.
Click to continue
. . .
Even with this robust configuration I was obviously pushing it, yet I managed around 15 fps until the scene became busy. Probably the lowest I saw on these settings was 10 fps.
But typically, Janes is big on flexibility, and if you run at 800x600 with effects at the middle setting and cloud layers off, you will have no problem on a PII 266. I tried this configuration on my PII 300 with Matrox MGA G200 (about 60% power of the TNT) and was still around 15 fps.
The Military Flight Simulation
As a simulation this one will have plenty to boast about too. Usually attempting to fire your guns on the runway is a waste of time: someone fixes the guns on most simulation aircraft to prevent this. Not so in WW2 Fighters!
My first burst from the P38 Lightning was met with an outburst of surprise from the pilot in front of me. My second shot was likewise noticed. When I hit the rockets things started coming apart out there!
Likewise ignoring standard formation and taxi procedures is not well received. The tower will badger you from the time you start your engines (or fail to start them) to the time you take off.. our of order!
Initially I had forgotten the start engine key, so I sat there wondering what to do..... I've forgotten exactly the phrases, but it was more or less like this...
TOWER: Reflex Blue Flight you are holding things up out there.
TOWER: Reflex Blue Flight hurry up!
More time passes...
TOWER: We're waiting for you, please start your engines.
And then, as I revved em up and sprinted along the tarmac...
TOWER: You are out of formation, please rejoin the group...
And as I turned and sprinted along the ground back toward the group..
TOWER: You are not following recommended taxi procedures.
And as I took off without the group from the tarmac in front of the tower..
TOWER: What the hell do you think you are doing?
Heh! Gotta love it...
It's too early to comment on flight modeling and enemy AI, but it's at least in the Janes ballpark, and quite a bit beyond the USNF/ATF series. The aircraft seem stable, but if you push them you can find yourself in a spin. I've only flown two types so far and need more time for research.
Physics and ballistics modeling seems excellent. There are three levels of realism for weapons modeling (four for flight). You have seen enough of the screen shots to know by now that attention to detail is extremely high.
I am personally greatly impressed by the flexibility of the view system. A player can pretty much set up anything they want in WW2 Fighters, including the use of padlock, no cockpit views, windows, and even an assortment of pop up gauges to add to a variety of basic viewing choices.
Pop-up avionics and target view box.
Head down in the virtual cockpit.
To download the demo click HERE
For more info on the interface and mission structure go to Part II