When I reviewed a trio of World War II combat flight simulations for the PC two years ago, I had one minor disappointment: All three sat you in fighters in the European Theater.
Last month, Microsoft released "Combat Flight Simulator 2: WWII Pacific Theater," which rectifies the imbalance.
It's a smart move to attract those of us who remember with fondness the movie "Midway" and the NBC television show "Baa Baa Black Sheep," both of which appeared in the 1970s and featured fighter combat in the Pacific.
The original "Combat Flight Simulator" bested most of the competition in 1998 with its realistic flight models and photo-realistic landscapes. But a few sessions of game play brought the word "dull" to mind because of poor mission scripting and a static campaign.
In those categories, "European Air War" from Microprose and Jane's "World War II Fighters" knocked Gates and Co. out of the sky like a pair of P-51 Mustangs blasting away at a Sopwith Camel.
This time out, Microsoft entertains royally with a dynamic campaign and varying levels of play that can accommodate rookies and veterans alike without discarding realism.
The $50 "CFS2" puts you in the cockpit as an American or Japanese pilot. You can fly single missions, campaigns or multiplayer scenarios. A sophisticated mission builder allows you to create your own trips to combat hell. Players can fly seven aircraft, including accurately modeled A6M2/5 Zeros and F4U1A Corsairs.
Missions revolve around fighter sweeps, bombing runs and ground support for troops. (Watch out for the ground as you take an F4U1A up to a foxhole and snipe the guys inside -- it can be all too easy to eat dirt racing in at 350 mph.)
While single missions and quick combat ventures are great introductions to the game, the more complex campaigns make this a great flight-sim buy. In campaign mode, what you do in one mission has an effect on the missions that follow -- leading to multiple campaign variations. (You cannot change the outcome of the war, however.)
The graphics meet the challenge of flight simulation with some nice touches. Airplanes and ships look fantastic at the highest detail settings, and ground detail doesn't disappoint. "CFS2's" neatest trick appears when you turn on the weather option on some of the single missions. With thunder clapping and lightning crackling, I had one tough time trying to blast two B-24 Liberators (bombers) from the sky in driving rain and heavy clouds. Oddly, most of the campaign missions I flew had clear skies, although I had to land in the dark a time or two.
This game had no installation problems and few bugs. In one of the Japanese campaign missions, for example, an American PT boat churning upriver impressed until it started plowing through the landscape with a wake behind it. I still took it out with my cannon and machine guns.
To run "CFS2," you'll need a 266 MHz PC with 32 megabytes of RAM for Windows 95/98, and 64 megabytes of RAM for Windows 2000. Expect to use 350 megabytes of hard disk space for the smallest installation and almost a gigabyte for a full install. A good graphics acceleration card makes for realistic game play.
Just be aware that minimum hardware provides low detail and choppy play. A 500 MHz Pentium III or faster with 64 megabytes of RAM gives you enough speed and capacity to get a lot from this game.
The manual is chock-full of information about the game and the war itself, including minibiographies of some of the war's high-scoring aces.
A third-party strategy guide, $20 from Sybex Games, provides comprehensive walk-throughs of the missions and tips for flying to the edge of the envelope. The tips about wingmen management made the book worthwhile -- you'll need them to really succeed in some of the missions.
Distributed by the Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service
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