Combat Flight Simulator 3: Battle for Europe
The best CFS thus far if you don’t count the faulty engine.
It has taken more than a decade to finally get that damn fire button on Flight Simulator via Microsoft’s Combat Flight Simulator, a series which was initially born out of a modified FS98 engine that felt strangely out of place. The third game of the series aims to remedy some of those older issues by fielding a new engine, dynamic campaign, more aircraft – bombers and jets included – and generally more enjoyment all around.
Regulars of World War II flight sims might be surprised to find several experimental planes that are featured as part of a fictitious extension of the war, including the American P-55 Ascender (right image) and British Vampire jet fighter. Bombers are the newest asset to the series, of which you’ll find the B-25 Mitchell and B-26 Marauder heavy bombers, and the famous Ju-88 ‘Stukka’ dive bomber on the German side – notable bombers missing in action number the B-17 Flying Fortress, B-24 Liberator and Avro Lancaster. The bombing missions as a whole are good, allowing you to jump between turrets and stations.
Flight modelling in CFS3 is likewise convincing, with varying roll rates, acceleration, maximum speeds and such according to each plane. On the lowest realism setting – there are three in all, which correspond to overall difficulty – the game feels more like an arcade experience with rather stiff controls, while on the highest setting one can barely reach Mach 1 without ripping a wing off. A good many tutorials and eight canned missions have been included alongside a customizable quick mission mode – anything from attacking an airfield to going one-on-one against another plane in a dogfight is permitted here.
The campaign is by far the most complex and will require the most time investment. Missions are generated along the front, and completing them will earn you enough prestige points to launch a ground offensive. A successful offensive will push back the front line into enemy territory, bringing the player’s nationality one step closer to victory. It takes a substantial number of prestige points to launch a successful ground offensive, and while it functions as a solid reward for good performance, the missions themselves seldom feel rewarding. During the entire course of these operations you have to manage your own squad of pilots – as they gain experience, you can allocate points to upgrade skills such as vision, G-force tolerance and health.
The AI of the pilots in actual combat range from competent to insane. Some will try to dodge your attacks via skillful maneuverings, but most are easy to drag into an infinite turning war. Heavy bombers tend to attack ground targets as if they were dive bombers – their AI seems a bit incomplete in this regard – and for maximum insanity you should try to assign fighter AI to a squad of heavy bombers during a quick mission and see what happens.
As is the case with most Microsoft products, controlling the program takes a bit of getting used to. The multitude of keys scattered everywhere and divided into multiple sub-sections give an ample grip on the action once you can memorize the more essential parts. Notably useful keys allow you to hide the virtual cockpit and bring up the five essential gauges – airspeed, heading, virtual horizon, altitude and vertical speed – for a more arcade feel, or the option to change the field of view, target or padlock both enemy and friendly planes. So while the oodles of options may seem bewildering at first, they really do allow for a great deal of control.
People who’ve played the first and second CFS will find much to like here as long as they can swallow the odd AI glitch and graphical bugs. Even after patching they still seem to pop up on a regular basis, be it in the form of misplaced or missing textures, buggy cloud sprites or whatnot. In one instance I’ve had the menu scene literally explode when I’ve selected different planes to fly in a solo mission. The frequency of the bugs alone gnaw at one’s enjoyment over time, just keeping CFS 3 from being the best game of the series.
System Requirements: Pentium 233 MHz Processor, 32 MB RAM, Windows 95/98/ME
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