FOREWORD: The Great Air War
Victory in the skies, or death! Explore these two options in detail with the new flight combat simulator Rise Of Flight: The Great Air War from Russian developer neoqb. In Rise Of Flight you jump into the cockpit of a state-of-the-art fighter craft, or at least what was state of the art in 1918 near the gruesome climax of World War One (WWI). Tutorial missions will give you the chance to re-create what it was like to be a rookie pilot, new to the squadron and eager to prove your worth. Mission-based combat will give you the inside view of some of the greatest historical dogfights of the War. A Career mode will allow you string together a series of missions: your goal could be to become the next great flying ace, or just to survive until armistice. A custom mission generator helps you create your own wartime exploits, so you can play out the battles the way you want to see them.
I will give you the inside look at this fascinating simulation from neoqb. Although this is their first stand-alone flying sim, neoqb has been known for their excellent models of WWI biplanes for Microsoft Flight Simulator. Rise Of Flight represents an excellent first effort into combat flight games, and it's a welcome offering for gamers left wondering why there are so few great wartime sims on the market today. Rise Of Flight is not perfect, though, as there are some issues with the game. Some parts of the game are absolutely brilliant, while other areas fall flat. To my mind, the excellence of the simulator outweighs its problems. Let me show you how I see the way Rise Of Flight balances out:
INTRODUCTION: Guns In The Sky
Rise Of Flight occurs during one of the most turbulent times in world history and in aviation. The Wright Brothers tested engine-powered flight over the sand dunes near Kitty Hawk just fifteen years previous to the time frame of Rise Of Flight. Since then, the armed forces of the world would become extremely interested in the weaponization of aircraft.
Planes required greater engine horsepower and manoeuvrability so that they could take to the skies above a battlefield and provide valuable aerial reconnaissance. Guns were mounted onto airframes, so that pilots could attack other aircraft and defend themselves from the enemy. Wings were strengthened so that pilots could engage in sophisticated aerobatics. Life and death struggles for aerial superiority came down to the skill of the pilot, the advancement of aviation technology, and the reliability of the gun platform.
At or near the peak of innovation were the German Fokker D.VII and the French SPAD S.XIII, two of the most widely-used aircraft of WWI. These two aircraft form a matched set of antagonists ready for you to fly in Rise Of Flight, and represent some of the most battle-proven military technology that 1918 has to offer. In addition, Rise Of Flight allows you to fly two other aircraft, the sleek Albatros D.V.a and the peppy Nieuport 28. Both the Albatros and the Nieuport represent slightly less powerful fighter technology, and so could be at a disadvantage when pitted against the D.VII and the S.XIII. This does not make the Albatros and the Nieuport any less interesting in my opinion!
There is a lot of content that can be explored in Rise Of Flight. Even with just four aircraft available, there are many hours of realistic flight for the WWI aviation buff. By 1918, warfare had become mechanized and brutal. Looking back at the time, we prefer to see the adventure and the glory of triumph in the sky. Rise Of Flight presents a realistic look at the air war, so it may not be suitable for gamers who are looking for a simplified, glorified flying experience. Like any new recruit, a rookie Rise Of Flight pilot should count themselves fortunate to live through a mission let alone complete any objectives, at least until the basics of air combat are mastered. It takes many hours of "stick and rudder" time before a rookie will be proficient enough to make their first clean aerial kill, and even more work to become an ace.
To make a comparison, Rise Of Flight seems roughly along the same lines as Ubisoft's "IL-2 Sturmovik" series, although of course the two flight sims take on air combat in two different wars. In terms of quality and playability, if you enjoy IL-2, you would probably enjoy Rise Of Flight. If you find IL-2 too technical and difficult, then you will likely not get much out of the combat sequences in Rise Of Flight.
Like IL-2, the more advanced your flight control hardware setup is, the more control you will have over your fighter in Rise Of Flight. You can attempt to fly with just a mouse and keyboard, but you will likely get shot down trying. At the least, you should have a joystick with a decent twist grip for the rudder. For the best control, you will want a joystick with a throttle lever, dedicated rudder pedals, and a head-tracking device such as a TrackIR to give you the best view from the cockpit.
INSTALLATION & DOCUMENTATION: Slogging Through The Trenches
Download vs. DVD:
Beyond the matter of downloading this single massive file, cautious people will need to have a way of backing up the game. I don't keep a DVD burner on my gaming computer, so it looks like I will need a large flash drive or a similar device to get the file onto a DVD somewhere else. If I could break up the file into smaller pieces, then it would be easier to download, and easier to archive. However, Rise Of Flight is what it is, so that is what I will report.
Flight manual purists will scoff at the wasted space in the manual, but from an artistic viewpoint, the game documents have a striking visual design. Too bad that pretty manual graphics generally don't translate into a deeper understanding of the mechanics of the game. I would gladly trade the beautiful artwork for a better explanation on how to host a multiplayer game from behind a router! Sadly, the manual lacks a lot of information I wanted regarding the operation of the game and its menus. Fortunately, the neoqb and Aerosoft websites are providing a decent level of customer support, but I dislike searching Internet forums for information I feel should have been in the manual in the first place.
Perhaps one reason the manual is so thin is that neoqb has been releasing so many extra features in patches and add-ons that some parts of the printed manual are now out of date. For example, two new flyable aircraft are included in the game (the Albatros and the Nieuport), plus a host of interface tweaks that were not available in the original release.
As I mentioned previously, the game encourages you to have a decent joystick on hand. I would recommend at least a joystick with a twist rudder. What works best is a joystick with a throttle/mixture control and dedicated rudder pedals.
TrackIR 6DOF (six degrees of freedom) is supported by Rise Of Flight, which I think is tremendous!
Windows® XP (SP2)/Vista (SP1)
Windows® XP (SP2)/Vista (SP1)
SUPPORTED OPERATING SYSTEM (OS):
Windows XP/ XP 64 Home or Professional, Service Pack 2 or higher
SETUP & OPERATION: The Eternal Struggle
One of the enduring romantic tropes of WWI is the tale of the muck-soaked soldier grovelling in the misery of the trenches that turns his gaze skyward and sees the gallant flyboys in their noisy, pretty kites flitting about the sun kissed clouds like sparrows. He looks at the horizon of his own life, which extends only as far as the outward edge of the bunker, and dreams about the joyful freedom of flight. For now, we will avoid the terrifying reality of aerial combat and focus on this feeling of being stuck in the cold, slimy mud while others enjoy soaring with wings.
I bring this up because this was what setting up Rise Of Flight felt like: here I am in a stalemate struggle with the game configurator while others get to fly. To be fair, setup is a struggle with almost every flying game I can think of. It's the Achilles' Heel of flight sim design. FSX and FS9 certainly have their share of setup woes, and Rise Of Flight not much different in that regard. Also, my own experience may not be indicative of the experience of the general gaming population. I've heard of stories where people were up and flying in minutes, while others bought the game and have yet to get it to run. I figure most people should be able to get the game to work fairly quickly, provided that their computer runs well and their set-up is not too demanding.
There are two parts to setting up Rise Of Flight: configuration and authentication. If you are at all interested in this game, I urge you to pay close attention at this point, as this is going to get technical.
Just about everything in Rise Of Flight is set up through a separate configurator called the "ROF Launcher" that runs outside of the main program. On the plus side, the Launcher automatically seeks out and applies patches and add-on game content. On the minus side, and this is a very big minus, you have to make your set-up choices in the Launcher and then start the game. If you feel you need to make any changes to the setup, you have to exit completely out of the game and re-start the Launcher. The choices for setup in the Launcher are not clearly explained, so there can be trial-and-error involved when making decisions for Rise Of Flight. Finally, the game can take a long time to load before flight, maybe less than a minute, maybe more than two or three minutes. Every time you want to make a configuration change, you can expect to have those load times add up.
This was how my setup went. Each step I am showing had me exit out of the game, load the ROF Launcher and reload the game, which took a few minutes each time:
1) I tried the default configuration. The aircraft has basic joystick
controls and that's about it.
I still cannot get the radiator and mixture controls to work properly, and some of my joystick buttons cause my TrackIR to behave erratically. My setup is not perfect, but it's good enough to play the game.
Here are the main points of the ROF Launcher in detail:
The main screen has four buttons:
If you leave the ROF Launcher alone, it will automatically seek out, download, and apply new game files. Let's take a closer look at the SETTINGS option:
SETTINGS opens up access to seven tabs: Graphics, Game Settings, Sound, Input, Camera, Force Feedback, and Network.
Graphics: With graphics, you can choose between full screen and windowed mode, as well as between a number of screen resolutions, including high-definition widescreen resolutions. You can easily make changes in graphics quality by adjusting the level of detail of items such as trees, reflective water, shadows, grass, textures, and so on. Every item you change will affect the Video Memory Usage Percentage (VMU%). The lower this number is, the smoother your game ought to perform.
You can also adjust anisotropic filtering and anti-aliasing (which controls how smooth or pixellated your textures will look) in the game. There are also a number of "post" effects available, which are post-rendered after the main visuals. Turning off the post visuals may increase your frame rates, but most of them look good and may have little to no effect on VMU%. Effects include bloom and post saturation (which makes light and shadow look more realistic), drops (raindrops rendered in storms, similar to the rain effect in FS9), Old Cinema (a sepia tone effect for cut scenes), Blood (a psychedelic but effective overlay that blocks out the screen when you get injured -- I don't see any actual blood or gore in the game, though), and DOF. DOF stands for "Depth Of Field", which is a cheap version of anisotropic filtering. Basically, items not in your visual focus will be blurred to simulate a sense of distance. If anisotropic filtering is turned on, DOF is disabled. DOF is an interesting artistic concept that almost works, but I feel it's best turned off as it can make your cockpit instruments blurry and unreadable.
Game Settings: This tab sets the language of the game. On my system, the choices were "English" and "???????". "???????" turns out to be Russian, although in my ROF Launcher everything turns into ???'s. If you choose Russian, you will get Russian Cyrillic text in the game, but the spoken tutorial dialogue remains in English.
Sound: Here you can adjust the number of channels of audio, the overall volume of sound, and the quality of the sound files. You cannot adjust individual sound volumes, such as turning off engine noise or making the wind louder. Also, there are no voice communications in-game, which I think is realistic for WWI, but not for contemporary video gaming.
Input: This tab allows you to create custom setups for your gaming hardware. I found the Input setup to be terribly frustrating. The basics of it are simple enough: you choose a function such as rudder, then you chose a controller for it at the prompt by moving your intended gaming device appropriately. That's the theory, but in practise I found the setup to be hard work.
First, although you use the mouse to select a prompt, if you move the mouse the slightest amount, that movement becomes the new control! With an optical mouse, setting up new controls becomes a test of eye-hand co-ordination. So make sure you just touch the button just hard enough to make the click, but soft enough to avoid disturbing the mouse.
Then, there are controller conflicts. The conflicts are supposed to show up with a ">>" marked next to the offending input. I found that sometimes the >> appeared next to controls that were not in conflict, and sometimes the conflicts were not marked with >> at all. I believe there are some "hidden" conflicts that occur based on what controls you have available. For example, although Rise Of Flight supports TrackIR, I cannot use my TrackIR and press the joystick button #8, or else the cockpit game view will swing wildly downward. I cannot map the radiator or throttle mixture keys to anything that works, although clearly other sim pilots can. I suspect the problem lies in the variety of hardware that people use with the game, from high-end home-cockpits, to fighter-jet style joysticks, to console game controllers, down to a mouse and the keyboard. Rise Of Flight can accept a wide variety of controllers, but it seems happiest only with a select few. On the neoqb forum, it appears that the developers are aware of these issues and are working to patch them in the future.
The ROF Launcher currently has no FSX-style menu to set up controller sensitivities except for the mouse, which is a poor tool for flying virtual fighter craft. If you use controllers that do not come with calibration software that allows you to set up "dead zones" or sensitivities, then you may find Rise Of Flight to be a twitchy experience as I do. The best that Rise Of Flight can do is to offer to reverse the axis of movement on some controls. You will need that, as the game seems to read throttle and rudder inputs backwards by default.
All of your efforts are saved into a .MAP file which can be text edited in Windows Notepad. Be sure to save your custom controls into a new file, as you may want the original default file for reference later. Once you have saved them, you can choose between any number of custom files at will.
Camera: The Camera refers to the pilot's point of view from the cockpit. Cockpits in Rise Of Flight are three-dimensional, like the Virtual Cockpits in FSX and FS9. The controls in this section allow you to customize how your pilot's view will move when you look around. In addition, there is an extensive tutorial on how to create your own custom camera settings. Primarily, I used TrackIR to look around. Apart from a few glitches in setup, the TrackIR works very well in Rise Of Flight. I would not want to go into an aerial combat sim without one!
Force Feedback: This allows you to use a Force Feedback controller. The only one I have on hand is an XBOX 360 controller, which shakes and rattles convincingly. Unfortunately, I could not get Rise Of Flight to recognize the 360, so I can't say much about controller shake. Reports indicate that force feedback simulates the loads applied to your wings when making manoeuvres.
Network: Use this tab to configure your network settings: IP address and game ports for your firewall and/or router. I am not a networking genius, so I left the settings on their defaults. I was able to make good connections to online Rise Of Flight servers as a guest, but I had problems setting up as a host.
I ran various tests to see exactly how stable an Internet connection is needed. Basically, I "pulled the plug" on the Internet at various times in the game to see what would happen.
A) If you have no Internet at the outset, the ROF Launcher will
refuse to run, game over.
Apart from experimentation, I had very few problems with authentication. I always had a decent connection, and logging in to Rise Of Flight is no more difficult than logging in to AVSIM. Other people have reported delays and outages when logging in, so maybe I am lucky here.
I did not have to make allowances for a router or firewall to make a connection to the neoqb server, thank goodness. The process is automatic, somewhat similar to Valve's STEAM. The neoqb system is more primitive than STEAM, and it requires essentially a continuous Internet connection, whereas STEAM sometimes allows you to cut the Internet after your single-player game has booted up.
PRE-FLIGHT MENUS: Your Country Needs Your Service -- Enlist Now!
It takes a lot to get Rise Of Flight up and running, so let's see what you get when you are ready to fly. After registering with the ROF Launcher, the main game will run. The front end of Rise Of Flight is menu driven, with a number of selection trees that demand your attention. In the background, you can see a selection of the aircraft that are in the game. You can use the mouse to rotate the visual models, which can be interesting. However, that's the extent of period-specific detail in the menus, which I feel is an opportunity lost.
Instead of compelling wartime posters, or a rendering of a front-line airbase, or even a barracks with "A Long Way To Tipperary" playing on the phonograph, the aspiring pilot is faced with a convoluted text menu with tiny fonts and a fair number of mouse clicks. Your choices run like branches off a tree, so the farther you go into the menu, the more selections you need to make. What I find aggravating is that you can go quite a distance into a menu tree before discovering that you've made an invalid selection. For example, I can select a Free Flight mission for a Nieuport 17, which is not valid as this is not a flyable aircraft in the game (whereas the Nieuport 28 is). Once you get used to the menu, it's not hard to use, yet I would be hard pressed to call this system elegant. Here are the initial choices:
Each training mission has a short cut scene, then a "blackboard" tutorial, and then finishes with another quick cut scene. These represent the only glimpse of life on the ground for a Rise Of Flight pilot. The cut scenes are introduced by none other than American flying ace Eddie "My Friends Call Me Ed Or Rick" Rickenbacker, or at least a video game approximation of the man. Your own pilot character is represented by John Wright, an anonymous and clueless flight lieutenant new to the front.
Through the cut scenes, the basic relationship between John, Rickenbacker, their fighter craft, and the war are all established. The quality of the cut scenes is nothing special, but they could be worse. The voice acting is clear, with no mumbling or indistinct audio, but the word choices and pronunciation to me seem like a non-native English speaker trying to sound American. Sometimes, John's and Rickenbacker's voices even swap characters. The effect is unreal and otherworldly, sort of like a strange puppet show about WWI made by actors who understand little about western culture. I don't think it's really bad, and I appreciate the effort, but it's not immersive video, and WWI aviation purists will cringe.
Rickenbacker uses blackboard sequences to illustrate his lectures, and I like these a lot. The blackboard starts off with a drawing that animates to explain how a biplane works in detail. If the text fails because of strange word choices, the blackboard animations are easy to understand and are visually appealing.
After the introduction, the mission loads up and you get an overview of the terrain showing the waypoints and the giant green hoops you are expected to fly through. Hint: be sure to turn on the Caption option! Rickenbacker will give you text hints what to do to complete the mission successfully. In some missions, like the stall sequence, Captions are critical!
Training Missions are timed and scored as pass or fail. At the end of a mission, Rickenbacker will let you know how he feels about your flying skills. You cannot advance to a new mission until you complete the one before it. Overall, the mission quality is fairly good, covering the basics of flight, a couple of very important points regarding spins, stalls, and dives (i.e. how you will die if you do them wrong), and a short introduction into weapons. You don't get training in advanced manoeuvres or tactics. You will have to learn about that yourself either through your own research into WWI, or through trial by fire.
Free flight is interesting, though. You can simply take off and fly around with no enemies, which is a great way to learn the subtleties of your ride as well as to familiarize yourself with the beautiful French countryside. Free flight resembles the type of carefree flying you can have in FSX or FS9. It's great fun just to go up and have a spin in the air! I always have a big smile on my face when I treat myself to a few minutes of uninterrupted free flight time.
In Career mode, you are part of a flight or schwarm, so you will not be alone in the sky as you take on the enemy. You begin as a lowly lieutenant/leutnant and work your way up in rank. The higher you set the difficulty level and the more kills you make, the faster you will receive promotions and recognition of your efforts. You will not, however, be transferred to another squadron or receive upgrades to your aircraft.
As far as Rise Of Flight is concerned, you are the only pilot in the war worth keeping track of. Your own stats are recorded in limited form, but you won't see any statistics of your fellow pilots, let alone a frag list or kill leaderboard. You never even meet or know the names of your fellow pilots, so it's hard to care about how they are doing in the war. In one mission, I had my entire squadron cut down, which was harsh. The odds were heavily against me, so I escaped over the lines and landed safely at my home base. There were no questions, no accusations, no comments of any kind other than I had failed my mission. The next mission had all of the losses instantly replaced with aircraft and pilots identical to the ones that were lost in service the day before.
The Career missions are fun even if they are sometimes a little goofy. For one thing, nationality is not much of an issue in the game. Although one nation gets aircraft and equipment that are denied to the other side, the battle tactics are generic regardless if you play for the Allies or for Germany. A balloon bust or an aerodrome attack is the same for the one side as it is for the other. Wind and weather do not seem to affect battlefield strategy, and the battlefront provides a nuisance rather than a no-man's zone of death and destruction.
The idyllic pastures and farmlands of France are brutally torn apart by the long, snakelike progression of the infantry front on the ground, making this battleground the single largest feature on the map. In the war, it was common for pilots to fly as high above the front as possible, to avoid getting slammed by flak, anti-aircraft fire (AA), and random bullets from small arms. In Rise Of Flight, though, it's rare to have a mission that requires you to fly above 1,000 meters altitude. You end up cruising low and slow above the front, which looks dramatic but ends up being unrealistic. On the other hand, spending a long time just climbing wouldn't be any fun, so I guess this is one of those choices that places game play above realism.
It is fun to fly with a squadron, though. Sometimes, the AI pilots get too aggressive, but generally I feel that they are competent aviators. I like flying with the squadron in Career more than I like flying alone in the single missions. Since the WWI biplanes are responsive but not possessed of great speed, formation flying seems to me to be easier than in other flight combat games. The squadron leader does not seem to be watching out for you very much (if at all), but even so, it's not hard to match speed and formation with him on your way to and from the front.
I found Multiplayer to work well, although this mode has limitations. Once in Multiplayer, you can either choose from a number of active servers, or else start your own. Inside each server is a functional chat lobby, where you choose up sides. In a departure from history, the Allied side is called "ORDER", and the German side is the "OPPOSITION". Once everybody is ready, the game loads, and you fight to the death!
Servers host a series of missions. A few of them are oriented towards dogfights, while others provide tactical challenges like tank busting or an attack on an aerodrome. Most people that I met online were there to mix it up in the sky, so the missions tended to head to the dogfight stage as quickly as possible. The dogfights are fast and brutal, with the craftiest pilots generally living to see the end. It's possible to spend a half-hour cruising in vee formation to the target area, only to get clobbered ten seconds into the scrum by a clumsy wingman or a hawk-eyed distant relation of von Richthofen. If you want to fight, then you may want to avoid the tactical missions altogether.
That being said, there is no capability in Rise Of Flight for a pure dogfight server where people can sign on and sign off as they see fit. You cannot join a mission in progress, so either you join at the beginning in the chat room, or you wait patiently for the next game. Currently, there are not a lot of servers available. At any one time, I haven't seen more than a dozen active servers, and no more than ten players in any particular game. Probably there are more out there, and I missed them.
Joining a server is easy, just pick a game and join in if it is available. The online experiences I had were generally smooth and lag-free, which was nice. During game play, pilot communication is through keyboard-driven chat. This is a quaint and functional system, but it sure is awkward if you are trying to keep your hands on the controls. Voice communications would be much better, although this would be highly unrealistic for WWI aircraft.
Hosting a server is harder. For one thing, the host computer is responsible for calculating where all of the AI aircraft go. If you don't have enough human pilots to fill all of the available flight slots, then the AI will fly those fighters. This can cause quite a drain on the host system. The largest dogfight I could create was a custom mission involving forty fighters, twenty to a side. Frame rate performance was not exceptional, but it was flyable. For decent frame rates, I prefer at most ten fighters, at five to a side.
It's easy to create a Multiplayer game sever and be the only human pilot on the map. I find it impossible at this time to set up a server that could be joined by human pilots. I figure that I have issues with my firewall and router. The manual fails to go into enough detail to troubleshoot this problem, so after trying out what solutions I had at hand, I failed to host a Multiplayer server. It is possible for other people to host a game as you can see hosted games on the server list, but I could not do it. I suspect other Rise Of Flight owners have the same problem I do, too.
If you are a statistics junkie, then Multiplayer is a letdown at this writing. The stats look like they were disabled on my system, although the game does record winning streaks. Neoqb promises in the future to enhance online stats, which ought to make for a richer Multiplayer experience.
MISSION SETTINGS: Even More Menus!
After choosing a mission, you must navigate another series of menu choices. If you replay the mission at a later time, your choices are remembered for you by the game. Each mission can have its own set of choices, which primarily affect the realism level of your flight. Rookie pilots may want help with the controls, whereas veterans may want their flights to be as true to life as possible.
Once you select the menu choices to your liking, you can hit Start Mission, which loads the flying portion of the game... as well as more menus! Career pilots should be aware that their in-game rating is modified by the number of easy options. The more helpers you activate, the lower your "score" will be for a successful mission, meaning you will have to fly more sorties on easy levels to get the same recognition that you would get were you to fly fewer times on a harder setting.
If you use simple gauges in the cockpit, you will see two sets of gauges: the dials in the cockpit view, and more dials superimposed on the bottom of the screen.. This can help if you have turned DOF on and the DOF effect makes the cockpit look fuzzy. Also, simple gauges are great when you prefer to fly using external views only, like an arcade game. The simple gauges look precise and work well, but even so, I usually leave them turned off. Leaving them on should not affect your frame rate.
Pilot Help menu:
Auto rudder gives you help controlling yaw, and will allow you to make co-ordinated turns. WWI aircraft had heavy rudders which could really throw the aircraft around. If you do not have a good twist rudder joystick dedicated rudder pedals, you are going to find Rise Of Flight difficult to fly without auto rudder. Take-off and landing require especially aggressive rudder control, so auto rudder can help.
Cruise control and autopilot will take over flying if you need a break. Cruise control will keep the aircraft flying straight and level, whereas autopilot will allow the AI to take over your aircraft. In either case, this can really help if you are in a long mission and your phone rings or your pizza is ready. Honestly, I never got cruise control to work, but autopilot does a respectable job of keeping you in formation. If an enemy approaches, the autopilot will even prime your guns, fly into the dogfight, and fire at the other aircraft!
Finally, there are engine automation controls: RPM limiter, auto mixture, auto radiator, and automatic starter. If you set these controls to manual, you will have to pay attention to your engine state during flight. Having the wrong mixture can starve or choke your engine. Setting the radiator cowling incorrectly will overheat or freeze up the engine. Auto start eliminates the need to prime and pump the engine before ignition. I have trouble setting these controls to work manually, so I leave them on automatic when I can.
No Misfires simplifies gunplay. If misfires are enabled, your machine guns are prone to jam and quit, especially if you like to fire them in long, satisfying bursts. Unjamming a gun (Rise Of Flight refers to this as "Charging", rather peculiar) is much easier to do in the game than it was for the real WWI pilots, but it does take a moment to perform.
Safety Collisions turns off crashes between aircraft. This comes in handy if you are in a game where people consider ramming to be a viable tactic. The majority of times, a collision is a suicide pact for both aircraft involved. It is possible, though, to "nudge" another aircraft with your landing gear. This can collapse an enemy's wing yet allow you to fly away unmolested.
Invulnerability For Weapons makes you impervious to bullets and flak. While it's a gross cheat in multiplayer, occasions do crop up where you want to be bulletproof, such as staging screenshots or practising tactics.
Unlimited Fuel and Ammo work as advertised. With unlimited fuel, you can reduce the amount of petrol in the tank to make your aircraft lighter and more nimble. With unlimited bullets, you can keep firing at a target until it is Swiss cheese. In fact, a rookie pilot would have to repeat some training missions almost forever without resorting to unlimited fuel and ammo.
No Engine Overflow turns fuel into a solid mass. If "overflow" is on, fuel will slosh around inside of its tank. Pulling negative G's or flying inverted for more than a couple of seconds will cause the liquid fuel flow to be cut off, and your engine will die. Disabling overflow reduces realism but allows your engine to keep running even when the fuel is cut off.
Lastly, Warmed Up Engine, like Auto start, allows you to get the engine going without extensive cranking. Otherwise, you must spend a fair amount of time on the ground setting the mixture and spinning the prop to prime the engine. This can be frightening when an enemy squadron is approaching your base! However, most times, I found the realistic starts to be annoying. I expect the action to be in the air, not on the ground. WWI purists ought to enjoy realistic engine starts, though.
Compared to some other modern games, which optimize or hide loading sequences in game play, these are long waits. The waits also seem long if you are seeing them over and over again because you are playing a lot of quick multiplayer dogfights, or you are making incremental changes on your settings. At least the in-game artwork for each loading screen looks beautiful.
DESCRIPTION: This amplifies on any mission briefing you've had up to this point, in case you forgot anything.
START: This will drop you directly into the flying portion of the game. Only the greenest rookies will press this without first looking at the other choices.
MAIN SCREEN: This dumps you out of the mission back to the front end of the game, in case you choose not to fly.
QUIT GAME: This quits Rise Of Flight altogether, the end of the game.
In a tiny font, you will also see HANGAR. This one is easy to miss, but can have a huge effect on how you survive a dogfight. There are several options to choose from:
PAINT SCHEME: All of the aircraft come with default basic paint schemes, which I think all look outstanding. Each aircraft also comes with several custom paint schemes based on real-world historical aircraft. If you have a WWI pilot you would like to emulate, you may choose his special paint scheme. At this writing, there is no ability to import your own fantasy scheme. I find that the custom schemes can take up extra frame rates, so generally I just fly what the rest of the squadron is flying.
FUEL: This is your fuel load as a percentage. Why carry full fuel tanks into a dogfight where the action is nearly instantaneous? The extra petrol will weigh your aircraft down considerably, unless you turn off physics or choose unlimited fuel. However, if you are flying long-range missions, you might want as much petrol as you can carry.
AMMO: Again, the less ammo you carry into a fight, the lighter your aircraft will be. However, running out of bullets limits your offensive possibilities to harsh language and ramming, neither of which is looked upon well in the multiplayer community. You can cheat by selecting unlimited ammo.
Veteran pilots are careful to conserve rounds. The best shots are at the closest range possible, where there is the greatest chance to hit a target. At close range, machine guns rip through anything they can hit, so you don't need a long salvo. Short, controlled bursts at close range will often defeat your foe. Once you perfect this technique, you can save weight by reducing your ammo load.
MG CONVERGENCE: MG stands for "Machine Gun". If you have two or more guns on your fighter, you will want their aim to converge at some point in space. That way you can concentrate bullets onto a target. If you do not converge your weapons, one gun might hit the target while the other fires useless rounds into the sky.
You want to set your guns to converge at your optimum firing distance. The default is 150 meters, which I think is much too far away for dogfighting. That's a football field and a half! If you think you can reliably hit a swerving, jinking target at that range with a spray weapon like a machine gun, you're either the best shot of the War or else you are flying "Winchester" (out of ammo) and about to get shot down yourself. On the other hand, engaging a target at 50 meters without setting the gun convergence means that although your aim sight is directly on the enemy's engine cowl, your shots are travelling to the left and right of it, hitting either blue sky or harmless canvas.
Set the convergence as close as you dare! The closest setting is 50 meters, which will have a devastating effect if you can shoot from that distance. I prefer a slightly longer range at about 70 meters, so I don't feel like I have the enemy's tail in my prop. If you know you are not going to see enemy aircraft and you are on a ground attack mission, then you may want to set the convergence to over 100 meters for strafing. Unfortunately, you cannot make adjustments to your gun convergence while in flight.
ABOUT PLANE: This provides a history lesson on the aircraft that you are flying.
MAIN SCREEN/QUIT GAME/START GAME: These functions are the same as those described in the previous menu.
FLIGHT: Ace Of Aces
The downtime for Rise Of Flight, namely logging in, negotiating the menu system, and awaiting the long loading process, is a large negative consideration for anybody looking at this game who just wants to get going and fly. However, the actual flying portion of the game really soars once you figure out how to get it all to work. The virtual world is detailed, realistic, and compelling, like starring in your own wartime motion picture. The sense of reality is immediate and enduring, from the complex interplay of sun and shadow on the wing struts to the stereophonic shift of the wind as you make a slip turn, to the hazy atmospheric perspective that makes distant hills on the horizon look like they are really many kilometres away.
Depending on your mission, you might get dropped into intense action right away, or you may start on an airfield close to the front. Both sides of the war use similar strategies in Rise Of Flight, so the missions you are expected to fly are largely recycled from one end of the battlefield to the other. The variety of aircraft helps to make each mission as unique as possible. You get four flyable fighter craft and a few more AI planes including two-seater bombers.
In the very broadest sense, all of the flyable aircraft handle approximately the same, so when you learn to fly one you should have little trouble flying the others. In combat, if the pilots are equal in skill, even trivial differences in the aircraft may mean the difference between survival and a fiery death. For now, we will just look at how a typical (fictional) mission might go, using a SPAD S.XIII as an example.
Take-off: Daylight Patrol
Our aircraft have been rolled out onto the apron by the mechanics. The apron is a broad, lozenge-shaped area in front of the camp buildings with the flattest land in the immediate area. Surrounding the apron are a few stands of mature beech trees that will catch and eat low-flying aviators who are not careful. I see that our SPADs have been arranged in vee formation, with the flight leader in front and me to the right and behind of Wingman #2.
Rotary engines bark and cough as all five pilots coax their aircraft to life. Puffs of black smoke spew aft towards the hangars. Without fanfare or gesture, our flight leader begins to accelerate into the wind.
A SPAD is a tail dragger, with two big wheels in front and a tail skid in behind. After I open up the throttle, and the engine sounds multiply into a mighty roar, I need to apply vigorous rudder to keep my aircraft in a straight line. I cannot see past the nose, which is tilted up, but I see where Wingman2 is and I follow him. I keep my joystick pulled back so that the skid digs into the ground a little to keep the tail from swinging out to the side. I use one of the big beech trees on the edge of the apron as a guide. As long as I keep it visually near my engine cowl, I should be moving in a straight line. When the tree gets uncomfortably large ahead of me, I should be pulling up.
Once the wind builds beneath my wings, I ease the joystick pressure. There should be enough airflow that I can keep straight just by using rudder alone. The SPAD bumps along the presumably flat apron like a bucking bronco. My wheels find a small rise that launches me into the air briefly, although my airspeed is too low to take off. I return to earth with an impressive thud. The tail threatens to swing about, and I seesaw on the rudder pedals to keep going straight. I can hear bits of vegetation and rocks as they scrape my SPAD's undercarriage. Close to takeoff speed, I push the stick forward slightly, and the nose dips down a little and the tail skid comes off the ground. Now I am gaining airspeed quickly, and I am almost airborne. A gentle pull of the stick, and my wheels leave the ground. Earthbound, I have to wrestle mightily with the SPAD to get it to travel in any one direction, and then suddenly in the air, the SPAD soars with the grace of a bird. What a beautiful, marvellous sensation. For a moment, I forget about the mission, the war, and I enjoy the pure thrill of being a man who is lifted into the sky.
En Route: Back To The Front
Black then white smoke puffs out from my wing leader's engine, and he drops out of formation. I can hear his engine labouring, and I back off a little in case there is something wrong. He is merely adjusting the fuel mixture. With a burst of throttle, my wing leader resumes his place in the flying vee. Our flight cruises over the Lorraine farmland, which glows emerald green beneath the high morning haze. There is a slight roll to the terrain, with large low hills like loaves of bread rising in the golden sun.
I see a flicker of movement at our three o'clock. I estimate the other flight may be five hundred meters above us. Our flight leader makes no move to intercept. His eyes must be good, he sees that the others are friendly long before I do. It's another flight of SPAD's, looking like they are headed for Baccarat. We continue towards the front.
Visuals: Notes On The Frame-Rate Friendly Countryside
There are details that impress, for example some nice reflective water textures and a vivid sense of atmospheric perspective (that's how haze interacts with light to provide a sense of depth to a view, especially near the horizon). The farmlands are green and lush, blocked into simple polygonal shapes by rows of trees, roads, fences, and waterways. Large forests of individual trees are dark, forbidding places for aircraft to end up, so I try to avoid them. In places, the network of roads converge on small farming towns and sometimes on large villages. The buildings are old and European looking, which makes sense given the location of Rise Of Flight.
The center of the map is dominated by the war front. The ground is a dark, greyish brown, like a huge scab that slashes across north-western France. Thousands of artillery strikes have reduced the land into a cratered, hellish no-man's land. Cut into the mud are miles of zig-zag trenches, where the benighted foot soldiers await their fate in the form of momentary glory or death by shell, bullet, or worse. The explosions from artillery hits flare up momentarily, and are accompanied by staccato thunder. Drifting for hundreds of meters above this nightmare vista are enormous clouds of thin black smoke and ash churned up from the fighting down below.
Away from the front, the sunlight and sky are exceptional. Most missions seem to take place in broad daylight with few or no clouds in the sky, but sometimes we see variable weather. The clouds look somewhat similar to those in FSX. Most are composed of dozens of small "cloudlets", which are aggregated together to make large clouds. Each cloudlet can be illuminated by the sun or shaded by another cloudlet, making for a wide variety of cloud shapes and colours that change dynamically. I like the look of these clouds a lot.
I haven't seen any massive thunderheads, but there are cirrus, cumulus and thick stratus to fly through. Flying into a cumulus cloud often results in a white-out situation. The flight attitude instruments are usually just an air bubble in a glass tube to tell if the aircraft is level. That bubble dances around more than Winsor MacCay's "Gertie The Dinosaur". Unlike the FSX clouds, wisps of cloud vapour blast by the cockpit giving you a good sense of speed as you dive into a cloud mass.
Once, I flew a mission in a storm. Basically, it was thick, grey, soupy stratus that kept my squadron within visual range of the ground. Raindrops were depicted on the computer screen like tiny wet distortions, similar to FS9 precipitation and superior to the weak FSX shader system. The wind tossed my aircraft around like a curled leaf in a squall. It was ridiculously difficult to maintain formation. I even got a little airsick trying to keep the wings level.
Some missions also vary the time of day. Dawn patrols are spectacular events as beams of amber light scatter over the distant hills. In real-world France, this region is blessed with lucid golden sun that causes all of the colours to glow with vitality. Neoqb does an admirable job of controlling the colour palette to make the scenery look vivid and realistic.
Lighting and shadow are very impressive for aircraft. The shadowing algorithms run smoothly and look great even in DX9-equipped computers. If the sun is low and you are flying into dusk, the sun will glare off of the glass faces of your instruments. I wish that distant aircraft would glint in the sun, but I have not seen that effect.
Frame rates are smooth, despite the high-end graphics. I find flying in the Rise Of Flight world to be remarkably pleasant, at least when I am not being shot at. There are no in-game frame rate counters, so I rely on personal experience to suggest that my frame rates were normally in the 25 fps (frames per second) range if not higher. Large dogfights and heavy action on the front will drop frame rates, which I believe sunk as low as 10-12 fps. That's not great, but it's still flyable. Fortunately, those dips don't happen too often. Unlike some flight sims, I do not believe that a lot of clouds make a big difference to frame rates in Rise Of Flight.
Destination & Dogfight:
The flight leader finishes work with the camera, and we are ready to turn for home. In the east, however, are a formation of fighter planes, this time unmistakably belonging to the enemy. It's a schwarm of four Fokker DVII's, some of the most advanced military hardware available to the Germans. Following the leader, we turn and climb in formation to meet the foe. I concentrate on keeping near my wing leader. We all prime our guns.
I remember looking along the nose of my SPAD at the oncoming schwarm, and then suddenly we are all banking, twisting, and turning in the sky. The roar of the Germans' engines fills the sky as they blaze past our formation. My wing leader banks hard right, and I follow him. Bullets briefly lance across my field of vision. The shots are friendly, the flight has broken up as SPAD's begin to chase down Fokkers. My wing leader opens up in a long burst aimed at one of the enemy. I cannot get in a shot myself without hitting the leader, so I back off slightly. I look around quickly to make sure there is not a Fokker gaining on my tail.
The fight devolves quickly into a murder scene in the air. I am horrified to see that the German pilots are terribly green, possibly out on their first patrol. After their first gallant charge, it quickly becomes obvious that these boys know little about handling their DVII's. Already the leader of the four is trailing smoke and making that sickening death glide into the front lines. It takes little skill for me to drop behind another Fokker. He sees me and begins to dive, but he cannot outrun my SPAD. I open fire, feeling awful as this rookie simply does not know how to avoid me. His Fokker is resilient, so it takes a fairly long burst before he is done.
To the left is the rest of my squadron, and to the right are the remaining DVII's. I have left my wing leader behind, so I turn right and hope he will cover me. The DVII's are indecisive. They bank towards me, but I am going too fast for them to intercept. I wing over, sweep to my left and rake one of them with a deflection shot. Incredibly, my bullets find the German's fuel tank, and the enemy explodes furiously. Bits of metal and canvas rain down from the fireball.
Now there is one Fokker left, and he is running as fast as he can. My SPAD has the edge on speed, and I close in and open fire. Bullets travel faster than fighters. I see tiny bits flying off the enemy plane, but he is unwilling to die. I train a long burst on his fuselage. Abruptly, the Fokker's upper left wing tears right off. I must have blasted away a strut. He spins horribly into the ground. I rejoin my flight, and we turn west for home.
Action: Notes On Dogfighting
The dogfight mission I have represented here was one of my actual missions in the game, but it was one of the easiest fights I have seen. There are four levels if AI difficulty: Low, Normal, High, and Ace. Although it would be a lucky find to come across a flight or schwarm of rookie pilots, it was not unheard of. British Ace Mick Mannock enhanced his score finding a German training flight. He shot down the instructor, and then shot down each of the students. I think this was horribly grim, but that was how the war was fought.
The higher the level of difficulty, the more advanced moves the AI will use to try to gun you down. The enemy will use the strengths of their aircraft to their advantage. By our contemporary standards, the WWI fighter engines were heavy and underpowered. This makes the aircraft slow, but they are manoeuvrable. The enemy will use bank turns and high and low yo-yos, and so should you. Diving will give you speed to perform Immelmann turns and loops, but too much stress on the wings will rip them away. On the low end of the power scale, you can also take advantage of stall turns and jinking to fool the enemy, as your opponents will use these tactics against you. Of course, a stall can be fatal at lower altitudes. Rise Of Flight provides a lot of challenge during dogfights!
One tactic to surviving a dogfight is to fly as close to the ground as possible. This is dangerous, for the moment you lose control of the plane you are likely to crash. Flying low is deadly for the computer AI as well. I found that the AI pilots tend to auger in when they were following me in low level flight. Sometimes, though, they flew smart. I tried the trick in the movies of flying under a railroad bridge. The enemy did not follow, but climbed and waited to see what would happen to me.
Other times, the AI flies rather stupidly. I have survived several dogfights where I was outnumbered because the AI crashed into their wingmen. That happened in WWI as well, so it's not unheard of. I think that since the vast majority of missions occur at low altitudes, this limits the options available to fighter pilots. I also believe that the AI is reluctant to make diving attacks on enemy aircraft. I have seen this happen when I set up dogfights where the opponents were at greatly different altitudes.
Then, there are attacks on balloons and two-seaters, which represent special cases in Rise Of Flight. Large hydrogen balloons were used near the war front to provide aerial reconnaissance. They were tempting targets but were often well guarded by patrol fighters as well as AA guns. In Rise Of Flight, these defences appear near balloons, but they don't seem to be as determined or fearsome as they were in WWI. I find it fairly easy to climb above the balloon, sweep down to blast it into smithereens, and speed away before the full weight of the defences come to bear on me.
Two-seaters are another challenge. A two-seater is a larger bi-plane, usually a bomber or a reconnaissance vehicle. An example in Rise Of Flight is the Breguet 14, a French design that is not flyable by the player. The man in the rear seat of a Breguet is armed with a defensive machine gun, making an attack on a two-seater a dangerous proposition. The best way to attack a two-seater is from below, where neither the guns on the front nor the back can reach you. In fact, the power of the Fokker DVII's engine allowed it to briefly hang nearly vertical in the sky from its propeller, allowing it a good shot at the belly of bombers flying above. The AI do not favour this tactic. Instead, I have mostly seen them charge at enemy two-seater formations from behind. Sometimes they attack from below, which is not bad, but sometimes they attack from directly behind, which is suicidal. I have seen my entire schwarm get chopped to pieces attacking a flight of bombers from behind. My wing mates were easy prey for the rear gunners on the Breguets.
Sometimes an attacking pilot can kill the rear gunner without killing the bomber pilot. A Breguet 14 can take a lot of damage, so this is possible. If a pilot (or gunner) is killed in Rise Of Flight, his character model simply disappears from the aircraft. This means that we do not see bloody scenes in Rise Of Flight, which is fine by me.
Most of the time, the AI flies competently. If you leave them to their own devices, they will follow the mission profile reasonably well. By comparison, in IL-2 Sturmovik I've seen the AI aircraft turn and bank aggressively to try to keep in formation (or at least they did the last time I played that game). That does not seem to happen at all in Rise Of Flight.
Landing: Battles Lost And Won
Before long, we are nearing the familiar countryside of Mannoncourt-en-Vermois. The flight leader brings us around in a circle above the base. Below I can see the red and white striped windsock. The wind is coming from the west at about ten knots. As I am the most junior pilot in the formation, I land first. I drop out of formation on the downwind leg. Now is the time to make adjustments to the mixture and the radiator cowl. When I turn upwind, I will be using minimum throttle and I expect to glide down onto the landing apron.
I want to flare on landing, but not too much. If I lose too much speed before touchdown, my rudder won't be very effective, and I will be likely to ground loop. If I come in too fast, my wheels will bounce and there's a good chance I will lose control as I jolt along the ground. The best I can do is to get the wheels down with the power cut off, and then to use the last bit of rudder to keep the tail as straight as possible. Once the tail is straight, I pull back on the stick, which digs the rear skid into the ground like a brake. Deceleration is sudden, and I have to be careful not to dip a wing or tip the tail up over my head. Finally, I am safe on the ground, the mission is over, and I have three kills added to my war record.
Notes On Flight
None of the aircraft have a trim control. In WWI, many aircraft were trimmed on the ground for the best climb rate, since altitude could always be traded for airspeed and manoeuvrability. This makes level cruise uncomfortable. While playing Rise Of Flight, my hand and arm got sore playing out long missions with extended cruise time. With some features, neoqb decided to emphasize good game play over realism. Unfortunately, user-controlled trim was not one of those features. Without trim, I have to constantly use the joystick to keep the aircraft level. Worse, without controls to adjust the sensitivity of my joystick, some of my movements are interpreted by the game as being twitchy.
I can overcome some of these issues by choosing a simpler physics model for the game, and by enabling the autopilot. I don't mind using the autopilot, but most multiplayer servers disallow it.
While in autopilot (or in regular flight), I can use time compression to speed up the game as much as 8x. I can also slow down the game to 1/33x, or roughly one frame per second. Of course, I can also pause as well.
AIRCRAFT: Wings Of War
Currently, there are four user-flyable aircraft in Rise Of Flight. Originally, there were only two. Neoqb will release more user-flyable aircraft in the future, however, these will not be free.
The two original aircraft are the SPAD XIII and the Fokker D.VII, representing perhaps the most common and powerful fighter craft for the Allies and the Germans respectively. I consider them to be an excellent matched set of fighters. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses, but the SPAD and the Fokker are nearly equal in the hands of experienced pilots. Let's look at these aircraft in detail:
" SPAD" stands for "Société Pour L'Aviation et ses Dérivés", which was a French manufacturer of warplanes. The SPAD XIII was an improvement over the powerful SPAD VII. Larger and more powerful than the S.VII, the S.XIII boasted two fixed forward-firing Vickers machine guns and a 200 horsepower Hispano-Suiza 8Ba water-cooled engine. It also could carry a modest payload of four small bombs, useful against ground targets such as tanks and bunkers. Along with the British S.E.5, the SPAD XIII proved to be ideal for proving Allied air superiority over France. Although nearly 8,500 SPAD XIII's were built by the end of 1918, only four of these aircraft survive today.
The Rise Of Flight version of the SPAD XIII seems faithful to the original. The SPAD was designed to be a powerful and rugged gun platform, offering high speed and manoeuvrability. The SPAD is the fastest aircraft in Rise Of War, so SPAD pilots will use this advantage wisely. The SPAD is also robust in a dive. This allows for high-speed hit-and-fade tactics in battle. The SPAD can climb above an enemy and then swoop down into a schwarm wreaking chaos with the twin machineguns. If challenged in force, the SPAD can also out-dive any enemy, running for safety in the nap of the earth (although even a diving SPAD cannot outrun a bullet!).
The SPAD holds its own in close combat, but it is not as quick at turning as other fighters. It is good at a combat turn, where you keep the nose slightly up and gain altitude while turning, but the turning radius is rather wide for this manoeuvre. A SPAD pilot can certainly use high and low yo-yo's, but he should expect the Fokkers to eventually gain the upper hand in a contest of turns. The SPAD can run away and re-engage battle on his own terms.
The SPAD relies on speed. It is not stable at low speeds, with a tendency to wallow and gripe, followed by a snap spin at stall. Expert SPAD pilots can use this to a deadly advantage, but unless you have some decent skill and good gaming controls, you might have trouble controlling the SPAD at low speeds. A series of combat turns can leech away the SPAD's combat advantage, and leave it vulnerable in the sky.
Worse still, the SPAD is an inefficient glider, requiring a steep angle for landing. Rookies may end up with their noses in the turf, to the amusement of veteran observers. When you learn to overcome the deficiencies of the SPAD, you will find that it soars and dives like a hawk. Diving will build up a tremendous amount of speed, which makes the SPAD deadly when you learn to make slashing attacks against the enemy. Although I am certainly not a WWI expert, my time with the SPAD XIII has convinced me that it is the most powerful aircraft currently in Rise Of Flight.
The Fokker aircraft was named after its manufacturer, Anthony Fokker, although it was designed by Reinhold Platz. The D.VII design was created in direct response to the threat of the SPAD XIII and the S.E.5. It was a modification of an earlier, promising V.11 design. The V.11 was a powerful aircraft, but shared the SPAD's lack of stability and was difficult to control in a dive. Changes to the V.11 airframe resulted in the D.VII, which combines stability with power and good control. Originally underpowered with a 160 hp Mercedes engine, the D.VII got an upgrade in the summer of 1918 with a 185 hp BMW IIIa engine. Unlike some aircraft of the time, the Fokker was built with a metal-tube chassis covered with canvas.
The Fokker is able to keep up with many aircraft in Rise Of Flight, but its top speed is not enough to carry out hit and fade attacks like the SPAD. In a running duel, a SPAD will outrace a Fokker. The Fokker, though, can turn extremely well, and it shows much less tendency to gripe at low speeds. The thick wing section endows the Fokker with good stall characteristics, making it a dangerous weapon at low speeds. Ideally, the Fokker pilot will try to draw opponents into a turning battle, where the superior manoeuvrability of the D.VII will allow the Fokker the most deadly shot.
One trick of the Fokkers was to dive below an enemy flight, and then point nearly straight up. Because the D.VII's stall is gentle and predictable, the aircraft could virtually hang on its propeller long enough for the Fokker pilot to shoot straight up into the unprotected belly of the enemy aircraft. This ability so angered the Allies that they demanded the surrender of all D.VII's after the war was over.
The D.VII is a joy to fly. I find it more forgiving than the SPAD. You can't squeeze top speed out of a D.VII like you can in the SPAD. It dives well, but the SPAD outclasses the D.VII in a dive. The D.VII is a champ in turns, though. You can bank and turn all you want without worrying about a stall. The turns are tight, meaning that if you can keep your enemy banking, you will eventually get him in your sights. A good SPAD pilot will try to avoid getting into a turning battle, though. If a SPAD is diving on you, a D.VII can quickly turn and point up at your enemy. Those head-on duels are nasty, but you might be able to convince the SPAD to fight on your terms rather than his. Once the SPAD is committed to turning, you can press your advantage.
What the Fokker lacks in speed, it makes up for in manoeuvrability. In a D.VII you have a greater variety of combat moves available to you at any given time than in a SPAD, especially at lower speeds. Whereas the SPAD excels in power, I consider the Fokker D.VII to be the deadliest aircraft currently in Rise Of Flight.
The German Albatros D.V is a trim, shapely wooden fighter. Until the Fokker Dr.I (a three-winged triplane) was developed, the Albatros was the favourite fighter craft of the Baron von Richthoven, the famous German ace. It dominated the skies in 1917. German pilots ruled the air in their "Bloody April" campaign, when allied losses were severe, and the D.V's prowled the skies like raptors. By 1918, though, the Albatros was out-classed by the SPAD XIII, S.E.5, and the Fokker D.VII.
The Albatros is well armed, with twin Spandau light machine guns, but it is underpowered compared to other Rise Of Flight aircraft. The D.V uses a six-cylinder Mercedes engine capable of about 170 hp. The Albatros in the air is easy to fly, but it's not as fast as the SPAD or as agile as the D.V. The lower-powered engine makes take-off runs a little longer than I would prefer, and the optimum climb is not as steep as the more advanced fighters. Once airborne, the Albatros seems to be a stable flier. Its characteristics are like those of the D.VII, only diluted somewhat. The D.V cannot turn as tightly as the D.VII, but it does well in a turning fight. Like the D.VII, it also dives well, but not as fast as the SPAD. I did not notice that the wings were especially fragile, in fact, the fighter seems quite rugged.
Compared to the more modern aircraft in Rise Of Flight, the Albatros' handling feels a little more sluggish and less responsive to extreme control. The D.V will go where you want it to, but maybe not with as much quickness as I would like. It seems to me a solid and forgiving aircraft for rookie pilots. I think it handles better than the SPAD at low speeds, but not as well as the D.VII. You cannot "hang by the propeller" like you would with a D.VII, but stalls are gradual and easy to recover. It's also a decent aircraft for take-off and landing. It does require some rudder control in these situations, but you don't need to haul on the rudder like you would with other aircraft in the game.
In my opinion, the Albatros is a good-looking aircraft. The sesquiplane wings (The lower wings are smaller than the upper wings, look for the distinctive "V"-shaped wing strut) allow for very good pilot visibility, especially above and below. The airframe is sleek and bird-like, and comes with some very colourful paint schemes. Although the handling of the Albatros seems to me to be average, it can be deadly in the right hands. I would consider it one of the best-looking fighters currently in Rise Of Flight.
The Nieuport 28 was an effort to improve the aging Nieuport 17 design. Like the Albatros D.V, the N.17 was a sesquiplane, and it suffered from the same problem with a weak lower wing. By the standards of 1917-1918, the Nieuport 17 was underpowered and outgunned. Originally, the N.17 carried a single machine gun mounted above the wing. In French service, the gun migrated down to the nose of the aircraft. The N.17 was not considered powerful enough to reliably haul two guns into combat, making it a dubious ride for pilots going up against modern fighters.
The Nieuport 28 was an attempt to capitalize on the strengths of the SPAD XIII. The old N.17 design was re-worked to resemble a SPAD, with the addition of a more powerful engine as well as a full lower wing, making it a true biplane. The N.28 is capable of carrying two machine guns into battle, making for increased firepower and reducing the chance of losing a shot because of a jammed weapon. These guns are mounted off-center on the left side of the aircraft's nose.
Despite these improvements, the Nieuport 28 was still inferior to the SPAD XIII in many respects. French squadrons preferred the SPAD, leaving a surplus of Nieuports for the use by the American Expeditionary Force (AEF), the infant precursor of the American Air Force. The Nieuport 28 was the first fighter craft flown by Americans in WWI.
In Rise Of Flight, the N.28 is a decent fighter. Like the SPAD, the N.28 needs a fair amount of rudder on take-off to keep moving in a straight line. In the air, the N.28 proves to be reasonably stable, like the Albatros. The Nieuport 28 has a tremendous roll rate in Rise Of Flight. It can roll over faster than any of the other three user-flyable planes. I suspect that this roll rate may have been enhanced for game play, but I am not a WWI expert so I cannot say for sure.
The high rate of roll allows the Nieuport 28 to commit to a banking turn very quickly. I found that the N.28 turns well, but drag causes airspeed to bleed away. Same as with the SPAD, if you rely on turning manoeuvres too much, you will lose airspeed. I think that the N.28 is somewhat more stable at low speeds than the SPAD, but it is also prone to a snap spin near stall.
The N.28 also seems very susceptible to buffeting in the wind. It takes a very steady hand to keep the N.28 level in a crosswind. Landing the Nieuport 28 seems to me similar to landing a SPAD. Airspeed management is critical to avoid a deadly bounce or a nose plough situation.
Like the SPAD, the Nieuport 28 prefers to fly fast and straight. The N.28 does not have the top speed of the SPAD, nor does it dive as well, which makes the Nieuport's strengths inferior to those of the SPAD's.
A unique feature of the Nieuport 28 in Rise Of Flight is its four-position throttle. Advancing the throttle is not smooth. Rather, the engine has four running stages. Idle is the lowest stage, with the engine turning over in a characteristic staccato "putt-putt-putt-putt" noise something like a two-stroke lawn mower. The Low stage advances the throttle to where the engine speeds up into something like a low growling sound. The Medium stage for cruise adds more power, and the engine sounds like it's labouring: "Braa-aaap! Putt! Braaaaa-aaaaaap! Putt!". The High throttle stage maximizes power, with the engine buzzing like a massive swarm of bees. Working the throttles produces a distinctive "blip" sound as the engine switches from one stage to the next. Since the stages are not smooth, it can be difficult to achieve a specific airspeed in the Nieuport, especially on landing.
The Nieuport 28 is interesting to fly, but finicky. Visibility above the wing is excellent, but an armoured windshield cuts down visibility to the front. In my opinion, the Nieuport 28 is not the most capable fighter in Rise Of Flight, although it should be able to make some kills in the hands of a good pilot. Its match in a dogfight would likely by an Albatros D.V. Of all the aircraft I could fly in Rise Of Flight, I consider the Nieuport 28 currently to be the most idiosyncratic or temperamental, although saying that, I also consider it a lot of fun to fly.
ARTWORK & SOUND: Excellence In Design
I give neoqb top marks for both their audio and visual design in the flight portion of the game. The bits of static, two-dimensional art in the game also look tremendous. I've described much of the visuals at length already, so I won't add much here. The Rise Of Flight virtual world is detailed and realistic, but in most cases not so much that the game renderer gets bogged down. There are many nice graphical touches such as interesting smoke effects, detailed buildings, realistic explosions, and other war-time animations. Aircraft will show some structural damage when appropriate, and will literally fall apart in the sky if overstressed. A few times, I could see damage yet the aircraft was not affected. This doesn't happen often, though.
Visuals: Animations are largely what you would expect in a WWI sim. Ailerons, elevators, and rudder all move normally. Cockpit gauges and controls look like they should in a real fighter, and have smooth movement. In first-person view, you do not see the pilot figure at all, but you can see the pilots in other craft, or you can see yourself by choosing an exterior camera. The pilot will peer about owlishly, looking for a fight or for wing mates that need his help. In battle, machine guns erupt with fire, fanning bullet traces across the sky. Bits of aircraft might come off under withering fire, unless you hit a critical area. In that case, a wing might rip off and cause the aircraft to spiral into the ground. Or you might strike a fuel line, which blasts the fighter to perdition. Sometimes, important bits like an aileron or an elevator might get shot off and flutter down to earth. The aircraft will still fly, probably, but it won't be easy to handle. If (or when) you get shot down, the aircraft crumples on impact, with bits and pieces that fly off in all directions.
Audio: Sound in Rise Of Flight is generally of the same high quality as the visuals. The sound in game menus is largely minimal, although there are a few noises from an imaginary aircraft hangar. The tutorial missions have the only voices in the game. The word choices seem strange to me, but the voices are clear and easy to understand. Dialogue seems to be in English only, at least for my copy of the game. Lastly, if you are looking for in-game music, there is none.
The rest of the sounds belong to flying the aircraft. Each fighter has its own unique set of engine sounds. After spending some time in the cockpit, a good pilot will learn from the various sounds the aircraft is making. Machine guns make a "pop-pop-pop" sound that does not sound fearsome compared to the whiz-bang armaments you might find in other games, but you sure don't want to hear that machine gun noise when the enemy is behind you!
The wind plays in important role in the symphony of aircraft noises. You can hear the air mass shift against the canvas wings as you turn, a shuffling sweep of air that travels in stereo as you turn. If you dive, the wind builds into a manic shriek through the wing struts. Rolling on the ground is noisy, seemingly nearly to the point of jarring the fillings out of my teeth. Combine the engine, wind, and battle sounds, and you have a completely immersive stereophonic audio environment. You can't re-mix the audio like in FSX, for instance to make the guns louder or the wind quieter, but I think that the audio balance is superb in Rise Of Flight.
OUTSTANDING ISSUES: The Bug List
For this section, let me say at the outset that Rise Of Flight runs extremely well on my system. Crashes are very rare and frame rates are usually high for both single player and multiplayer combat. Most of the larger issues I had with this game related to my Internet connection.
Internet/DRM: As has been mentioned before, the DRM for Rise Of Flight requires that my Internet connection remains continuously on. For a couple of days, my Internet quit out, so for that time I could not play the game. Troubleshooting a broken Internet connection was complicated, so I did not feel much like playing anyway. I had bigger priorities to death with. Sometimes, the DRM authentication would be a little slow, but nothing serious. On those days, I would also get notice that neoqb lost my game authorization. Probably, it was just a lost packet in the data stream ("lag"), because I was able to continue playing regardless. The only crashes I ever got (apart from hitting earthbound things with my fighter plane) were occasional black screen freeze-ups when quitting a multiplayer game. These black screens only happened to me three times, and I can't figure out exactly what caused them. I am guessing another sort of packet disruption.
One issue I never resolved was how to set up a multiplayer server successfully. I would have loved dearly to meet my fellow AVSIM readers over the fields of sunny France, trade greetings with my fellow flight sim captains from around the world, and then crush them all like puny insects beneath my legendary abilities as a fighter pilot. Two things stopped me from realizing this dream. One, I play Rise Of Flight from behind a router and two, I am a legend only in my own mind. Configuring my router was easy for DRM authentication and for joining somebody else's server, but I cannot yet do it for hosting my own.
Controls: My other big unresolved issue was to get my control setup to work properly. I have about three-quarters of it set up. Some functions, like the fuel mixture and radiator controls simply will not work for me (although they work for other people). Other controls generate severe conflicts with my TrackIR. On rare occasions, I would lose control of one of my USB devices, typically my rudder pedals. It's not easy to troubleshoot the controls in Rise Of Flight, so if I get most of it working, the rest can wait for a patch.
Gameplay versus Realism: My remaining issues are of the sort that mainstream gamers might consider too picky. These are things that include the low mission altitudes, the tendency of the AI aircraft to crash into each other or the ground, and some small errors with some of the aircraft models and their paint schemes. On that last count, don't get me wrong: these models are first-rate, with a tremendous level of accurate detail. If you look close enough and hard enough, though, you can find minor bits and pieces that don't quite fit, but these are extremely fastidious complaints.
I have found that if I flew very close to trees or clouds, the trees or cloudlets directly above or below me would spin. Also, some individual cloudlets receive unusual very dark shading. Other issues are related to game play versus realism. Sometimes the damage models don't match the flight models, especially when dealing with tail damage and some wing damage.
In a wider topic, mission realism has also been sacrificed for the sake of game play. Since the focus of Rise Of Flight is dogfighting, you won't see many opportunities to ambush wayward aircraft in the game, nor are you likely to be ambushed. The missions themselves get somewhat repetitive, and battlefield tactics are generic for both the Allies and the Germans. This means you might see the same ground attack mission playing for one side as well as the other. Another nitpicky issue: in the real war, the Germans used a different colour of flak smoke than the Allies, but in Rise Of Flight, all of the flak looks the same.
Operating system: I tested Rise Of Flight exclusively on Windows XP. As far as I know, Rise Of Flight should run well on an up-to-date version of XP as well as Vista. Rise Of Flight will work on 32-bit and 64-bit operating systems (OS). Probably, Rise Of Flight should work on the new Windows 7 system. Mathijs Kok from Aerosoft tells me that users should have no problem migrating Rise Of Flight from an older OS to a newer one, as the copy-protection is tied to registration information kept in the neoqb server.
Technical Support: Currently there are two official forums and a number of unofficial forums for Rise Of Flight. The neoqb forum is definitely more international, being split between a Russian section and an English/Rest Of The World section. Aerosoft has the other official forum, in English, as they are a major distributor for Rise Of Flight. Both forums are helpful and informative, although sometimes responses are slow. The community seems creative and eager to help in many ways. Neoqb will answer technical support e-mails, but be aware that they are primarily Russian speakers, so it may take some time to get a properly translated e-mail to or from them. Despite the delay in e-mail, neoqb is very enthusiastic about their product, and they are very actively listening to customer suggestions.
EXTRA CONTENT: Secondary Objectives Achieved
Rise Of Flight Editor
Included for free with the game is the Rise Of Flight Editor (ROFEditor). This is a powerful tool for creating your own missions both for single player and for multiplayer use. If you feel as I do that the missions that come with the game can get repetitive, then the ROFEditor will give you more variety in your sorties. Likewise, if you want your missions to be more realistic (or less!), you can create the dogfight of your dreams with this tool.
I won't go into a lot of detail on the ROFEditor, as I am still learning how to use it. The basics of the Editor are fairly easy to master, as the utility uses a graphical user interface similar to what you would see in world-builders for other video games. The ROFEditor is far easier to use than the FSX SDK. To create a mission, you need to place icons for the elements of your event. You then link commands and waypoints for your icons, and modify them as needed. Assign flight leaders and clone wingmen, and you can quickly assemble clouds of fighter craft to fill the sky. You can easily set the weather, season, year, and time of day to make your mission stand out visually. From what I can tell, the duration of daylight will vary depending on the season. You can even have night missions and the moon will show phases.
Like everything else in Rise Of Flight, there are a number of features in the ROFEditor that seem useful but are not explained very well, and loading and set-up can be time consuming. The ROFEditor is very stable, without weird crashes or bugs, and it seems to run smoothly. Neoqb promises at some point to provide extensive documentation for the ROFEditor. Much of it seems intuitive, once you get the hang of linking your icons to commands. I found the best place to start was to load a pre-existing mission and then edit it to see how things work.
After becoming familiar with Rise Of Flight, I decided I should try to crank it up as far as I could. The result was a massive air superiority battle for the skies: twenty expert German D.VII's versus twenty expert British S.E.5's. The frame rates were a little choppy, but not bad. The dogfight was truly spectacular. I allowed the autopilot to fly my plane so I could concentrate on screenshots. I used the free-roaming camera to get a bird's eye view of the action.
The two sides spent a while manoeuvring into position, and then they really started to let loose. Soon, aircraft were falling out of the sky, wingless or burning. The chatter of machine guns was almost constant. Engines roared as the pilots dove and charged at one another. What really shocked me was the constant rain of canvas, struts, pieces of wing, and other parts that fluttered to down to earth. Unlike some other combat sims, all of the loose pieces are rendered and allowed their own realistic physics all the way to the ground.
I think these pictures are in turns exciting, thrilling, horrifying, and evocative. Many times, I was reminded of paintings and movies I have seen that depict WWI. I can only imagine what it would have been like flying in one of these gigantic furballs for real. It was exhausting just playing it out as a simulation. Hopefully, you will be moved in some way by the following presentation:
CONCLUSION: Executive Summary
Rise Of Flight: The Great Air War is a stand-alone WWI flight combat sim from Russian developer neoqb. Four user-flyable aircraft from 1917-1918 are included in the game, with the option to purchase more. Two aircraft belong to the Allies, while two fly on the German side. Each aircraft is distinctive in terms of looks, sounds, and handling. The aircraft are masterworks of virtual aviation, with realistic paint jobs, detailed cockpits, and beautifully rendered dynamic highlights and shadows. The sense of real flight is phenomenal. I would be smiling continuously while flying these aircraft if it were not for the prospect of being taken down by enemy fire. Well, that makes me smile too, but differently.
Brutal dogfights dominate the action in Rise Of Flight, as you are plunged into a desperate battle for your life and your country. The war front is never far away, a massive grim by-product of the clash of nations. Although you soar like a bird over the mud and the trenches, your life is only worth the cost of a single well-placed bullet.
There are several ways to fight WWI in Rise Of Flight: as a raw recruit, you can fly a series of engaging training exercises; you can test your mettle in pre-rendered historical missions; you can attempt to survive a dynamic career mode; and you can challenge other human pilots in on-line multiplayer combat. Missions rage from pure dogfights for aerial superiority to suicide runs against well-guarded targets like balloons and aerodromes, to ground assaults against tanks and other vehicles, to the defence of all of the above against a cunning and implacable enemy. You may be flying in broad daylight, skirting massive clouds at dawn, or even weathering a turbulent storm complete with drenching rain. The game looks and sounds absolutely beautiful, and it runs smoothly and without major bugs for most users.
Getting the game to set up is another matter, though. If you download the game, prepare yourself for a long download of nearly 3GB of game data. After the download, setting up the game and your controllers can be difficult and time-consuming. The setup utility runs apart from the game, so to make any changes, you have to quit the game, make the change, and then restart the game.
I highly recommend using the best flight game controls you can afford. At the minimum, you should have a joystick with a twist rudder. I suggest a joystick with a throttle control, dedicated rudder foot pedals, and a TrackIR or other head-tracking device. Rise Of Flight does not seem to cater to casual flyers. Just the act of taking off will require some experience with a stick and rudder. If you don't have good controls, prepare to be shot down in a hurry by those that do. Likewise, it takes hours of practise before you will be good enough to start racking up kills. This is not an arcade-style flying game, but rather a hard-core combat simulator for gamers.
The other thing you will absolutely need is an open, constant connection to the Internet. Rise of Flight requires you to register your copy of the game on the neoqb home server. After that, you must have the Internet on every time you wish to play Rise Of Flight, even if you are just flying solo. If you lose your connection for anything longer than a brief lag, your game will quit out, and you will not be able to play. Likewise, if the neoqb server is down, the most you will be able to do is to look at the opening screen. My experience is that the neoqb server is usually running all of the time, and connecting to it is fast and automatic with the game launcher. It's a bit like Valve's STEAM, but not as polished.
The internal functions of the non-flying portion of the game are dominated by a clumsy menu tree. I got used to it, but useful options are scattered all over the place, so I would not call it an elegant system by any means. Once you sort out the menus, the missions themselves have long loading times of around a minute or two. After some pre-flight formalities after the loading screen, you finally get to fly!
Fly! Sail! Soar with outstretched canvas wings! Rise Of Flight absolutely excels at presenting the flying segment of the game. Just getting up into the air charges me with excitement! Doing battle in the sky is often an amazing, terrifying experience. The enemy will punch into your formation, the tracers from their machine guns cutting your wingmen into pieces. Aircraft swoop and turn dangerously, engines roaring, guns barking. Damage and stress accumulate: wings shear off and flutter across the sky while the wrecked aircraft plunges to the ground like a stone. A lucky hit will snipe the pilot dead or even blow up his aircraft in a violent fireball. If you are wounded, your vision will be reduced to a gruesome tunnel of red while you fight to escape and live.
The enemy artificial intelligence (AI) understands the quality of each airplane, and will use their strengths against your weaknesses. They are capable of a wide range of deadly combat manoeuvres. If you master the AI, you can always try your skill against human competition in multiplayer.
I had difficulties hosting a multiplayer match from behind my router, but it's easy to join someone else's server. Frame rates for me were good, with low lag. The larger the dogfight, though, the greater the demands that are placed on the host computer. Unfortunately, there are no pure dogfight modes in multiplayer. As well, all of the combatants must meet first in a lobby and check readiness before the game can begin. You cannot join a multiplayer game already in progress, except as a spectator. Rise Of Flight does not support voice communications, which means if you want to talk, you type.
After the battle, there isn't much to see. Rise Of Flight attempts to keep some pilot statistics, but in my copy of the game the effort seems minimal. There are no leaderboards or frag reports. My wingmen don't even have names, and none of the AI stats are tracked. I think this was a big opportunity to add some historical colour to the game that was flat-out wasted.
Overall, I feel that Rise Of Flight fills a valuable niche in the flight simulator world. There are not very many great new combat flight sims any more, let alone many that are set in WWI. There are parts of Rise OF Flight that truly raise the bar for excellence in flight simulation, and there are parts that have trouble getting off the ground. I think in the final estimation that the good outweighs the bad by a large margin.
Two deciding factors would be the constant connection to the Internet and the amount of trouble it can be to set the game up. As far as the first, I am okay with this form of DRM, but I wish it worked better and/or was more user-friendly. As for the rest of the setup, I had to spend many hours getting the game to work. I am pleased with Rise Of Flight now that it is working, but I am also anticipating future patches that might help make the game easier to use. However good Rise Of Flight is today, extra support from neoqb and the fan community ought to make it a truly great game a few months from now. For some exciting hints on what's to come, please read my "Final Word" section!
THE FINAL WORD: Mission To Moscow
Neoqb is extremely excited about their newest product. It's hard not to get swept up in the excitement. Even the large developer Aerosoft jumped at the chance to distribute the Rise Of Flight. Their office servers are busy hosting several games at once, meaning that it's hard for the Aerosoft staff to get any serious work done. I know that feeling. Just one more sortie, it doesn't matter if it's two in the morning...
Fortunately, neoqb is hard at work to bring improvements to the game. I asked them about their plans for Rise Of Flight, and they were most gracious with their reply. Albert Zhiltsov, the Rise Of Flight producer, answered my questions:
How long did it take to develop Rise
Of Flight: The Great Air War?
Why did you choose to make a World War
I combat sim?
What was the hardest part in creating
What was the most fun that the Rise Of
Flight developers had working on this
Can you give ASVIM readers a "sneak peek" as to
the future of Rise Of Flight?
Our aim for the end of this year – to fix all bugs with the game. We will also make available several player-controlled fighters to our users. Some of them are much expected. Among other plans: possibility to create missions and campaigns, tools for making planes’ skins, and we will also have new season textures. The winter time will come in Rise Of Flight!
And of course, we will complete the Rise of Flight game statistics part, which we are working on now. This work sometimes reveals very interesting and funny facts: e.g. German pilots save more bullets than British ones, pilots from the US are leaders in killing scout planes. So as it is often told in TV shows: Stay tuned to see more!
I would not like to say about plans for the next year, I would better touch wood. You know, aviation, even virtual, is full of omens and superstitions.
We hope our users will go on to support and believe in us. We will continue developing our project, and soon after, near the title “Rise of Flight” you will see new digits appearing – 1936-1939-1941-1944 etc. and players will be able to pilot an aircraft and to control other combat units and vehicles.
Now we leave World War One and hopefully return to our contemporary world of the mundane. I wish to thank Mathijs Kok from Aerosoft and Albert Zhiltsov Kate from neoqb for their tireless answers to all of my questions. My primary source of research for WWI aircraft was the National Air and Space Museum (NASM), in Washington DC: many thanks!
What I Like About Rise Of Flight
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