Imagic Online’s Warbirds 2.73 is the latest version of the Warbirds online simulation. Warbirds has been Imagic’s bread and butter for many years, and recently I delved into it in order to investigate the reasons for its longevity and popularity. However, before I get into that, I wish to offer a disclaimer. I am by no mean a flight simulation expert, and I’m sure there are others out there with better credentials for doing a review on a game such as Warbirds, however I have been playing games online before there was an “online”, and I feel I have an excellent frame of reference regarding which game is not enjoyable, and which game is. The category Warbirds falls into is certainly the latter.
The first thing a new Warbirds (WB) player must do is download the Warbirds full Windows install, which is 25 megabytes. There is also a high-resolution art pack which supports 1024 x 768 resolution. This art pack is actually larger than the WB download at 32 megabytes. A word of caution: Don’t be fooled by Warbirds’ small sized program code like I was. The attention to detail in WB is incredible. After running the install program and the subsequent art pack, my WB folder was 190 megabytes, still quite small in comparison to boxed World War 2 simulations. In order to play WB online, the Imagic Entertainment Network (IEN) hub must be installed. The IEN hub is an online gaming service, closer to Mplayer than something like Zone or Kali in operation. I haven’t spent much time exploring the hub’s capabilities, since it only takes 3 clicks to get into the WB game selection menu. There are many types of WB arenas, but the main arena is consistently the most populated, and I used the main arena while researching this article. There are other arenas to fly in, such as historical, beta, and air combat to name a few, but none of them have many players in them. The main arena offers an online war in which the player can fly for one of four colors (red, green, gold, and purple), and each tour lasts three weeks. At the beginning of each tour, the map is reset and each color has its bases situated in a quadrant on the map, and only 1939-1940 era aircraft are available to fly. As the tour moves forward in time, more aircraft become available. This makes for some interesting game play, and I found myself returning to the game often just to see if a new aircraft had become available. IEN’s Warbirds site has a Rolling Plane Set Info page, which shows the timeline of the current tour of duty, and the dates that new aircraft are available. This site also offers offline training pages, and it is wise to give these a read in order to learn the WB “lingo” used in the main arena, as well as how to fly and fight.
There are many aircraft modeled in WB, and they are broken up into fighter and bomber categories. Below is a list of the aircraft available in WB 2.73.
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Fig. 1. B17 in heavy flak
Each of these fighters and bombers have unique cockpit art, flight models, guns, ammunition load outs, and paint schemes which model each individual aircraft as faithfully as possible. Different variants of each aircraft exhibit the quirks of the real life aircraft. For example, do a negative g maneuver in an early model Spitfire, and the fuel cuts out and the engine momentarily quits. Some single engine fighters really pull one direction until you reach higher airspeeds, and opposite rudder is needed to keep on course at times. This torque modeling is also unique to each individual aircraft. Some aircraft also have war emergency power available (WEP), for short bursts of extra power when needed. If WEP is left on too long however, the oil pressure and temperature dials will go into the red, and a red warning light will appear, which warns of a imminent loss of the engine of it isn’t cooled down by powering back. The attention to detail regarding the flight models is extremely well done, especially considering the number of aircraft modeled in such a swamped online environment. There is several types of trims available in order to make climbing to a higher altitude easier on the pilot. Trim can be set on level, speed, or angle, and this feature is a lifesaver in a long climb by allowing hands off flying.
Fighter armament is realistically modeled also. The damage model is very convincing, with individual parts that can be shot off each aircraft, such as rudders, elevators, ailerons, ect. Engines can also be damaged to varying degrees, and different colored smoke simulates the extent of the damage. The damage model for each type of ammunition is quite noticeable. I’ve put hundreds of rounds from a Hurricane’s armament of 8 .303 machine guns into a target and not killed it, while a quick snapshot from an Me262’s four 30mm cannons has blown up a B-17. This is not always the case however, and the damage model also creates that “luck of the draw” type environment that happens in combat. Sometimes a single round will hit the cockpit and strike the pilot, resulting in a kill. Accuracy seems to be the key, and no matter what type of armament hits a target, if you hit the engines enough, or get lucky and kill the target aircrafts pilot, your target is going down.
Bombers also have realistic flight models. Trying to coax a B-17 loaded with fuel and bombs to high altitude is an exercise in patience for a new player like me, and I’m sure many a World War 2 bomber pilot felt the same way trying to get his steed off the ground. Each bomber has its gun positions modeled after the real life aircraft. The style of turrets (powered or un powered) and number of guns differs for each model and variant. These gun positions can be disabled by enemy fire, but also fire automatically at any threat that is in range. Taking control of these gun positions is a far better option, as the automatic gunners accuracy leaves something to be desired, and if you aren’t careful, they can be disabled before you get a chance to take control. Using a bomber’s guns is a lot of fun, and gives a bomber at least some defense, but bombers were meant to bomb, and this is one of the most interesting and important facets of the main arena game. Any bomber equipped with a bomb bay has a Norden or equivalent style bombsight. The player can set the salvo size and distance between each bomb in the salvo. The bombsight is sensitive to movement, and after a turn takes a while to center, but once it does, a green light comes on and if you are at the correct airspeed the bomb will hit right where the crosshair is. The bombsight has a magnification of 10x, so even at 20,000 feet, targets can be selected and hit with ease after a bit of practice, provided you don’t forget to open the bay doors like I constantly do. Each bomber has a list of load outs that have varying numbers of different sized bombs, since certain types of targets require specific ordnance.
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The game play is where Warbirds truly comes into its own. There are half dozen World War 2 flight simulations on the market, and many of these have the same realism as Warbirds, and better graphics to boot. The problem with these other games is that they lack what WB excels at-online multiplayer gaming. Combat Flight Sim has a fair number of players on the zone, but finding a decent server is no easy task, and once you do find someone with less than 500 ping and 50% packet loss, the game is pretty much dogfighting for points. European Air War is similar to CFS, with less than 10 people on the Zone usually, and a similar number on Kali. Janes WW2 Fighters falls inline with EAW and CFS, but at least has a fair number of players on Combat.net usually. All of these WW2 sims are great games in their own right, but none of them offer the online battles possible in Warbirds. When I play WB, typically there is over one hundred, and sometimes as many as two hundred players flying at the same time in the main arena. These players are from all over the globe, yet WB seems to have little or no warping and connectivity issues like so many of the other WW2 games, and it does this with twenty times or more players. Most pilots in WB are very loyal to one of the four colors, and this results in a very close team or family of players. Each of these colors makes war on the other three colors. This is done by attacking airfields, naval forces, cities, ports, and opposing aircraft. There is a scoring system involved here also, but it is quite complex, and will be covered in an upcoming interview with Warbirs personnel.
Aircraft can be launched from airfields as well as your color’s aircraft carrier. Only certain types of aircraft can sortie from certain types of airfields, depending on the airfield’s size (i.e. you can’t fly a B25 off an Aircraft Carrier…sorry no DoLittle for you!). The main objective is to seize enemy airfields, and in order to accomplish this, the targeted airfield must first be closed. Destroying all AAA, fuel dumps, radar stations, hangars, and other buildings does this. Once a field is closed, a Ju52 equipped with paratroopers is used to drop troops on the field, and a short time later the field is captured, and changes to your color on the map. This sounds simple, but when opposing AAA and flak are up in force, it can be a suicide mission for bombers and Ju52’s. Destroying buildings in an opposing colors city slows war production and increases repair time greatly, and as a result targets that are destroyed take much longer to rebuild. Regarding airfield defenses, there are different types of flak and guns, and they explode and the end of their trajectory as well. It is quite a scene watching an attack on an enemy base for the first time with all the tracers flying and flak exploding. Naval forces can also be destroyed, and attacking an aircraft carrier with 6 ships escorting it is even tougher than hitting an airfield. Needless to say, the AAA is extremely thick. Torpedo bombers come into their own when attacking ships, and this is one of the toughest things I’ve tried in WB. Flying at low speed and altitude with the tracers reaching out for you is a real test of nerves. When AAA hits you in the front of the windscreen, you get a “smack” very similar to the shot in the movie “Empire Strikes Back” when Luke’s Snow Speeder takes a hit on the windshield. Other times, a nearby airburst of a large caliber shell will result in “pings” and little or no damage. A direct hit will often blow you out of the sky. As deadly as a hit from AAA can be, thankfully they aren’t that accurate, and they can be destroyed by a burst of gunfire or a 100lb bomb usually.
When in the tower screen at an airport enemy targets can be seen as colored dots on the map, providing the fields radar isn’t out of action. These dots are translated to colored icons while in flight. At a range of 6500 yards or less, and enemy aircraft will be highlighted with its corresponding color and a two-digit number that gives the range to target. Once the range is less than 3000 yards, an accompanying aircraft id tag is added. Friendly aircraft can be identified by aircraft type or player’s callsign. Teamwork and communication is essential for success, and quite often you can get AWACS help of a sort from someone waiting to takeoff in the tower. Also, by right clicking on a friendly aircraft, you can quickly give someone a “check 6” warning. This brings up another point. The first game I played of Warbirds I asked everyone where the online manual was, and one of the best players in the game told me he had the manual in two words- “check 6”. This is probably the best advice I have received, and situational awareness is paramount of you want to stay alive. Energy management (having more than your opponent) is also very important, and when I first began playing, I couldn’t understand why all my colors fighters went into a rapid climb immediately after takeoff. After being bounced and shot down several times by enemy fighters with an altitude and energy advantage over me, I soon realized how important energy management is in Warbirds.
Shooting accuracy is another important skill that needs to be mastered, and I’ve found this to be a “practice makes perfect” issue. I was extremely frustrated the first few times I got into a scrap with an enemy fighter because it seemed I couldn’t hit anything, and when pulling into a target, your tracers aren’t visible because the are below the bottom edge of the canopy. It took me about three weeks to begin to get some air victories, and I got a lot of help from other players online and several help pages. Typical engagement ranges I’ve had best success with is less than 500 yards when behind a target and less than 1000 yards when in a merge situation. Deflection shooting is another skill that will get you some quick easy kills, and nothing makes your day like a quick snapshot and kill. Needless to say, I haven’t had many of those. There are some truly amazing gunfighters on WB, and most of them are happy to help a new person out with some tips or 1v1 training. This point brings up the community surrounding Warbirds.
Warbirds has a loyal and dedicated following, and I believe the reason for that is the fact that it is a pay as you play game. I realize that a by the hour billed game is a double edged sword, but the people who are playing Warbirds truly want to be there, and since they are investing their hard earned money, they are very serious regarding game play and make the most of their time while playing. Every time I’ve had a question, I’ve had numerous people instantly answer, and finding help is not an issue. There are usually trainers online that can help you improve your game, and they are all very helpful and courteous from what I’ve seen.
The first thing I ever did in Warbirds was capture an airfield with a Ju-52 paratroop drop (yes, it was first time lucky, since I was slaughtered for two weeks straight after that), and the gratification and praise from your fellow pilots is instant in Warbirds. All the “way to go’s” (WTG!) I received on that first flight has been what kept me coming back nearly every day. It is a rare game and an even more rare flight simulation which offers this positive human interaction, and that combined with excellent game play is what makes Warbirds an ongoing success story.
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