There is very little room for argument when debating the quality of Microsoft's pioneering Flight Simulator series. Flight Simulation is an area of entertainment that Microsoft simply got to first, and over the years their flight models have been reinvented and refined, resulting in the culmination of this expertise in Microsoft's final offering to the flight sim world, Microsoft Flight Simulator X. But in looking way back to 1998, one can see the company's first foray into combat-flight simulation with Combat Flight Simulator WWII Europe Series. Here, Microsoft's notoriously meticulous flight models meet fascinating historical context resulting in a better-than-your-average combat flight simulator.
Gameplay isn't quite the right description to try and convey the supremely detailed flight experience that Combat Flight Simulator provides: the "flight experience" is more of an accurate label, and it almost goes without saying that this experience is the main attraction of Combat Flight Simulator World War II Europe Series.
Forgetting the game's various modes for a second as it's the flight itself that makes this 1998 title so incredible to play, even today. You can tailor a range of variables in order to match your particular level of skill or experience. If you're not up for controlling all of the flight systems yourself you can choose key assignments, such as ones that take care of navigating between waypoints. You can also choose between a variety of aircraft, each having their own relative difficulty in their minute-to-minute operation.
Once you've set the variables for your flight you can then immerse yourself in the experience, yet still choose whether or not you want to control each flight instrument individually, assign them to different hotkeys, or simply have the computer take care of them for you. In Combat Flight Simulator, you'll find that you have helpful additions such as the 3D arrow that guides you to various waypoints and targets - this is a feature that you don't see to this extent in modern flight simulators of the modern day such as this Digital Combat Simulator.
Whilst Eagle Dynamics' Digital Combat Simulator is a virtual goldmine of modern combat fighters and the odd classic fighter jet, Microsoft's seemingly aged Combat Flight Simulator is concerned solely with the reproduction of the cockpits, physics, and scenarios that befit the classic planes of the 1940s. You've got a hefty selection of beautiful war machines, from the single-engine fighters like the memorable Hawker Hurricane (see the RAF's official Hawker Hurricane page for more info), the North American P-51D, and the Messerschmitt Me 262. You'll also encounter a decent array of weapons from bombers, even getting the chance to witness the infamous V-1 Bomb, also known as the Doodlebug.
As well as straight-up collections of planes, this combat simulator has a variety of modes and arenas that you get to enjoy. You've got the option of engaging in Free Flight mode if you fancy just taking one of the many planes out for a spin, or get moderately involved in the Quick Missions/heavily involved in the Campaign Mode. Multiplayer also makes things much more entertaining, allowing you to engage in dogfights against other players in ways similar to other world war flight based sims. If you're a little overwhelmed or under-trained for the experience, then training will show you the ropes and let you ease into the level of detail typical of Microsoft's Flight Simulator models.
Graphics and Performance
Though the highly detailed flight models underpin the entire experience, it's the look of the cockpits that truly dazzle in the visual sense. Even for 1998 these cockpits are wonderfully detailed, though don't expect them to come anywhere near to the texture quality that has become standard in Microsoft's Flight Simulator X or X-Plane. Even the ground-target models and scenery appear quite impressive, even by the standards of today.
The game's performance in combat is quite impressive, but the combat itself has some limitations that do negate the experience somewhat. Though you are able to choose a variety of variables in quick missions, you're plonked at a predetermined altitude which can be detrimental to some aircraft that may not be apt at handling such heights. You also sacrifice realism for convenience if you choose to enable various auto-targeting and auto-guiding options.
An ace up Microsoft's sleeve in this first Combat Flight Simulator is the ability to import aircraft as well as your own scenery. This is an incredible feature, particularly considering how long a go this simulator was released. It allows you to venture into the Combat Flight Simulator community and customise your experience even more than you already could. If you take the customisation alongside the great flight models, historical aircraft, and various models of play, you've got a rather incredible Combat Flight Simulator game on your hands. The customisation really makes it however, since without this feature, Combat Flight Simulator wouldn't quite stand out as much.