Article Type: Review
Article Date: August 29, 2001
The Importance of Air Combat
|1: THE NECESSITY OF FIGHTING|
The uses of aeroplanes in war in co-operation with other arms are many, but the efficient performance of their missions in every case depends on their ability to gain and maintain a position from which they can see the enemy's dispositions and movements. Cavalry on the ground have to fight and defeat the enemy's cavalry before they can gain information, and in the same way aerial fighting is usually necessary to enable aeroplanes to perform their other duties.
Artillery co-operation, photography and similar work can only be successful if the enemy are prevented as far as possible from interfering with the machines engaged on these duties, and such work by hostile machines can only be prevented by interference on our part.
|Manfred von Richthofen, 81 kills |
The moral effect of a successful cavalry action is very great; equally so is that of successful fighting in the air. This is due to the fact that in many cases the combat is actually seen from the ground, while the results of successful fighting, even when not visible, are apparent to all. The moral effect produced by an aeroplane is also out of all proportion to the material damage which it can inflict, which is considerable, and the mere presence of a hostile machine over them inspires those on the ground with exaggerated forebodings of what it is capable of doing. On the other hand the moral effect on our own troops of aerial ascendancy is most marked, and the sight of numbers of our machines continually at work over the enemy has as good an effect as the presence of hostile machines above has bad.
From: Practical Flying: A Complete Course of Flying Instruction
Wood and WireMankind looks to approximately 5000 years of recorded history; sometimes we forget how recent is our history of flight.
Apparently Alpha Simulations hasn’t forgotten, and in spite of the very recent demise of Dynamix, the makers of Red Baron and Red Baron II, you can still climb into a wood and wire airframe and duke it out with other knights of the sky.
|Just a few of the flyable aircraft. |
The aircraft included with this expansion pack for CFS2 are:
Fokker DR1 Red Baron
Sopwith Camel HPO 400
Zeppelin Staaken R6
That’s an impressive list for an expansion pack, but with the included seventy missions and six campaigns, not to mention custom terrain and a large variety of custom ground objects, this is one of best value expansion packs I’ve seen. Let’s have a closer look.
Flight and Damage Models
|Colorful paint represents the times. |
When evaluating any standalone simulation, these are high on the list of priorities. After all, arcade games are a dime a dozen, and they come and go very quickly. A good simulation tends to have staying power, but a good simulation has to have a believable flight and physics model, and the damage model to go with these. Who wants to struggle to get on the tail of the bandit only to have him blow apart at your first shot? Or worse, who wants to find it so easy to get on the tail of the bandit that the kill doesn’t matter anyway?
“The smallest amount of vanity is fatal in aeroplane fighting. Self-distrust rather is the quality to which many a pilot owes his protracted existence.”
—Edward “Eddie” Rickebacker
USAS, 26 victories
As a veteran of Flying Corps and Red Baron II, I felt good about the flight models of Combat Aces. The aircraft feel sluggish and underpowered, as they should after my many recent hours in IL-2 Sturmovik. It takes a while to roll one of these aircraft, and if you waste energy it takes a while to gain it back again. The better ones almost leap off the ground and will climb very well. The earlier aircraft are downright dangerous.
Notably, certain eccentricities appear to be accurately modeled. Use your rudder and ailerons to induce a left turn in the Sopwith Camel and the aircraft resists slightly. Attempt the same roll to the right and the aircraft responds quickly. Torque effects are modeled and the Camel was known to be exceedingly quick in the right hand roll.
Similarly, there are no 20mm cannons here. These pea shooters require good aim and a steady flight stick. It takes a bit of doing to get a kill. That’s how it ought to be.
|Taking Down a Bomber |
|Machine and Lewis Guns:|
The essentials for successful fighting in the air are skill in handling the machine and a high degree of proficiency in the use of gun and sights. Of these two essentials, the second is of even more importance than the first. Many pilots who have not been exceptionally brilliant trick fliers, have had the greatest success as fighting pilots owing to their skill in the use of the guns and sights. The manipulation of the gun in the air, especially on single-gun machines, is a very much more difficult matter than on the ground. Changing drums, for instance, though simple on the ground, is by no means easy when flying.
From: Practical Flying: A Complete Course of Flying Instruction
The damage models do suffer somewhat from the restrictions of information. Unfortunately, Microsoft hasn’t released information on making elevators and wings destructible, and so expansion pack designers don’t show this kind of damage, though you will feel its effects.
|This monoplane has only seconds left. |
Taking repeated hits to the left wing of your aircraft, for example, can force you to use increasing amounts of rudder to maintain level flight. Similarly, those repeated hits have a cumulative effect on the survivability of your airframe. As the structure weakens it becomes more and more likely that you will have a catastrophic failure. Oh…I forgot to tell you…there are no parachutes!
“I fly close to my man, aim well and then of course he falls down.”
—Oswald Boelcke, German Air Service, WWI
|Enemy in my sights. |
|Cockpit of the famous Sopwith Camel |
The cockpits and aircraft are nicely done. The views are flat 2D affairs, so you can’t do any panning around, but they are well executed. Naturally, you also have the option of the virtual cockpit view with padlock, but it’s rather basic here.
The cockpits look authentic for every aircraft modeled, quite a research investment! The fuselage and wing textures are also varied and accurate. While the aircraft models are not as detailed as the highest level of CFS2 models, they are very good looking.
Sounds are also very good. The engine sounds vary appropriately with RPM and engine type. While I can’t comment conclusively on the sounds for every engine, at least the radial engines sound different than the in-line types. They are believable and the sampling is of good quality. There are no voices, since there are no radios represent.
|Even the Zepplins are here |
While the graphical effects of damage have some limitations, the AI is straight out of CFS2, and it is quite good. Where the jet expansion packs have left something to be desired, possibly because the AI of CFS2 was designed for lower powered aircraft, these pilots will kill you quick if you aren’t careful. Particularly on higher difficulty settings like “Veteran” and “Ace”, they use a variety of tactics and are good shots.
The only exception to this seems to be at low altitude. When an enemy pilot gets low they seem to make ground contact more than they should. The just released patch improves things somewhat, so I recommend you install it before your first flight.
Combat Aces comes with scenery based on the Somme region of France, designed with the aid of WWI maps. It includes six airfields with detailed static scenery. Not only that, but both summer and winter terrains are selectable.
|Flying a triplane over winter terrain. |
The objects are some of the best I have seen in an expansion pack. Hangars are WWI style, and static aircraft populate the bases. There is even a Zeppelin hangar! When you land at a field strip, there are usually static aircraft sitting around or under the shelter of wooden hangars. You’ll also come across water towers, vehicles, and various other building types.
Missions, Campaigns and GameplayGameplay on the whole flows well and is fun. Pay attention to such notes as “Ignore the blue text and listen to the white text.” Default messages pop up courtesy of CFS2, like “Hit X to advance to the next action point.” Doing this will mess up your mission and you will bypass key waypoints with specific goals.
|Over an enemy airfield. |
I found out again what a challenge it is to strafe ground objects with a pea shooter. Destroying aircraft on the ground is much harder than it is with a 20mm cannon or two.
Inevitably, someone will wonder about wingman commands. It’s hard to tell whether they are working or not, but in general I would say “not.” It doesn’t matter, if you run into multiple bandits your wingmen are valid targets. You can always hop on the tail of that Fokker DR1 when he engages your mate in the Sopwith Camel.
There are some aircraft, like the Bristol F.2B that sport a rear gunner, and these guys do a reasonable job of keeping the enemy at bay. By the same token, if you get on the tail of an early bomber, you may find yourself the target of such a gunner. I suggest you weave a lot!
I haven’t flown all the way through a campaign yet, but the missions are connected with logical flow and good briefings. There is plenty of action, and the terrain looks good. The beautiful clouds of CFS2 help with atmosphere. With all details to the max at 1024x768 on my 1GHz system, I average around 20 fps. This is with 32 bit color depth, so you can expect a higher frame rate in 16 bit color (this is with a GeForce2 video card).
|Offensive tactics are essential in aerial fighting for the following reasons:|
Both the curse and the blessings of CFS2 are evident throughout. The benefits of fighting in CFS2 include the enemy indicator and on-screen radar map that defaults to the top left of the screen. You can also select to fly from the no-cockpit view, or no-cockpit view with info display at top right.
|Additional View windows at your pleasure. |
You can also fly from an outside view. There are certain instances when this is really helpful in a dogfight, and using the hat switch pan view to track the enemy in relation to your aircraft can assist you in getting on his tail. As in CFS2, you can also pull up additional display windows if your hardware is up to it.
|Crop of the Briefing Screen. |
|Single Mission Selection GUI |
The curses are the familiar interface screens. Hmmm? That dead pilot notice looks familiar! On the positive side, you can set up a quick combat session with any aircraft provided against any of the others, or try the A6M2 against the Red Baron if you like. Always wanted to land a Sopwith Camel on a carrier? Now is your chance.
|The inflight map is handy. |
Or pull up the in-flight info map at any time in any mission. Pretty handy to trace those waypoints back or to check on the completion of mission goals.
ConclusionThis is a good add-on, well executed and feature rich. The manual is brief but includes necessary install information as well as detail on each of the nineteen aircraft and single Zeppelin modeled. For $36.00 US from the Alpha Simulations website, I recommend Combat Aces for those WWI starved simulation fans who own CFS2.