Combat Flight Simulator 3 Page 2

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Graphics

Aircraft:  The quality of graphics in CFS3 varies from fair to outstanding. The aircraft exterior graphics are what I would call industry standard. Not significantly better than other current flight Sims, but overall pretty darn good. When I finally got my computer ‘ CFS3 tuned’ I really enjoyed just watching some of these aircraft drone to the target from the exterior view. They look exceptionally realistic when FSAA is implemented, but then you begin to compromise frame rates (and invite virtual 1960’s graphics) unless other graphic parameters are reduced. The only major error I identified on external aircraft graphics is the omission of working leading edge slats on the Bf-109 and ME-262. LE Slats are modeled on every other contemporary World War 2 flight simulation; in fact it is even in ‘legacy’ games like Jane’s WW2 Fighters and Rowans Battle of Britain.

The Cockpit graphics are more controversial. The 2D cockpit option available in CFS2 has been eliminated and all of CFS3’s cockpits are ‘virtual’. This is a good thing, but unfortunately it seem that’s where the improvements ceased. CFS3’s Cockpits are more ‘representative’ than historically accurate and the quality varies significantly from one aircraft type to the next. The failure to historically portray the ‘feel’, function, and look of World War 2 era combat planes significantly detracts from CFS3’s immersion factor, especially since most of your game time is spent in the cockpit! The best ways to describe CFS3’s cockpit graphics are technically inaccurate, oddly painted, and overly simplistic. In fact, a few Cessna-type light aircraft instruments have found their way into CFS3’s ‘military’ cockpits.. instruments like the stall warning idiot light. This is an area where Microsoft could have scored major quality ‘points’ had they spent the extra effort required to deliver industry-leading technically/historically accurate virtual cockpits. Ironically, I think that the virtual cockpits in CFS2 look as good, and possibly better, than CFS3. Take a look at a few of the comparative screen shots of CFS3, Jane’s WW2 Fighters, and IL-2; specifically compare the Spitfire and P-47 cockpits from Jane’s WW2 Fighters to CFS3’s versions and you will see exactly what I mean.

Note: Each cockpit thumbnail below will open a new window with the enlarged image.

BF-109

CFS3
IL-2
Jane’s WW2

FW-190

CF3
IL-2
Jane’s WW2

P-38

CFS3
Janes’s WW2

P-47

CFS3
Jane’s WW2

P-51

CFS3
Jane’s WW2

Spitfire

CFS3
Jane’s WW2

The terrain, despite being responsible for using a significant percent of your computer’s resources, is best described as ‘fair’ to ‘good’. It really depends on what you are looking at and where you are viewing it from. The terrain, when viewed from medium to high altitudes, looks about as real as it could. At low altitudes it loses someof its beauty and areas like land/water transitions are particularly bad. The water graphics when over open ocean have a realistic and attractive appearance, but those same water tiles in a land-locked lake with poor edge transitions looks absolutely awful! In fact I would say lakes and water/land transitions are the poorest quality graphics in the whole game.

 

CFS3 models all kinds of weather.. and the weather effects are simply outstanding! I can confidently state that the clouds are the most realistic I have ever seen in a PC flight sim. There are a few inaccuracies included, like thunder and lightning during every single snowstorm that I encountered, but that’s a minor detraction when all things are considered. If the CFS3 weather effects have downside it is the hardware requirements to run them at maximum settings.

Flight Model(s):  I have seen several articles and online discussions concerning the easy and forgiving flight models (FM) found in CFS3. The most common complaint tends to be that they are very unrealistic and border on being ‘arcade style’ FM’s. I have to agree! It is true that each type of CFS3 aircraft does have it’s own distinct flight model, and they are noticeably different, but they are definitely not a high fidelity representation of combat aircraft. Real WW II aircraft were overpowered, high performance military machines designed to accomplish a specific wartime mission. Docile handling was not high on the Military’s priority list and nasty characteristics were often overlooked when performance or mission capability could be enhanced. CFS3’s aircraft do not appropriately exhibit these negative characteristics; in fact they behave more like a light civilian trainer than an overpowered military warplane. An obvious example of this is evident on ‘takeoff’.. CFS3 aircraft experience only a mild and easily corrected torque effect when the throttle is rapidly advanced to MIL power. In the real fighter type aircraft rapid application of power on takeoff would result in an uncontrollable yaw in the opposite direction of propeller rotation. The high AOA and departure characteristics are even less accurate, they are so mild as to be fool proof. Pull too hard and you get to see a nice red Cessna stall warning light flicker at you, instead of more realistic nasty departure and spin! I tried to get several aircraft into intentional spins; few were willing to oblige me. The few that did depart and spin recovered far too easily. This ‘light’ FM removes an important part of the challenge of BFM.. That challenge is to fly closer to the edge of the envelope, and remain in control, than your opponent can. Overall I am very disappointed with CFS3 FM’s, they even seemed a bit too mild for a light civilian aircraft, and at least I have been able to intentionally spin a Cessna 150!

Sounds, AI, Ambiance and Other Notes Of Interest

Sound Effects:  CFS3 sound effects generally are ok, even if a bit bland in some cases. The big exception is the engine sounds.. most of them are downright awful. I was ‘flying’ along in a Spitfire and the distinctive low rumble and moan of a Rolls Royce Merlin was missing. The sound I heard was difficult to describe exactly.. It was a familiar sound, somewhat like an airplane, but I couldn’t positively identify it. I was about to call it a Cessna 172 engine, but my 17-year-old daughter unwittingly provided a better answer. She was in the back yard raking our 3 acres of leaves and she drove our John Deere Garden Tractor past my computer room window.. BINGO .. That’s where I heard that sound before! The CFS3 Spitfire sounds like a garden tractor/lawn mower! I have a fair amount of real life experience with Merlins and other World War 2 era airplane engines. I know what they sound like, both inside and outside of the cockpit… CFS3 missed this mark by a mile. . Good, accurate, realistic, and robust sound effects add considerably to the immersion factor of a PC game. Improper/incorrect engine sound effects have been a trend in the Microsoft Combat Flight sim series. They would have done better to have Meatwater, or somebody with similar experience, provide the audio files.

View System:  I am not a Track IR user (Yet!), but for those of you that are please realize that I don’t think it will work in CFS3. There is no mouse pan mode to ‘slew’ it to. (Rumor is that a CFS3 user designed utility may be available in the near future) The snap views are mutually exclusive, only one key press is recognized at a time. This means you can’t modify a view with an additional key press to ‘look’ up or ‘down’. The pan mode and the snap mode are also mutually exclusive.. you have to select between the two with the ‘Scroll Lock’ key. I find this irritating when engaged in an offensive fight, I like to ‘snap’ view back every so often in order to check six. CFS3’s view system is very limited and awkward by today’s simulation standards.

Mission/Campaign Builder Utility: There is no indigenous mission builder capability in CFS3. Unlike CFS2 it was NOT included in the release of CFS3, but rumor once again indicates that one will be available eventually. A Mission builder utility is something that would provide CFS3 customers with a way to correct some of Microsoft’s historical omissions. It would also improve the value of multiplayer by allowing users to create and fly their own personal missions for use in the CFS3 cooperative Multiplayer mode. There is strong indication that one will be available in the near future… but I don’t ‘count chickens before they hatch!’

Artificial Intelligence (AI): Dumb as a box of rocks… and that is probably a generous characterization! Wingmen who rejoin in the middle of a fight, bandits that ALL keep their external tanks in an engagement, AI BFM skills that are only slightly better than an autopilot, the bombers all dive bomb, they do not level bomb.. The list goes on.. and on. Your wingmen may or may not do what you want them to. Tell your wingie to attack your target and once that target is destroyed they will rejoin no matter how many other enemy entities are present. The formations are best described as a gaggle… there is no option to control formation specifics to maximize your tactical advantage (except ‘manually’ in multiplayer with human wingman). What you see is what you get. The wingman commands are too few (only six!) and simplistic.. they are generally inconclusive anyway so I guess more would not help matters. CFS3 AI is about the worst seen to date in a modern flight sim.

Ambiance and Immersion Factor: Every time I play this game I get the nagging feeling that something is missing. I finally realized what it was.. CFS3 just does not feel ‘military’ to me. The atmosphere this game creates is more like a comic book version of war, very interesting ‘environment’ but of little real substance. Another way to describe it would be a Hollywood movie ‘interpretation’ of air combat rather than a ‘real as it gets’ simulation. Why? That is hard to explain exactly, it is not any one specific thing. It is the combination of historic/technical inaccuracies, poor flight models, fictitious campaigns, really stupid AI, goofy formations, ‘corny’/nonsensical radio calls, and the ‘fluffy’ way some of the documentation is written. This is not necessarily a bad thing, depending what you want/expect from a combat simulation… but it does significantly reduce the immersion factor for me. This is something of a trend for Microsoft. I have noticed it to some degree in all three versions of the Microsoft’s Combat Flight Simulator series. I wonder how many people involved in making these games have any real-life military experience?

Conclusions and Recommendations

The shortcomings that I have noted do not necessarily mean CFS3 is not worth your time. CFS3 does contain some pretty impressive features; it is definitely a step forward in PC flight simulations even with its flaws. If improved campaigns and flight models ever become available, the true capability of CFS3 will be realized. Until then what you see is what you get! This leads me to the most difficult part of this article; trying to answer the important question most of our readers have.. “Should I purchase this game?” The answer is… that depends on what you like, what you want, and what you expect from CFS3.

If you’re a hardcore flight sim pilot, and a stickler for technical/historical accuracy with a preference for games like Falcon 4.0, Rowan’s Battle of Britain, and Jane’s F/A-18… I don’t think you will be happy spending $50.00 -$55.00 US on this product in its current condition. I would recommend you wait until the rumored patch becomes available and reevaluate the purchase then. A caveat to this recommendation is if you can find CFS3 cheap, grab it and hope the dedicated CFS community will provide improvements in the near future. This is not as impossible as it sounds.. I found it on sale at a major office supply store for $29.99. A big discount like that soon after a product’s release may not be good news for Microsoft… I wonder if sales are meeting expectations?

If your tastes include ‘soft’ or arcade style flight simulations, like Crimson Skies and NovaLogic’s F-16, I think you will enjoy CFS3. The graphics are great and it has a fair amount of fun factor as is; just make sure you have a powerful enough computer to run it before you drop the cash. I have read several complaints on our forums from folks that really thought they could get away with the minimum hardware requirements printed on the box. I personally would recommend a minimum of a 1.0 GHz CPU and GF2/VooDoo 5 5500. A computer with anything less is going to have a very hard time with CFS3.

Hardware used for this Review:

Computer 1:

AMD 1.2 GHz T-Bird
ASUS A7V133
512 Meg PC133
Visiontek GF 4 4400
Creative Audigy 1 Sound
Windows 98 SE
DX 9

I had to play with CFS3’s configuration quite a bit in order to get it to run properly. I had to do it a second time after I updated my video card drivers. Once I got it properly configured the game ran great with no abnormal problems.


Computer 2:

AMD 1.0 GHz T-Bird
ECS K7S5A V3.0
256 Meg PC2100 DDR
VooDoo 5 5500
AC 97 Onboard Sound
Windows 98 SE
DX 8

Just like my 1.2 GHz T-Bird I had to do a lot of CFS3 tweaking in order to get it to run smoothly and stutter free. After I found the ‘sweet spot’ this machine ran the game just fine. I noticed a very interesting FSAA phenomenon while tweaking; I had better performance with FSAA on than with it off! CFS3 actually ran better with 2X/4X FSAA than ‘Fastest performance’/FSAA Off’ selected on my old VooDoo 5! And boy did that old 3DFX card provide some fine graphics! (3DFX cards, in my opinion, always looked better than Nvidia cards). I had good frame rates all the way up to 1200×1024 in 2X FSAA, and all the way up to 1024×768 in 4X FSAA! I don’t have any idea what my actual frame rates are but it is smooth and stutter free.. and that what counts in a flight sim.

An interesting problem I had with the Voodoo card was the ‘paint’ function did not work. I could select it but when I got into the game the default paint scheme was still on the aircraft… a bug?


Computer 3:

AMD K-6 550 MHz
DFI K6BV3 +66
256 Meg PC100
TNT 2 32 Meg
El-Cheapo no name Sound Card
Windows 98 SE
DX 8

CFS3 installed and ran… but I could literally count the frames. No amount of tweaking would help… if this is all you have don’t even bother buying this game until you get a new computer!