Neoqb, 2010
Video game review
Rise of Flight
Aerial combat distilled to its essence. Astonishingly beautiful graphics. A good, realistic flight model. Dogfighting is a blast. Contains all the right aircraft.
Campaigns are a little weak. AI is at best nothing special, making air combat too easy.
Microtransactional model for new planes; c'mon, really?


It's a shame that this even has to be said, but this game is fun. Above all else, this game is an absolute blast—which is what we thought games were supposed to be about anyway. Regardless of the graphics, the storytelling, or anything else, this game is just an amazing good time.
Excellent graphicsExcellent graphics:

Who says there's nothing to be said for eye candy? Although the standards of graphic excellence are always moving forward, something about this game's graphical presentation really stands out. At the time this review was written, the graphics were top-notch, either in their class or in gaming altogether.
One of the best games in its classOne of the best games in its class:

If you're looking for the acme of the genre, you need look no further. Even if the game isn't perfect, it's still the pinnacle of the style it represents. This is the Raymond Chandler of crime stories, the John Williams of musical composers, the Shakespeare of plays, the Collie.SU of reviewing websites.

In some way, this game is unique, and in this case it's a positive trait. It may be that the game is a real-time strategy game set in Viet Nam, or perhaps a first-person shooter based on the Roman Empire, or an absolutely detailed simulation of the shuttle orbiter. Whatever the case, something about this game is different from others in the genre.

Some parts of this game are ridiculously awesome, while others are just ridiculous. This note is for games that lack consistency--typically for games that are otherwise extremely good, but have weak points that mar the overall presentation. It might still be worth playing, but the range between the high points and the low ones is vast.
Niche appealNiche appeal:

This may be the best Timed Shoving Pangolins Into Toaster Ovens simulation out there, but if you don't follow the Pangolin Toaster-Oven Shoving Championships it may not be for you. Occasionally, games manage to transcend their genres, but this clearly isn't one of them. This should sound a cautionary note if you're not a fan of the style.

This game knows the way to get to Carnegie Hall, and it's not about to let you forget it. You'll find yourself doing the same thing time after time after time. Many games have some element of repetition, but here's it's so bad it's hard to tell the ending of the game from the start. You're just always doing the same damned thing.
Too easyToo easy:

Sure, sometimes you don't want to stress out over a game, but this is such a cakewalk you have to wonder if it's worth starting it at all. The only challenge to this game is seeing how long you can play it without falling asleep, and that's just not a rewarding experience

Rise of Flight sits in an unusual little camp for two reasons. Firstly, it's a survey sim in a world where the rule has increasingly become insanely detailed simulations of one aircraft (e.g. DCS, Falcon 4) or limited stables designed for end-user expansion (Third Wire games). In this design it harkens back to Jane's USAF or Jane's WWII Fighters. Secondly, it's set in, of all times, World War I.

I'm not really concerned with the first point, except insofar as I prefer survey sims because, perversely, I think I'm getting my money's worth when I have multiple vehicles to dick around in. The second point, however, is worth some discussion—because it really drives home the sim's key selling point.

If you turn off radiator management (which I would; you can leave it on but it adds very little to the game) you have:

Your joystick and rudder
Your throttle, maybe, and perhaps a mixture control if you didn't turn that off too
Your trigger

That means combat is:

Manoeuvre enemy into your gunsights, and
Pull trigger

That's it. You don't have to check the IFF, because combat takes place at a range of a couple hundred yards. You don't have to dick around with cowling settings and prop pitch, because at best you have a throttle that you can turn on, or off. You don't have to set the flight profile of your missiles, because the Spandau has only two settings: killing things, and not killing things. You don't have to switch the master armament switch of the slave radar bus to the secondary TRACK/LASE setting while reconfiguring the forward deflector to emit an electromagnetic pulse, because the aircraft ("aeroplanes") don't have any of these things. It's just you, your bird, and your prey.

This is amazing. It boils away all the extraneous elements of a combat flight simulation game until it is just you killing things. Why there are not more contemporary WWI sims boggles my mind, now that I've played one (the last one I played was... Red Baron 3D, I think), excepting I suppose that there really aren't that many new sims coming out, period. So there's that, I guess.

Biplanes are also an inspired choice. They're very light, with powerful engines and very low wing loading, so they will all turn on a dime. On the other hand, because they're made of wood and doped fabric, they will catch on fire like a mother if hit, so they go down nicely too. The presentation is marred only by an underperforming AI; if you're matched one on one, you'll always win, because you can always pull away and they, for some reason, don't always choose to do so. (Or perhaps I just haven't found the difficulty slider)

What steeds are available to you? The obvious choices are here, like the Sopwith Camel and the Fokker Dr.I triplane. On the other hand, pilots will come to appreciate quickly that the Sopwith Camel, if you don't happen to be a beagle, is an execrable wretch to control, with all the stability of Amy Winehouse and so strong a propensity for spinning you could use them to tell if you were dreaming. They will also come to appreciate that the Dr.I is two parts novelty to one part fighter, and they'll turn to other mounts. Like?

It's about what you'd expect. Out of the box, beyond the Camel and the Dr.I, you get the Fokker D.VII and the SE5a, the Albatros D.Va and the Pfalz D.IIIa, the Newport 28 and the Spad XIII. The developers have chosen a microtransactional model for the remainder of the aircraft, which is somewhat unfortunate. Want to fly an Eindekker, that funny-looking pusher-prop Airco, the Sopwith Pup, the Fokker D.VIII or the Sopwith Dolphin? Pony up, chief. At the moment, there's a sale going on, which means that they're only a few dollars apiece, but... still. Fortunately only obsessive-compulsives will want the whole stable, since between the SE5a, the Fokker D.VII, the Albatros and the Spad most of the key players for the fun parts of the war are already there.

Once you're airborne in your whatever (hint: Fokker D.VII), you are treated to what are simply the best visuals in any consumer-grade flight simulator, ever. This leads to two of the best moments in any consumer-grade flight simulator, ever. The first is dogfighting over a gorgeous, lush landscape, with voluminous clouds and soft, rolling fields and glittering, dark rivers that stretch away into the distance until you get distracted and die. The second is skimming, with an incredible sensation of speed, over these self-same landscapes, trying to stay below the range of AA weaponry as you home in on a balloon or a convoy, hugging each bit of cover you can until you are suddenly over a black, dismal, hellish mess of ground, cratered and broken and full of splintered and dead trees. Shells burst to right and left of you, and the transition is so amazing you can almost smell the cordite and the stench of death that many aviators were largely spared—until they joined it, in an unceremonious mess of wood spars and charred fabric.

I have literally one complaint only about the graphics, which is that I feel I should be able to personalise my plane much more easily. World War I planes were garishly decorated in bright colours and marked up by their pilots, and I feel that I should be able to do the same. Theoretically, I think, this is possible—but only by falling back to an external paint programme. I find this unsatisfactory.

The game has only one real failing, which it shares with most modern flight sims, including Il-2 and, to the best of my knowledge, DCS as well, and that is the the missions are woefully uninspiring. You see, back in the day flight simulations (and presumably other sims as well, though I played those less often) had missions that fell into two camps:

Static missions that replicated historical events, were heavily scripted, and contained some sort of internal narrative progression, or
Randomly generated missions as part of a dynamic campaign, where each successive mission built on the one before it

Since then, flight simulators have defaulted to a third option: randomly-generated missions that are based on the overall landscape but don't affect it (so, say, taking out a bridge doesn't change the overall strategic framework)

Back in The Day, it was possible for one highly successful mission to change the whole course of a campaign, or even the war. If you were the type of person who liked to wander off track and/or possessed unlimited ammunition, you could wreak havoc, perhaps swinging World War II in Germany's favour, giving all of Korea to the Chinese, or forcing North Vietnam to the negotiating table.

You can't do that anymore. Even if you are a master aviator and through creative fuel rationing and ammunition conservation take out all the fuel dumps in England—or if you are a sub captain who torpedoes the entire Royal Navy—the Germans still lose. Because your actions have no bearing on the course of the war, you have no real motivation to do anything more than survive—which is, admittedly, realistic. Just... not fun. Strategy games don't do this. First person shooters don't do this. Why do sims?

I can think of several reasons why the simulation world has moved away from dynamic campaigns, but I like none of them.

One, it's unrealistic. After all, one pilot couldn't change the course of the war (unless he was flying the Enola Gay, or the plane that shot down Yamamoto, or downed Hitler's Ju-52, or torpedoed the ship carrying Winston Churchill, or something). Yeah, but so what? Until a spike comes out of my monitor and decapitates me when I die in the game, of course simulations are unrealistic. It's unrealistic for one person to be able to fly the same mission over and over until they get it right, or for somebody to say "you know what, I'd like to fly the Me-262 instead of something more appropriate for my skill level, like a transport plane".

Two, it's unsavoury. In general, for obvious reasons, we like to think that the 'good guys' won most of our major wars. Altering history, therefore, generally lets the Nazis win, or sees the CSA taking over Washington DC, or whatever. I think this is particularly true in flight sims, where the Germans historically had nearly all the cool toys. Causing your actions to be completely meaningless, therefore, allows you to fly them without having to, you know, advance the cause of a genocidal, murderous regime. I find this craven. Look, I'm not saying that my mission debrief should say ":3 hey! By destroying that allied bomber squadron, you have indirectly killed 712 Jews and other undesirable ethnics!". But we get the idea. Let us win the war for the Triple Alliance anyway, damnit. Don't do this stupid thing where we can completely savage all the artillery on the Western Front, but nothing happens.

Three, it's unnecessary. Most hardcore flight sim geeks fly with other people, rather than by themselves. Obviously, dynamic missions are less important when it's just about a furball with your friends. And sure, I buy this, but... c'mon, throw us a bone, alright? I don't always have the time, or the inclination to be savaged by somebody with 30 years of experience and a homebuilt cockpit that plugs directly into his skull.

Four, it's difficult. I hope that this is the reason. I hope that it's not just laziness or a fear of being 'unrealistic' that killed dynamic campaigns. But if this is the case, then expose the APIs and let the community do it. They will—look at Paul Lowengrin, whose dynamic campaign generator breathed new life into Il-2's stale, boring missions. Or I will do it. ... At some point. I mean, I'm busy. But at least give us the chance—please.

Anyway, no dynamic campaigns in Rise of Flight, which means that you're doing the same basic thing—take off, shoot down two or three bad guys, land—over and over again. There are secondary objectives listed, but they're frequently on the other side of no man's land, and it's hard to keep enough fuel in reserve to actually go after them. This makes it tedious, but since missions are only ten or twenty minutes long, then you can just fire it up when you want to kill some time shooting at things. And because shooting at things is so fun, and so pretty, you'll probably forgive Rise of Flight its faults.

The only other thing I might say is that, while I myself don't have a force-feedback joystick, I could see this game benefiting strongly from one. The edge of stalls is frequently so narrow, and the resulting spins are frequently so unrecoverable, that you need to have a very keen eye to keep the plane from tumbling out of the sky in a dogfight. Unstable planes like the Sopwith Camel are especially prone to this, and you find yourself not wanting to push the plane to the ragged, razor edge lest you fall over.

However, there's an element of reward in this, too—and this is one reason why having a good, realistic flight model is much more important than people give it credit for (it's all-too-frequently dismissed as just another conceit of the diehards). When you have something that's unflinchingly modelled, you can seek out the edges much more definitively. You learn what your mount can do, and how to recognise when you've pushed it too far.

At the end of the day, though, Rise of Flight is approachable at all skill and interest levels. I don't like the campaigns and I take a very dim view of the microtransactional content, but it's still the best in its class, and if you have even the slightest interest in setting other airplanes on fire and watching them burn, it's easy to recommend.
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