Fighter Squadron: Screamin’ Demons Over Europe

Too complex for beginners yet too simplistic for hardcore pilots, Fighter Squadron stalls.

Far from being a novice developer, Parsoft was noted for their crude-looking but altogether realistic and enjoyable A-10 Warthog series of flight games. Thus, even in a sea of late 90’s WWII-era flight sims, Fighter Squadron isn’t a throwaway experience, but it’s definitely no jewel either.

4_1Like the crew that worked on European Air War, the artists for Fighter Squadron deserve kudos for keeping the look between the aircraft and terrain consistent. The 3D models in the game are pretty top notch considering the available technology, whether it’s the contours of the aircraft or the rolling slopes of the terrain – the only truly annoying quirk is the aircraft being painted too damn dark. The environments, despite some clipping and prolonged texture loading issues, feature superb 2D clouds and detailed terrain that give Fighter Squadron a nice, realistic look.

In the air, Fighter Squadron enjoys a pretty sophisticated arcade flight model. Everything moves with a grace and fluidity that hints at the mathematical detailing underneath. Bombers that lost a wing will plummet to the ground in a spiral pattern, and bent or damaged landing gear is a real challenge to land with. But alas, a little experimenting will reveal serious faults with the flight modelling at just around every corner.

Stalls and spins are almost impossible to get into. The engines are extremely overpowered – you can take off a loaded P-38 at about one-third throttle. Planes have a nasty tendency to wildly pull to the right during take-off, even four-engined aircraft, and the rudder’s painfully difficult to use. Whether you use the runway or not is completely optional however – you can take off and land safely on just about any flat surface. The P-51 Mustang has an awkward tendency to drop its nose mid-flight while the P-38 loves to go up, making them difficult to fly level without the use of the auto-pilot. There’s no time compression option, and so you’re always forced to fly several uneventful minutes before encountering enemy aircraft.

You also have the option of flying bombers, but this too is problematic. For one thing the interface for accessing individual guns and engines is impractical in the extreme. The sights used for calculating high altitude bomb drops are exaggeratedly simple, and don’t even remotely resemble the precision instruments that they really were. The damage modelling feels awkwardly misplaced overall – though you can rip off wings and blow up engines mid-flight, it’s more about attrition than precise shooting – you often wonder how many hitpoints you still have.


A view of the optional HUD and radar.

A few good design decisions made it in, but are only halfheartedly implemented. For example you can use a modern HUD and mini-map to display and target nearby enemies. The addition of a padlock feature that supports an intelligent zoom function can make for some intuitive dogfighting. Yet targeting feels awkwardly simplified – you can’t quite tell from a distance which aircraft you’ve selected and the aircraft are damn hard to see with the dark terrain textures. Plus there’s no way to disable the virtual cockpit, an odd limitation for a semi-arcade fighter that doesn’t force you to use the panel instruments anyway.

In the end this isn’t a remarkably enjoyable simulation by any stretch, but it does have its moments of close-up air combat despite the occasional interface and control quirks. The AI in particular is competent enough to shake you off in a heated fight. And the ability to instantly jump between planes (both friendly and hostile) prolong aerial matches considerably. But the flight modelling is a hit and miss deal, and the game at large is likely to disappoint both beginners or hardened sim fans.

System Requirements: Pentium 200, 48 MB RAM, 285 MB HDD, 8 MB Video, Win 95/98/ME

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