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Flight Simulator

It's not easy running an airship in Guns of Icarus Alliance

Sep 09 // Jordan Devore
I tried Alliance last month at PAX and while I enjoyed what I played, my goodness was there a lot to take in all at once. It was my first time with Guns of Icarus, after all. My duties were relatively simple -- help mark far-off ships and structures, hop from gun to gun, shoot bad guys until they explode -- but even that proved chaotic. Acclimating to the different types of weapons and their variable ammunition (and bullet drop!) proved difficult at first, especially when the ship's layout was still unfamiliar to me. Efficiency is crucial to surviving. Sometimes, our guns were on fire, on account of the many ships shooting at us. Other times, while backing off of a turret (because it needed to reload or, uh, it was on fire), I fell to my death. It didn't happen early on like I thought it might, but after the first fall, it became a habit. Despite Muse Games CEO Howard Tsao's best efforts as our pilot, we died. A lot. Still, it was exhilarating -- each airship we brought down felt like a feat, as it should. There's depth to the combat, which I appreciate (and will appreciate far more once I'm proficient with the systems). Alliance has been a long time coming -- reworking the game to function with AI has been challenging -- but progress is being made. Kickstarter backers are now testing the prototype. In its latest Kickstarter post, Muse Games wrote that it will be "adding progression to characters and factions. There will be a world map and a grander sense of the Guns of Icarus universe where every battle will shift the course of history. At the end of each season of conflict, you'll have the opportunity to have your deeds immortalized in the lore of the game, and have glory bestowed upon your clan and faction. While not all of these features will be available immediately, we'll be seeing more and more of them enter testing as we continue to push towards launch in 2016. Last but not least, there will also be new unlockable ships, new weapons, new tools, new clothes, decals, and more!" It's still going to be a bit of a wait, in other words. I hope everything comes together as promised.
Preview photo
But it sure is rewarding
I always liked the sound of Guns of Icarus Online. It's a competitive multiplayer game in which players work together to control a steampunk airship and take on other teams. Someone physically steers the vessel, while others ...

Review: Ace Combat: Assault Horizon Legacy+

Feb 16 // Chris Carter
Ace Combat: Assault Horizon Legacy+ (3DS)Developer: Access GamesPublisher: Namco Bandai GamesReleased: February 10, 2015MSRP: $39.99 Back in the day Ace Combat 2 was the first flight simulator that I truly got into. It was incredibly easy to pick up and play, as it was extremely arcade-like in nature -- no lengthy Microsoft Flight Simulator manuals required. Although there were a few nuanced mission parameters like escort and protection goals, the basic idea was to blow everyone up. Although the genre has advanced far past that primal urge, it was a lot of fun back then, and in many ways, it still is. This time around, the story and mission types are slightly arranged, but always focus on the same concept of chaos. The narrative doesn't matter much (it's your basic regional war plot), because after that very short brief you're going to be hitting the skies and blowing shit up time and time again. Whether it's by way of a third-person view or a 3D-enhanced cockpit variety, it all feels great control-wise. Picking up pitches and yaws is simple and long or mid-range missile switching is cake. It's even easier with the Circle Pad Pro (or New 3DS C-Stick), which is now supported after its conspicuous absence in the original Legacy 3DS localization. Legacy+ gets the job done visually, but it doesn't look like any effort was made to smooth out some of the rough edges. It still walks and talks like the same game from 2011, which is tough to stomach given the full retail price. The "Plus" really is the head-scratching part of the moniker since it feels nearly identical to the original outside of amiibo support. In essence you can use six different amiibo (Mario, Luigi, Peach, Link/Toon Link, Samus, and Fox) to unlock new Nintendo vehicles, just like Mario Kart 8. It's not all that exciting even for Nintendo fans, since all you're doing is unlocking on-cart DLC. The one saving grace of this whole feature is the existence of question mark blocks scattered about the world, which can net you a plane sans amiibo (presumably for non-New 3DS owners). It's a nice little feeling to blow up a block, even if it's just a fleeting sensation. Ultimately, Legacy+ feels like a half-measure. It lasts roughly four hours, and that's about all she wrote. There are the aforementioned amiibo unlocks, but right now that feature is only available to New 3DS owners while Nintendo figures out when to announce and release the adapter for legacy portables. There's very little justification for actually buying this new package, and the amiibo stuff really should have come as a free update for existing owners. Or at the very least, Namco could have stuck in some multiplayer support or something this time. Ace Combat: Assault Horizon Legacy+ is a great way for Ace veterans to relive a classic on the go, provided that they didn't already buy the original release in 2011. There's just not enough here for entice anyone to double-dip or shell out the full price if you aren't a sim-junkie. While the publisher should be chided for releasing an iteration as rushed as this, they are lucky that the core package was already decent to begin with.
Ace Combat 3DS review photo
That '+' is pretty stingy
Japanese publishers have some truly confusing localization titles sometimes. In 2011, Namco Bandai released Ace Combat: Assault Horizon for the PS3 and Xbox 360. It was a grittier take on the franchise that added real-wo...

After Burner Climax photo
After Burner Climax

Xbox Live Arcade and PS3 ports of After Burner Climax are being discontinued

On Christmas Eve
Dec 12
// Chris Carter
Another digital game bites the dust.::pours one out:: It looks like After Burner Climax will no longer be available on the Xbox Live Arcade (360) or PS3 marketplaces on December 24. For those who aren't aware, the game w...
Microsoft Flight Sim photo
Microsoft Flight Sim

Microsoft Flight Simulator X coming to Steam next week thanks to Dovetail

Wanted: experienced, non-judgmental co-pilot
Dec 09
// Jordan Devore
Through a licensing deal with Microsoft, Train Simulator studio Dovetail Games will release Microsoft Flight Simulator X on Steam on December 18, 2014 "at a spectacular introductory price." It's sad Microsoft couldn't be both...

Flight Sim photo
Flight Sim

The creators of Train Simulator are getting involved with Microsoft Flight Simulator

Flight Simulator X coming to Steam, all-new sim in the works
Jul 09
// Jordan Devore
Through a licensing agreement with Microsoft, Train Simulator maker Dovetail Games will release Microsoft Flight Simulator X: Gold Edition on Steam at the end of this year. It's coming with the Deluxe Edition and Acceleration...
War Thunder photo
War Thunder

War Thunder coming to PS4 on June 3

Didn't we just talk about this...
May 29
// Steven Hansen
The cross platform, free-to-play combat game War Thunder is coming to PS4 next week with all of the updates and additions the PC version has seen since November rolled in, including the Ground Forces expansion pack. I realiz...
Indyyyyyyyy photo

Namco publishing two indies: A Portal-like and a space shooter

Badai Namco getting in on that indie racket
Apr 25
// Steven Hansen
If you're a big company like Bandai Namco, why not pick up near finished indie games for distribution? Low risk, but with a small chance at great reward. Deadcore is coming to PC, Mac, and Linux this summer. It looks a bit l...

Review: Strike Vector

Mar 17 // Josh Tolentino
Strike Vector (PC)Developer: Ragequit CorporationPublisher: Ragequit CorporationReleased:  January 28, 2014MSRP: $24.99Reviewer's Rig: Intel Core i7 920, Geforce GTX 560 Ti, 6GB RAM, Windows 7 First off, even calling Strike Vector a "Brutal Aerial FPS" is underselling it a bit. Sure, it's definitely brutal, and aerial, but merely labeling it an "FPS" brings to the contemporary gamer mind something more like Call of Duty. But those types of ground-bound shooters, their souls weighed down by gravity, can't deal with the kind of sensation Ragequit's game provides. Your first, exhilarating, terrifying moments in a Strike Vector multiplayer match (and there are only multiplayer matches) are more likely to call to mind a bizarre fusion of Descent's omni-directional movement and the blistering speed of mecha anime like Macross or Robotech. First, you'll join any given match by selecting a pair of weapons (from a total of eight), then picking a pair of perks for them, grabbing a special ability that wasn't elaborated on at all in the nine static instructional slides that make up the new-player tutorial, then finally hammering the big red button on the garage screen marked "LAUNCH." All of a sudden, you're screaming out of an endless sky on a jet of afterburner flame, aimed at the nearest bit of grimy, improbably-hovering level scenery. You'll just barely avoid it by kicking in your plane's -- excuse me, your Vector's -- hover mode, allowing you to aim and shoot from a stable vantage. And then a more experienced pilot blows you up, and you end up crashing into that scenery you just avoided anyway, except this time you're on fire. That's the meat-grinder cycle of a typical Strike Vector session, for while Ragequit has succeeded at conveying a splendid sense of speed and motion, they've married it to a multiplayer-only game whose skill ceiling seems at times to bump shoulders with the likes of Quake III Arena, demanding precision, skill, and affording little forgiveness. You'll likely finish your first few matches in the negative scores, as crashes count against you. You'll try to recall both the shooter and flight-game skill sets that you've let molder in the days since guns with iron sights took over the FPS market. You'll find out what all those extra abilities actually do by using them, being killed for using them wrong, then trying something else.  Strike Vector is refreshing in its old-school sensibility, though it's clear that its lack of hand-holding will drive off some players unused to classic shooters, as well as those who came in hoping for more of a simulation-style game than an action shooter. Or those hoping for a single-player campaign, or at least AI bots. Or those hoping a game whose level-up progression unlocks are more useful than Vector skins (that are difficult to see in actual play) and concept art. Or even just a title with less demanding latency requirements. Even playing on the nearest available servers, a ping of greater than 100ms seemed like a ticket to the bottom of the scoreboard. Still, there's a lot to love about it if that's an itch you've been looking to get scratched. The collection of weapons and mods for each makes for a small, yet distinct experience no matter the combination. Even novices can score a couple of newbie kills with the game's two flavors of homing missile. The variety, as well as the exotic qualities of the special abilities lends an interesting optimization and style component to a weapon selection that might otherwise seem limited, compared to the endless stream of samey guns you might find in a contemporary military shooter. Available game modes cover the essentials of competitive shooting, with team deathmatch, free-for-all, and a King-of-the-Hill-esque mode that increases the score value and visibility of the top players, making them attractive for all. Purchasers of the game gain all future DLC content for free, and the first pack was released just recently, adding Capture-the-Flag and more maps. Serving three masters as it does, Strike Vector might not have a whole lot of mass-market appeal, but what it lacks in that field, it more than makes up for by being a gorgeous, intensely competitive experience that matches its aesthetic appeal with pure shooter satisfaction. If you happen to be looking for that, Ragequit's new baby might send you soaring.
Strike Vector review photo
Fire in the sky
Flying is great. Fighting while flying is pretty great, too, but for some reason, dogfighting in good ol' atmosphere hasn't caught on as quickly as dogfighting in space. Despite the resurgence of space games brought on by the...

Strike Vector photo
Strike Vector

Strike Vector gets its first free DLC pack

CTF, leaderboards, and two new maps
Feb 28
// Chris Carter
Strike Vector is still chugging along, and developer Ragequit Corporation is following through with their promise of free DLC after launch. Today, you can grab a new Capture the Flag mode, as well as two new maps -- Firestorm...
Ace Combat photo
Ace Combat

Ace Combat: Assault Horizon ditches Games for Windows

Steamworks support is in
Feb 24
// Jordan Devore
The PC version of Ace Combat: Assault Horizon is no longer tied to Games for Windows Live as of an update released today. According to Namco, existing saves and achievements can be transferred between now and April 1, which i...

Review: World of Warplanes

Dec 21 // Chris Carter
World of Warplanes (PC)Developer: Persha Studia, WargamingPublisher: WargamingReleased: November 13, 2013MSRP: Free (with microtransactions) [Wargaming provided us with a press account for testing, but for the vast majority of the review, I spent my time with it with a good old fashioned free account to best judge the experience for readers.] Wargaming makes it particularly easy to pick up World of Warplanes. All you have to do is go to the game's site, download the client, and within minutes, you're basically up in running in your first dogfight. For those who care, the cost of the free-to-play scheme is essentially an always-on DRM trade-off, as you have to be constantly connected with their servers to play. After a short and enjoyable tutorial you're basically throw out into the wild, with the ability to select instant matchmaking team deathmatch fights. Pretty much every control scheme is supported here, from a keyboard, to a mouse, to a gamepad, to an elaborate joystick and throttle setup. Mouse movement is ideal in my opinion, as the plane moves in the direction of your device, giving it an incredibly simplistic and easy-to-pick-up feel. It's like telling the plane what to do rather than playing a standard flight simulator, if that makes sense. It fits the arcade nature of the game perfectly, and since all you really need to do is click to fire your machine guns and use consumables, it has a great learning curve.  But Warplanes is just that -- arcade-like in nature. Don't go in expecting a fully-fledged realistic simulator, because you're going to be disappointed. World of Warplanes is a relatively simple game, and the flight physics operate on a similar pared-down manner. Concepts like losses of speed when making impossible turns and rolls don't exist, and you can just fly around unfettered by the wind and the laws of physics in general. In other words, you'll hardly ever stall, and you have more time to keep shooting people. Good thing then that it's fun to just fly around and take down otherss in a 30-player setting, as it leads to some particularly tense moments. Flying straight into the path of enemy planes and escaping by the skin of your teeth is easy enough to do on a consistent basis, and the different types of planes all have varying play styles to master. Getting outnumbered is another scenario of note -- struggling to stay alive can be strangely addicting. In terms of the barriers of entry, while the visual style of Warplanes may not be on par with high-end PC titles out right now, it'll run on nearly any machine, which is a smart strategy for a free game. Now, on to the free-to-play parts (I can hear the groans now). World of Warplanes has three types of currency -- XP (performance based), Credits (earned in-game), and Gold (real-money currency). XP makes up the bulk of the game, as this is what you'll essentially use to unlock all of the game's content. Credits can also be used to facilitate purchases, from planes to cosmetic upgrades. This operates very similarly to IP and RP in League of Legends. Gold is used to basically flag "premium accounts," which are in a way like MMO subscriptions. You can earn more XP and credits, to unlock more planes at a faster rate. So how is this fair? Well, Warplanes matches you with players of a similar rank, and outside of the planes, you can't buy any substantial combat advantages. So while premium players may be playing their own games with tons of unlocks with other similar crowds, you're not in their game getting wrecked by their super planes. Having said that, you can unlock everything on your own, but you will move at a very slow pace by design -- lest you pay the exorbitant prices involved to unlock them before their time. Early on you'll start unlocking things left and right, but it slows down after around 10 hours of play. If you're okay with flying the same planes on occasion and not making a whole lot of progress you'll be fine, but personally I could have used a bit more variety -- all it would need to do is look to its older brother World of Tanks. Another problem is the lack of variety. I had a lot of fun playing Warplanes, but if you're not keen on going in for dogfight after dogfight (constant team deathmatches, basically) you're going to get bored a lot quicker. I don't really have any complaints on the solid netcode that supports 30 players, but a lack of different modes really hurts the longevity of Warplanes. It doesn't help that the maps mostly feel the same, with early levels feeling particularly bland. I would love to see some ravine-type maps or death races through canyons in the future. World of Warplanes has a studio that prides itself on supporting its games long term, so I have no doubt that Wargaming will continue to improve upon the formula. In the meantime, it would be a good idea to give both Warplanes and War Thunder a try and see which one you like best.
World of Warplanes photo
A world worth visiting, for free
Free-to-play is still a bad word these days with a lot of gamers. But it doesn't have to be. Titles like Path of Exile have shown that providing a model where most of the content is free, but the cosmetic upgrades are pa...


Strike Vector entering open beta January 2014

It's that badass looking flight game we've wanted since Star Fox 64
Dec 18
// Hamza CTZ Aziz
The nine-man team behind Strike Vector have announced that their awesome looking dog fighting game will be entering open beta in January 2014. The developers designed the game in "the pure tradition of the sacred monsters of...
War Thunder photo
War Thunder

War Thunder passes five million players in first year

Up next, tank battles
Nov 04
// Jordan Devore
It was only with the announcement for PlayStation 4 that I started to pay any real attention to Gaijin Entertainment's War Thunder. The free-to-play WWII aerial combat title has surpassed five million players in its first ye...

Flight combat game Strike Vector coming in 2014

Badass looking PC title
Aug 27
// Hamza CTZ Aziz
You have my attention, Strike Vector. This multiplayer-centric air combat game jumps between first- and third-person flying, all while offering some high intensity action. It looks absolutely insane, and after a successful s...
Pilotwings SNES photo
Pilotwings SNES

Pilotwings SNES is coming to the Wii U Virtual Console

It's set to release on July 4th
Jun 26
// Chris Carter
It's not Pilotwings 64, but the original Pilotwings for the SNES is set to hit the Wii U Virtual Console pretty soon, with a tentative July 4th release date. Like most Wii U SNES games it'll be priced at $7.99, with the optio...
War Thunder photo
War Thunder

The WWII dogfights of War Thunder are headed to PS4

Announced as a launch-window game
May 14
// Jordan Devore
Gaijin Entertainment is bringing its free-to-play massively-multiplayer online game War Thunder to PlayStation 4 this holiday season. There's nothing in the way of screenshots for the expanded release, though we do have a te...
God Factory: Wingmen photo
God Factory: Wingmen

God Factory: Wingmen is about arcade dogfights in space

Dig out your flight sticks
Mar 25
// Joshua Derocher
Dogfighting games are somewhat of a rarity these days and we are definitely overdue for another one. God Factory: Wingmen is an arcade-style space combat title that scratches a specific itch I've had...

Flying high on Luftrausers with Vlambeer

Another rapid-fire interview with Jonathan Holmes
Mar 25
// Conrad Zimmerman
Holmes talks with the ever-charming Rami Ismail of Vlambeer to help those of you with short attention spans learn more about Luftrausers, coming soon to almost all the things (PC, Mac, Linux, PS3, PS Vita). Check out more of Holmes' Talk Fast interview series!

Ace Combat: Assault Horizon heading to PC next year

Also releasing for consoles digitally
Nov 27
// Jordan Devore
Originally released on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 in October of last year, Ace Combat: Assault Horizon is now scheduled to get a PC release in Q1 2013 by way of Steam. Unfortunately, this version will rely on Games for Window...

Review: Damage Inc.: Pacific Squadron WWII

Aug 29 // Ian Bonds
[embed]233645:44865[/embed] Damage Inc.: Pacific Squadron WWII (PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 [reviewed])Developer: Trickster GamesPublisher: Mad Catz InteractiveReleased: August 28, 2012 MSRP: $49.99 The game starts out innocently enough: choose Arcade or Simulation mode, and jump in. But almost immediately, it falls apart. If you choose Arcade mode, your view is behind the plane, and that's the only option given. Simulation allows for external, nose, and in-cockpit views, but you must select which version you want when you begin the game. There is no in-game button to toggle through camera views; if it turns out the one you've selected isn't to your liking, you must pause the game and change it in the options menu. A minor quibble to be sure, but one that begins a slew of issues with this title. Obviously Simulation and Arcade controls vary, but beyond that, there's not much difference between the two modes, other than a few buttons changed around and how the planes pitch and yaw, as well as the aforementioned camera handicap. Just be careful when changing cameras in the options menu -- if you're playing Simulation with external camera view, be careful not to select Arcade with external camera view, as that has totally different controls. After the necessary tutorial, the game drops you directly into a combat mission with Japan's first attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, and missions proceed historically through 1945 along the Pacific coast. It is here that the game's real issues become apparent. Firstly, and I can't say this in a nice enough way, the game is just ugly. While a certain amount of love and detail has been given to the 32 unique planes, everything else is sloppy and uninspiring. Frame-rate issues pop up frequently, and everything becomes jaggy and muddied, while the graphics become choppy trying to catch up to your hot dodging maneuvers. Speaking of your maneuvers, for a simulation game, you certainly do a lot of barrel rolls. As you attack enemy aircraft, you'll tuck, roll, skim the water, buzz towers ... all in the name of taking out your foes. Both your enemies and friendly airplanes show up on your mini map with appropriately colored icons, and you'll target baddies with relative ease -- until you realize you're supposed to aim for the red dot in front of the enemy ship rather than the ship itself. This is to lead the plane, anticipating its flight path into your line of fire, but when the plane is directly in front of you flying straight, aiming for a red reticule above the plane seems a bit stupid, and serves as the reason why you're flying like you're in a damn air show rather than fighting during D-Day. Hitting the reticules can be a chore, until you realize that the game equips you with a bullet time of sorts. Warspeed allows you to slow everything down so you can carefully aim your shot, which makes taking out foes a bit too easy. This, as well as a speed booster, are always available and replenish instantly, despite having two essentially unnecessary meters showing how much of each you have in your HUD. There are waypoint markers that show up occasionally on your map as well, signifying where you should go to activate the next part of the mission, fly over to take recon, or things like that. However, when you really need the markers, such as when the game tasks you with protecting certain buildings or planes from enemy attackers, they're nowhere to be seen. The only thing that pops up on your map are all the planes, and your targeting icons always snap to the immediate threat closest to you. It's frustrating to lose missions over and over again because you're supposed to be defending some position you can't even find. There's a multiplayer portion here too, but the less said about that the better. It's passable, but the choppy graphics and terrible targeting are only amplified by playing against human opponents. If you enjoy frustration, feel free to dive right in. It's clear that Mad Catz only made this game to go along with its new Saitek AV8R flight stick, which comes bundled with the Collector's Edition of the game. Sadly, my time with that was even worse, as the stick itself is so touchy that even the slightest movement had the targeting sights flying all over the screen and maintaining an accurate shot was nigh-impossible. I switched back to the standard controller after failing the same mission over and over for trying to aim while avoiding hitting the ground. Word is the flight stick works very well with other games of the genre, but if it can't even work well in the game it's bundled with, I don't have high hopes. Damage Inc. is a hot mess. Choppy frame rate, ugly graphics, shoddy presentation, forgettable multiplayer, and an overall worthless feeling when playing doesn't amount to much. There's at least a good variety of things to do with the number of missions and planes involved, but you may be too frustrated with the gameplay itself to even care. Play the demo and save your money.
Almost immediately, it falls apart
In theory, flight simulation games offer fans of the genre accurate flight controls with a diverse array of those amazing aircrafts they love so much, with powerful dogfights and skill helping push along a narrative worthy of...


Kickstart this project unless you hate space combat games

May 02
// Maurice Tan
Yep, another Kickstarter. I know, we also got tired of them and that was well before Double Fine Adventure changed the game. As a result, I completely glossed over a few press releases for Starlight Inception, which may have...

Crimson Skies could be next for Weisman after Shadowrun

Apr 12
// Jordan Devore
In a chat with Shacknews, game designer Jordan Weisman spoke about his interest in possibly working on more Crimson Skies once the chaos of Shadowrun being Kickstarted has died down. "I'm hopeful that's another property that ...

Microsoft Flight appears on Steam with a DLC bundle

Apr 06
// Jordan Devore
I wouldn't have necessarily expected a game like Microsoft Flight to show up on Steam, but such an arrival does put the free-to-play flight sim in front of a bunch of new gamers, so you can't really argue with those results. ...

Review: Birds of Steel

Apr 02 // Maurice Tan
Birds of Steel (Xbox 360 [Reviewed], PlayStation 3)Developer: Gaijin EntertainmentPublisher: KonamiReleased: March 13, 2012MSRP: $39.99 Set during World War II, Birds of Steel offers a huge array of aircraft to unlock and fly, each with their own specific feel, stats, and a high level of interior and exterior detail. That Gaijin really loves their aircraft comes as no surprise, and they truly deliver in this regard. Players who look to Birds of Steel for historical authenticity will feel rewarded to say the least. The dedication to such authenticity also impacts the controls and combat mechanics which, depending on what you are looking for in a console flight sim, may put you on either end of the fun spectrum. Difficulty is defined by the flight controls, and comes in three variations -- Simplified, Realistic, and Simulator -- while options for limited fuel and ammo are also at your disposal. Realistic mode is the go-to mode Birds of Steel feels best tailored to, even if it is undeniably hard. Planes will shake under the strain of speed and winds, making it hard to aim and lead your targets, while overzealously trying to make turns without regard for aerodynamics and airspeed will see you unceremoniously stall and spiral out of control. G-forces will blacken or redden your screen, which is a nice visual touch that is long overdue on consoles. [embed]224879:43232[/embed] Simulator mode cranks the physics up a notch, and removes HUD info to make it nearly impossible to tell your airspeed without looking down at your instruments in the cockpit view. On the other hand, Simplified mode is what anyone new to the genre will feel most at home with, removing stall issues and generally feeling more like your typical arcade World War II flight sim. The flight control systems that lie beneath the hood make for an impressive feel, turning the mere act of controlling your airplane into as much of a challenge as actually completing objectives. Flying feels dangerous, as if humankind wasn't meant to be inside a tin can with wings and guns attached to it, let alone using it to wage war in the skies over conflict zones. Try to make a dive-bomb run on Simulator, and you'll even need to extend the air-brakes to control your speed lest the stress of aerodynamic physics turns your plane into a heap of metal, crashing to the Earth below. The caveat of the distinction between the different control difficulties is that most players who are more casual fans of the genre will stick to the Simplified scheme, rendering most of the game a rather boring and unimpressive chore. Meanwhile, the Simulator option may offer exactly what the "hardcore" crowd is looking for, but feels made for flightstick and throttle controls rather than a gamepad. Even the slightest nudge to the side at the wrong time can lead to a complete loss of control and a seemingly inevitable drop towards death. There is always the option to switch to one of the other three planes in your wing, but crashing four times in a row when you are merely trying to make a turn is a less-than-welcome slap on the face if you are struck with a gamepad. This discrepancy between realism and arcade sadly permeates most of Birds of Steel's offerings. Combat in most single-player missions revolves around reaching a checkpoint, watching an in-engine cutscene of planes flying to their target, followed by shooting a number of enemy planes or destroying a number of sea and land targets. Then you return to your carrier or airstrip checkpoint, and the mission is over. Dogfights are meant to portray realism rather than arcade fun, so don't expect to singlehandedly wipe out entire squadrons of enemy planes on your own. Shooting down any enemy plane at an angle often feels more like the result of a lucky shot than that of complete mastery over the combat mechanics. With unlimited ammo, you can drop one to three bombs before you have to wait a minute to "reload," further reducing arcade fun if you are seeking it. Suffice it to say, arcade combat flight sim aficionados should look elsewhere when it comes down to the combat mechanics. It feels made for the harder control scheme options to maintain a fine balance between skill and challenge, and the Simplified controls just don't offer enough of a challenge for most of the game. On the upside, fighting your way through Birds of Steel's single-player components is a pretty lengthy endeavor, with a 1941-1942 Pacific campaign available for play from both the USA and Japanese viewpoints. Aside from the two campaigns, a wealth of single missions can be chosen for the Mediterranean theater, Pacific Ocean theater, and Western and Eastern European fronts. While the campaigns and missions are decent fun to play through, the mission design is disappointing. Each mission does make you feel like you are simply flying a sortie to do a single bombing run or Combat Air Patrol, but in some missions, flying back and forth almost takes more time than you'll spend actually seeing any action. Eventually, single-player may start to bore you as mission after mission begin to feel all too similar. However, there are multiplayer and co-op options abound in Birds of Steel, and it's only here that everything the game has to offer starts to unveil itself. In fact, the majority of the content is hidden away from solo-only players' eyes. Some Single Missions can be played online, while there is always the option to pick AI wingmen in a private match, or completely play offline. A Dynamic Campaign lets you rewrite history (cooperatively if you choose) during eight battles, such as the Battle of Midway or the attack on Pearl Harbor. Success or failure in missions at each "turn" of a dynamic campaign will affect how the battle as a whole will play out in successive missions, meaning you can easily lose yourself playing a dynamic campaign for an extended session of play. A mission editor with plenty of options allows you to further extend your playtime. Although the Missions are an appreciated bonus, competitive multiplayer might be the best aspect of Birds of Steel. As much as the realism detracts from having fun in single-player, multiplayer manages to take the best aspects of the realism Gaijin strove for and turns it into an exhilarating, enjoyable experience. Compared to shooting down AI planes on Simulator difficulty, which is already a challenge when your target reticule moves all over the place, killing a human player in multiplayer takes it to a whole other level. It's hard enough to land even a few hits, let alone enough to take out a player, and while you may not get double-digit kills in an online match, each kill is rewarding and feels like an achievement. Leaderboards, time-specific online events, and tournaments with certain requirements all increase the odds that the online playerbase will remain as active as it is at the time of writing; no mean feat, as the lobbies in console flight sims are often as empty as space itself, a week after a title's launch. Experience points, which can be gained in limited amounts in single-player, are far more easily accumulated in multiplayer, and a hangar filled with dozens of fighters and bombers for different countries in the war is at your disposal to unlock with the XP you collect. Birds of Steel's single-player offerings are rather dull compared to other games in the genre, including Gaijin's own Birds of Prey, but the online components are unrivaled. If you are new to console flight sims, this isn't going to be the best place to start. On the other hand, if you bought a flight stick for your console and have been continuously disappointed by titles in the past two years, this is exactly what you have been waiting for. It's a game meant for simulator fans who like to play hard and play together, and one that is only available on consoles. (Presumably because IL-2 exists on PC.) Those willing to commit to Birds of Steel will remain occupied for a long time. Don't let the option of a more arcade-style control scheme lure you in, however, as it will leave you largely unsatisfied if you are expecting something like Ace Combat. Birds of Steel doesn't quite manage to marry arcade and simulator crowds in a single console title, but it does pull off being the best online combat flight simulator on consoles, bar none.

Combat flight simulators, like real-time strategy games, are a resilient breed which has always struggled to find its place on consoles. A mouse and keyboard control scheme is almost always preferred over a gamepad when it co...

Review: Microsoft Flight

Mar 31 // Jordan Devore
Microsoft Flight (PC)Developer: Microsoft StudiosPublisher: Microsoft StudiosRelease: February 29, 2012MSRP: Free  It's an interesting time for free-to-play gaming, which Microsoft Flight most certainly belongs to. As the industry is still trying to figure out how best to leverage this model while still providing quality entertainment, we tend to encounter more bad examples than good. In going after an expanded segment of players, it's clear why Microsoft Studios would want to remove price as a barrier to entry. As far as production values go, Flight makes a good first impression. The planes, both from an interior and exterior view, have a sharp, clean look to them. The scenery, on the other hand, is something of a disappointment. Considering this is a free-to-play game, I have to keep my expectations in check -- but there's so much potential for Hawaii to be full of life and color without sacrificing realism. As it stands, the environment ends up being largely soulless and one can't help but long for higher-res textures. Players can fly using either a joystick, an Xbox 360 controller, or a mouse and keyboard. I'm unable to make use of that first input method, and between the other two, I much preferred the latter. Whereas a gamepad worked adequately but entirely broke the illusion of Microsoft Flight being a simulator, using a mouse was comfortable, intuitive, and made pulling off subtle movements easier. The tutorials do a good job of teaching you the basics. I also like that introductory missions are catered toward individual planes and test your ability to land through increasingly difficult scenarios. In-game checklists break down the various tasks that need to be performed in order to be a proper pilot; thankfully, these can be fully automated if you so desire. Speaking of which, the crashes in Flight are truly a sight to behold. Thank goodness for the print-screen key. While challenges that involve flying through hoops or collecting rings in a given amount of time aren't very interesting, hidden Aerocaches scattered across Hawaii were at least somewhat compelling. You're given just-specific-enough hints on where these objects are placed on the map and have to go track them down. Finally, airports have their own job boards with missions like sightseeing tours and delivering 667 pounds of chickens. (That second one is the real description. I love the wording of these things.) In trying to be relevant for two distinct types of players, the game ends up taking the middle of the road. Although I could come in as a novice with relative ease, I didn't find Flight to be particularly exciting. On the flip side, hardcore sim players likely won't be attracted by the emphasis placed on accessibility. It's an odd mix that results in neither party feeling wholly satisfied. For the purposes of this write-up, I only played the vanilla Flight, which just includes the Big Island of Hawaii. The problem isn't so much that the game is lacking content, but rather, the optional add-ons are quite expensive. Free-to-play users get two planes -- the adorable Icon A5 and the Boeing PT-17 Stearman -- while further vehicles range from $6.99 up to $14.99 in the case of the Maule M-7-260C. To gain access to the full chain of Hawaiian islands, you'll need to cough up $19.99. Unfortunately, I don't really think the core game itself is strong enough to justify those prices, even if planes do feel noticeably different. There's enjoyment to be had, especially for less advanced flyers, but I was able to get everything I wanted out of Microsoft Flight without adding funds to my account. And, in the end, I suppose that's not such a bad thing. To its credit, the game does serve as a good introduction for beginners. If it is able to spark further interest in the genre, I'm obviously all for that. Though I can't speak directly as a flight-sim aficionado, my best guess is that for these players, Flight will serve as a decently fun diversion. After that, they'll probably want to go put more hours into their tried-and-true sim of choice. Perhaps if Microsoft Studios offers diverse locales and fills out the roster of aircraft, there will be greater pressure to check back in. Right now, there's not a whole lot of incentive to spend more than an afternoon playing the game.

Though I do desperately hope to one day see a full-on resurgence of aerial combat games, I've never been a die-hard fan of flight sims. I wholeheartedly respect the people who make them and the ensuing audience that appreciat...


Microsoft Flight is finally out today and it's free!

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