Microsoft’s latest “Combat Flight Simulator 3” makes quite a statement in its title. Can it live up to it? In this latest installment of of the MS Combat flight simulator series you can take control of 24 aircrafts from three different countries. Which will range from huge bombers to prop fighters, and even a few of the earliest jet airplanes. The theater of war is huge, taking you across Europe with beautifully rendered landscapes, trust me this game takes no hits in the graphics department.
Simply amazing. The airplane models are absolutely stunning, inside and out. They will also blow you away with an amazing damage model with somewhat exaggerated fire effects. The cockpit is historically detailed with accurate dials. You can even see the throttle move and the flight stick if you are looking in the right area. Probably the most graphically intense part of this game is the terrain and ground units/structures. While some might argue that a detailed ground is not overly needed in a flight simulator it does not feel out of place. After all this game does include a bomber campaign in which you will spend a lot of time staring at the ground. The enemy ground units are also accurately detailed; from tanks to trains to AA you will find plenty of great looking units to bomb.
This does however come at a cost. You will need a high-end system and graphics card to have this game perform smoothly. Even when I put in my roommate's GeForce 4200 into my machine the game still jerked from time to time.
Microsoft is really out doing itself in this game. The audio sounds great, from the tinny sound of the mounted machine guns on the bombers to the creeks of your airplane when putting it through high stress maneuvers. When flying one particular mission over Berlin through thick AA fire it sounded so unreal that it drew a few people that were over to watch over my shoulder. It does include a radio to hear updates from your co-pilots but you will find it eerily silent most of the time except for the odd “I’m taking damage” report.
Now this is a subject that a lot of flight sims lack. After all flying an airplane on the same mission over and over can become so repetitive in some sims that only hardcore airplane sim fans will stay true to finishing the game. Well, Microsoft does an excellent job at keeping you interested in the next mission. You are provided with a map in between missions that will display your frontline, advance successfully through a mission and you can see your frontline grow. From which you can mount closer bombing runs to more important targets. This adds an amazing feeling of advancement. As you progress through the game you will also be awarded character points with which you can build up certain attributes in your pilot, such as vision, stamina and health giving you some character development and also keeping you involved in the game play. You can play as either Germany, USA or Britain in the campaign mode, letting you select from a bomber campaign or a fighter pilot. In the bombing campaign you can take control of the bombing and defenses of the bomber and let the AI fly the airplane. I found the AI fairly poor, as often it would send the airplane into a steep dive-bombing pattern when clearly the airplane is designed for level bombing. Often after telling your co-pilots to attack, you will hear sounds of “bombs away” but upon closer inspection of the target I can see no bombs landing on or near. While the AI does seem a bit goofy at times, overall other than a few quirks it manages to get the job done. At any point during game play you can hit F2 to bring up a menu which includes a vast knowledge of terms, controls and flight procedures, an excellent feature that all sims should include. Flying the airplanes can seem overwhelming at first, with all of the controls but as you play a few of the training exercises in the quick mission mode it will become more comfortable. As with most simulators it can also be toned down a bit for those having trouble controlling the airplanes.
With the character development and the feeling of progress given by the advancing frontline, this game really gives you a feeling of being involved in something big. Most often in simulators you will find yourself advancing into the game but not actually feeling part of anything or even some kind of character involvement.
The game includes the basic multiplayer features seen in most simulators. You can host single missions cooperatively or death match dog fights. You cannot play the campaign mode in co-op but you can engage in the single missions. Which is something I would like to see in most games, the feeling of teamwork and progress is unreal when working side by side with a real person instead of some bogie's AI.
As you can tell from my review I really enjoyed playing this game. The combination of simulation with character development and a good sense of progress makes this game one of the best flight sims I have ever played, rivaling IL 2 Sturmovik. If it weren’t for the fact my video card was out of date I would be playing the game right now... You are going to need some serious power to terrorize the skies of Berlin.