When the FSX was being prepared, there were discussions on the forums about giving the sim a dual role. One was that of a civilian sim that most of us know and enjoy, and the other was that of a combat FS. That did not go far, and ACES reps repeatedly confirmed that the new sim would have no guns and not even crash effects.
After the sim was out, there was very little discussion about the combat part and the focus was on the hardware and the new part of this FS – the missions. The more we have learned about the newest offering from Microsoft the more it became clear that Missions offer something truly new. Microsoft even released their first official add-on in a long time that featured more missions.
Most default missions run decently on most computers, and what they lack in fluidity, they make up in the immersion factor. They are perfect for someone who is new to the genre and add a quick escape from the big iron or bush flying. Moreover, they add a purpose some people need in order to stay with the sim.
As I wrote in one of the previous reviews, the missions are more game like, yet they have what every sim needs – the purpose, the goal, and the objective to sustain interest for longer periods of time.
ABACUS has released several missions so far, with some of the more creative ideas we have seen. Now their creativity has reached another milestone and they have added the combat aspect to the civilian sim. These Pups and Fokkers have real guns and the user gets to shoot-'em-up in order to complete the goals of eight missions.
As if that was not enough, you even get to drive a tank and shoot at other tanks as well as drop bombs from the WWI Zeppelin. Truly something unique and new in the last few issues of the venerable sim. Have ABACUS bridged a gap between a civilian sim and a combat sim? I was about to find out from my experience with this add-on.
Installation and Documentation
The product comes to you as a download or it can be purchased on a CD. After the download, ABACUS provides you with the license, which you insert during the installation, and from there on things happen automatically – almost. During the install, the scenery needed for the missions was not installed automatically. But this is well documented in the read-me file, and I had no problems of manually activating the scenery within the FSX.
In addition to the software, you will also get the PDF formatted manual and a read-me file. The PDF manual guides you through the missions and provides some hints on how to accomplish certain goals.
There are eight full-length missions that require you to complete the goals in order to achieve the rewards. In addition, there are also eight quick action missions that give no rewards and offer plenty of quick and dirty shoot-‘em-up experiences. Some of the full-length mission have several goals and get progressively harder but I will not give out any secrets here.
Included in those eight full length missions are two ground combat affairs in which you will be driving a tank and shoot at other tanks...yes in a flight simulator! Me thinks that’s a bit of an overkill for our type of simming, but that could be just my opinion and you may find yourself thoroughly enjoying driving a tank on the Western front. I have not completed those missions and quickly gave up on them, as they did not offer anything that would keep me coming back for more.
On the other hand, the scenario of the rest of the missions offers some good challenges and before you ask, yes, the (in) famous Red Barron plays a prominent role in at least two of them.
As mentioned above, the missions vary in their difficulty and challenges that lie ahead but in some of them, the real challenges are unfortunately not related to the mission scenario. Instead, you will find that you have to be really quick and gentle to control the airplane.
Some missions start in air and in matter of seconds, your airplane might break up as you take control – aircraft overstressed. In another full-length mission, you have to perform a challenging landing and progress to the next goal only to find it missing – yes the stuff that is supposed to be there is not. I looked and tweaked and played with the settings, but the objects you are supposed to bomb are not there.
Another problem that came to light is that the airplanes are hairy on take off and at first I crashed many times before I was even in the air – but that might be my flying skills rather than the design flaw – so I’ll leave that up to the more experienced tail draggers to decide for themselves.
I do use pedals for rudder control, yet on a rough surface and no indication of where the wind is coming from, your little Sopwith will quickly flip over on the side and you will have to restart again.
Unfortunately, the biggest challenge that presented itself is the dreadful frame rate issue. While in the other “stock” and add-on missions, things move pretty well on my computer. The sheer amount of airplanes in the air and objects that are either exploding or moving about created a problem for my not-so-outdated system. Trying to fly and shoot at the moving target with 6-7 fps is frustrating and kills the joy of the unique aspect of this add-on.
There are missions in here that do move with fluidity, and the fact that designers included some weather creates nice effects, but in at least three out of the six flying combats, my PC struggled to the point that I gave up on Track IR which is actually ideally suited for this type of flying.
Some things I resorted to, and not that I was happy about it, were turning on the red aircraft display markers and turning off aircraft overstressed feature, since I broke my plane more often due to heavy stress than I was shot down.
Despite those flaws, if your computer can handle lots of AI and effects, and lots of weather, you might like this more then I did since you will not be struggling with aircraft control so much and you will actually experience what designers had in mind when they created the missions.
Aside from the hardware and bugs, I also noticed that once shot down, the enemy planes fly a bit and then disappear, and so do balloons. Balloons disappearing is more plausible, since they burn up in great fireballs and there is little left over, but a plane vanishing in thin air was not a good effect. Yes, I know, I should go after the next target instead of lingering behind incapacitated enemy, but I was curious as to what the mission creators do with planes once they are shot down? However, since I suffered bad frame rates, I think ABACUS did the right thing of making airplanes disappear since it makes no sense to further tax the computer with another flying AI while you should be focused elsewhere anyway.
When your plane gets shot, you immediately start spiraling down and no matter how hard you try, you will not be able to make an emergency landing – you will simply burn up before or after you hit the ground. No bailing out either. For the impatient ones, ominous music begins to play and big red warnings say that the mission has failed before you even have a chance to try to save your bacon. I tried every trick I could think of, yet could not break the “spiral-of-death”.
The scenery for the missions is included, yet it does not offer much. Except for the well-done railroads and a few airfields with a few tents strewn about. There are some unusual tree formations, or that may be something specific to that era, but it did not look very convincing. The thing about the scenery is not so much what’s new, but instead what shouldn’t be there.
I am trying not to be too negative, but I saw high flying AI jets with its strobes on, as well as plenty of cars on busy highways in France, together with some well lit airport runways just outside of the combat area. I believe that the AI can be turned off, both in the air and on the ground, but upon making some changes before I started the mission, I encountered repeated errors and the sim would just shut down with the nice offer to send a report back to MS. Hmmm…
Sounds in this mission pack are coming from all over; other planes, explosions and your own engine. But keeping true to the period, there are no radio comms – you will have to set your sim to display text messages. Also for my taste, the engine sounds are a bit too quiet on the player’s airplane, so you will have to crank up the volume in your settings if it seems that you are not getting enough hum from that big radial thing up front.
As a part of the package, you will get several WWI era airplanes in multiple liveries, and the best part is that if you are still frequently using FS9, they will work like a charm there. No, you will not be getting the guns and bombs in either FS9 or FSX free flight, but you will at least have a chance to fly some old classic bi-wing and even the tri-wing designs without fear of being shot at.
All of the airplanes have virtual cockpits, and so does the blimp – sorry – Zeppelin. Standard moving surfaces are present, such as rudder, ailerons, and elevators and there are no lights, which again is true to the era when these planes graced the skies. The instrumentation is sparse, and not too high in resolution but on par with default from MS in their 2004 version of the sim.
One thing that I wish designers would have done is to take advantage of the new FSX camera system and place the cameras on the wings and other places. They did that for the Zeppelin, but not for airplanes, so all you have in FSX is your 2D cockpit and VC.
Something that I found a bit puzzling is the animation of the prop, which moves then stops - then moves a bit faster. While I understand that those airplanes had quite a system of synchronization so the pilots wouldn’t shorten their props while firing guns, I think this special effect leaves a lot to be desired.
It is hard for me to say how realistic these plane's air files are, since I have only flown tricycle landing gear airplanes in real life. But I can tell you that the take-off roll is very short and that on some of them it is quite easy to overspeed in level flight. Landing or even taking off with any wind can be quite an affair, and you will struggle to keep the biplanes on their main wheels even with some fancy footwork. I would think that these airplanes might have been quite a challenge in real life, so I would consider that a good thing, no matter how unstable they seemed to me on the ground.
Although I expected a lot from this add-on, since my previous experience with ABACUS has been mostly positive and they offered yet another (re)evolutionary feature in missions aspect of the FSX, but I have to say that I was a little bit disappointed with it.
A lot of my disappointment comes from a barely flyable frame rate, but that is very subjective. However, I think that ABACUS has again done something no one else has yet tried, and they brought the combat aspect of simming into FSX for which they should be commended.
It was an effort worth noting and if you just have to be shooting to enjoy flying occasionally, and have the significant computer power to support it, you might as well give it a try.
Don't forget that you will get five new airplanes for both FS9 and FSX included in the package and some challenging missions to keep you busy for a while.
For me, the combat part peeked the interest in the genre enough so that I went searching for my old copy of the CFS2 and got my dosage of shoot-‘em-up from there with better immersion and overall greater sim experience.
What I Like About Mission: WWI Dogfight
What I Don't Like About Mission: WWI Dogfight
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