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WarBirds III Beta Preview - Part III
by Len "Viking1" Hjalmarson

Game Title: WarBirds III
Version: 3.0 Beta
Category: Massively Multiplayer WWII Air Combat
Developer / Publisher: iENT
Release Date: 2.77 Released. 3.0 Currently in Limited Open Beta
Required Spec: PC: PII 400, 128 MB RAM, 3D Video / 16 MB RAM. Mac: OS 8.6 or higher, 256 MB RAM, 3D Video with OpenGL support. (full details)
Files: | WarBirds (Full Install) | Manual, Terrains, Cockpit Art |
Past Articles: Interview

Review Type: Preview
Review Date: April 12, 2001

<< == Return to Part I: Graphics
<< == Return to Part II: Damage, Systems, and Flight Models

In Parts I and II I considered the graphics and damage, systems and flight models. It's easy to forget that we are looking at a beta: an incomplete form of the final product. There are many features and refinements, even artwork, yet to be included to complete the WarBirds III title.

Today, in Part III of this series, I'll focus squarely on WarBirds III with respect to flying bombers and the AI with only occasional reference to these aspects of Aces High which have been well-documented in previous articles on COMBATSIM.COM.

Flying Bombers and Artificial Intelligence

WarBirds III models twenty-six fighter aircraft, including the Me-262-A1, plus eight bombers. The flyable bombers are the B-17G, B-24D, B-24J, B-25C, JU-52, JU-87, JU-87G and JU-88-A4.

WarBirds: Aircraft Selection Interface

In fact, you can choose from one of eight positions in the B-17, including the pilot, tail gunner, nose gunner, left and right waist, ball turret, top turret and Norden bombsight positions. Better still, this means that you can crew the B-17 with eight of your friends!

WarBirds: B-17 Pilot Station

WarBirds: Left View Cockpit

WarBirds: Tail Gunner

WarBirds: Left Waist Gunner

WarBirds: Right Waist Gunner

WarBirds: Top Turret

WarBirds: Ball Turret

Naturally, many players will be more interested in the gun positions and the bombardier task than in actually flying the plane. Last year I must have spent well over a hundred hours flying and bombing with the Lancaster in Aces High.

One of the things that is frustrating about flying bombers in Aces High is that you can only add a single additional player to your aircraft. This means that if you are the pilot, you have one gunner to try to man all the gun positions. Not too bad if you encounter only a single bandit, but that is a rare occurrence in the main arena.

Furthermore, in the main arena the gun positions in the bombers in Aces High are not automated. As a compromise, manning any position will allow you to fire all tracking guns simultaneously. This means that if you are firing from the tail, for example, and the ball turret also has a clear shot, you can fire both positions from the tail. With multiple bandits, of course, you are a sitting duck. And if you happen to leave the bird for a minute for some necessary chore, you leave the Fort defenseless.

Thankfully, WarBirds III has no such restrictions. The way that multi-crewed aircraft will likely work in practice is that one player will act as pilot, one will man the waist gunner positions, swapping left to right when necessary, one will swap between tail and nose, and one each for upper and lower turrets. Adding another player for bombardier will give six players as a nice crew for online play.

WarBirds: Fortress in Flight

WarBirds: The Norden Bombsight

From the appearance of the bombsight view in WarBirds III, it looks like there may be more to using the bombsight here than in Aces High. Notice the large amount of information presented to you onscreen in the bombsight view. You can see the number of bombs you have left, the type of ordnance selected, the salvo setting, current altitude, bombsight deviation, current heading, view magnification, and whether or not the bomb-bay doors are open. I donít know how many times I have attempted to release bombs in Aces High only to find that I had neglected to first open the doors. This is particularly common if you have made more than one pass on a target.

WarBirds: Target obscured, Captain!

WarBirds: B-17 over target.

WarBirds: Visibility better at low alt.

In Aces High bomb release is generally a simple matter, apart from enemy opposition! But in WarBirds weather conditions come into play. Frequently the target will be obscured or partially obscured by clouds, and wind will cause ordnance to drift. Bombsight deviation will have to be measured and controlled under adverse conditions.

The bombsight in WarBirds III appears partially automated, but in reality this is supposed to represent the gyros stabilizing. When the light goes ďgreenĒ the sight is stable.

When a target or airfield lines up in your bombsight view, you can then use your joystick to make course corrections or modify your tracking if you want to hit a hangar as opposed to a runway. All this becomes somewhat more challenging if there are fighters on your tail. But then, if you were planning ahead, you also brought along your escort, right? and perhaps another B-17 or two for mutual protection and to split the enemy fighter's attention? Of course you did ;) If you thought of all that, and you are lucky, the weather will cooperate and be conducive to bombing.

You don't have to worry about such issues in Aces High, apart from the rare cloud, but in WarBirds conditions are more life-like. (Aces High is in the process of adding cloud layers so this may quickly change.)

The Ju88 A-4 in WarBirds is beautifully modeled. I didnít spend much time in this one but took a few screens.

WarBirds: Cockpit in Ju-88

WarBirds: Nose Gunner in Ju88

WarBirds: Schloss!

Fighting from the gunner positions is fun. I could wish for a zoom feature, however, since itís tough to see the bandits until they get very close.

Artificial Intelligence
WarBirds has included an offline mode since 2.7xx, allowing you to dogfight or fly a bomber against the computer AI. How does the beta stack up?

In a word: impressive. Iíve seen a variety of moves, including good use of the vertical, and the AI tends to take advantage of the strengths of the platform while attempting to exploit your weaknesses. For the first time, you can practice offline and learn to use the aircraft you prefer and actually improve in your ability for those online encounters.

You have four choices for offline enjoyment: Free Flight, Air Combat, Target Drones or Bomber Ambush. You can select Rookie, Veteran or Ace AI, and you can choose your number of wingmen, the starting altitude and the time of day. Offline settings also allow cheats like unlimited ammo.

If you are flying alone in a bomber or if you are flying offline with wingmen, they will notify you of danger. At the moment this is via text alone, and Iím not sure if there are plans to add voice, though I suspect not. It would be great to have gunners and wingmen call the bandits out by voice.

WarBirds: Comms appear on screen.

Warnings in the fighters tend to be general . . . ďcheck your six.Ē Other kinds of notices are also given, in particular the locations of CONS (12:00 low).

Warnings from your gunner positions in the bombers are quite specific. For example, the LEFT GUNNER will tell you that there is a Ki84 at 2:00 o'clock low. You can then hit the 4 key to take you to the left waist if you want to try your luck against the bandit.

WarBirds: Nose Gunner. Incoming 262s are hard to hit.

WarBirds: Damage notices also appear on screen.

AI gunners are quite accurate. Sitting on the tail of an Me-110 or a B-17 is not a good idea.

The bombers may be too easy to kill, though I didnít experience this myself when I was firing on a B-17. In fact, I was thinking that the tail gunner was awfully accurate! But of six flights, two dropping bombs, four times I have lost my entire horizontal stabilizer when being attacked by a single bandit from the rear. These kinds of issues are generally addressed during beta testing.

I flew in the gunner position in the B-17, bouncing around to various positions, and my impression is that the aim of the AI bandits is too good from far away. It didnít usually take very long and my B-17 was carrying a dead tail gunner, and then minus a tail section.

After many hours in B-17 Flying Fortress: The Mighty 8th!, Iím pretty impressed with just how tough these aircraft really were. My guess is that the AI gunners, both onboard the bombers as well as in the AI fighters, are a bit too accurate.

On the other hand, when you set up your offline mission in a bomber, you can choose the number of escorts you want. These guys are also quite accurate and quite aggressive and theyíll help you survive and hit your target.

Finally, the one aircraft where AI is obviously not intelligent (in the beta, remember) is the Me-262. If you choose wingmen to fly with you when you select the Me-262 they will go hell-bent for leather into the face of danger. They do not use the high speed of the 262 to advantage and they won't live very long. But the Me-262 is great fun to fly nonetheless!

Other Vehicles?
The new art system in WarBirds III allows for quick importation of custom skins and even new objects. 3D models can be completed as quickly as a week, with a few weeks of testing then required. Ground vehicles are already in the plans, with the goal of introducing the first player controlled ground vehicle soon after the beta release.

Go to Part IV: Cockpits, Views, Setup and Conclusion == >

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