reviews\ Nov 6, 2002 at 7:00 pm

Combat Flight Simulator 3: Battle for Europe - PC - Review

I have to say, I wanted this to be good. Despite my anticipation, I had to remain neutral and let the game unfold and reveal it's grandeur. I was not disappointed. Microsoft has returned to the (un)friendly skies in their third, and best, Combat Simulator offering. If you haven't tried one from this series, the time to start is now.

Combat Flight Simulator 3: Battle for Europe is the best flight Sim that I have played from Microsoft. I have played the non-combat types, but they do not compare to the grit and tension of flying against foes that will shoot you out of the sky. It was hard enough to dodge stationary objects (skyscrapers can be sneaky!!), but now you are dealing with enemies that will strafe you out of the sky if you do not fly exceptionally. Hence, training missions and thorough review of your plane's abilities are mandatory. 

In CFS3, you can choose from joining the German Luftwaffe, British Royal Air Force or the U.S. Air Force. Being patriotic, and having a love for the P-51 Mustang, I stuck with the "home team". Though, if you feel like trying something different, you are given 18 different and customizable aircraft to choose from. In addition, you can custom paint your plane to suit your personality. Again, I stuck with a patriotic red, white and blue motif. Your aircraft are period accurate; right down to the "new fangled" early jet planes that were being introduced. Trying various aircraft is part of the fun, though you will not find anything out of the critical time period of 1943-1945. A detail that I appreciated. It kept the game fair, and to use the word again: accurate

If you choose to fly in a large aircraft, you can opt to take a position such as a gunner. Sweet! Using the F-keys allows you to switch amongst the different positions within your plane. Being a lone flyer, I did not experiment with this much, but what a great option for the multi-tasker seeking a challenge. Again, I stuck to my beloved Mustang.

My first training missions in my new plane were disastrous. The pitch and altitude were sensitive and a second too long on a descent can having you screaming towards the terrain below. Depending on your speed, that can be a fatal error. Take your time training and learning the abilities of your craft. You'll thank me later.

Once you're ready for battle, you have several missions over Europe to engage upon.  You are provided with a map of the area from 1944. Study it. You can jump into "Quick Combat" to see how ready you are from your stint at Flight School. Your choices here are Free Flight, Dogfight, Intercept, Escort and Ground attack. Free Flight is great if you just want more flying time without danger of attack. Dogfight was a fun early challenge for me. I actually did well, which is a tribute to the training. 

To enhance the realism, you become a real pilot... complete with skills and experience that can be increased as you fly and complete tasks. Want to see realism? Send your plane into a dive and watch the screen grow darker and your field of view smaller. You're blacking out from the G-force. Keep flying and training, and that will improve. Just another touch that the developers include t make sure it is as accurate (that word again!!) as it can be. You also stand the chance of being SHOT within your cockpit. Unlike some combat games, it is not only your plane that can sustain damage. If you are hit, your health fails and things get tough. Of course, your plane shares the same weaknesses. If you take some good hits to your wing(s), your plane will fly like a rock. The steering and controls become like molasses, and your safe return to the base is critical. That was both challenging, and exciting. Again, such a departure from the non combat Sims I have tried before. I have never been shot in the leg when flying a Cessna!

The missions themselves are typical of this genre. You are given flight plan and objective. Go out and do it, or die trying. Just know that each safe return means more skill points and better gameplay. The game gets better the more you play. I love that in a game!! There is plenty to do, and if you think you're mastering the game-- change planes and start over for a whole new experience. Amazing replay value.

The quirks I found were few. The sound was average. I did not enjoy the steering experience much at all. I do not have a flight stick, which is a grand hindrance. I strongly recommend having a flight stick. They can be customized to suit your needs. Another issue I encountered was post-game effects. My colors were washed out and I required a reboot each time I ended. I rarely have that issue with my Radeon 7200. The terrains could have been better in my opinion. When you're up high enough, things below seem quite nice. If you find yourself flying low for a bombing mission, I found the graphics to be somewhat lesser in quality. 

Overall, the game was a lot of fun to play. The developers created a NEW engine for this one, so don't think you'll know what to expect based on previous editions. I am encouraged that they made it better than before. Flying was sometimes too hard, and the various little annoyances mentioned previously keep me from rating it higher, but I still think it is a great addition to a Flight Sim fan, or someone that wants to experience similar realism from the safety of their desk chair. Just check for bullet holes when your done. 

Gameplay: 7.5
Lots of challenge with the keyboard. Almost too much challenge. The variety of planes and mission options allow you to make it a different game each time you fly. I believe the flight stick will enhance the game and make it much easier to succeed, but it is hard enough to make it a tense experience no matter what you use to get out there in the wild blue yonder.  

Graphics: 8 
The graphics were quite good with the exception of the low terrain. The planes looked nice, and the multiple views available give you lots to look at. The clouds and haze make it mysterious and tense. I wish there had been more coloring and detail options for my planes.   

Sound: 7.5
Maybe the weakest part of the game. Not bad, but some of the sounds were a bit too subtle. Kind of as if you were hearing them from somewhere else, rather than a hundred yards from your cockpit. I would have expected to have my teeth chatter from the engine noise and sounds of the dogfight. 

Difficulty: Hard
With the keyboard as your controls, this is a real challenge. A stick will make it better, but still rough. Flying is realistic and the controls can be sensitive. The goal is to keep at it, and gain skill points to enhance your success. The more you play, the better you get. 

Concept: 7.5 
Offering the three different air corps is a nice touch. I stuck with the American fleet, but there are others out there to try out. It is, in many ways, the same old fly and shoot experience, but there is enough sparkle there to keep it from being a copy of a previous offering.

Multiplayer: 8 
This game will hopefully gain online playability. I did not see that at the time of playing, but I imagine it will come. Being able to fully load a bomber with assigned positions would make it a great challenge. Pick a good pilot, gunner and etc... then take off over Leipzig for some team action. 

Overall: 7.5
This is a game for all Sim fans. If you like the Flight Simulators, it's a definite winner. I enjoyed my first experience into Microsoft's Combat flying missions. It was a nice change from the commercial craft I had been testing for years now. It was realistic and accurate, which is very fair (no F-16s will attack your bomber!). The training and controls are fun to learn and rewarding once you learn to maneuver in a  dogfight without a scratch. Soar away with this one!


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