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GF! Archival Version Copyright 1995-2004

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Ups:Nice graphics, gives "feel" of dogfighting, excellent multiplayer, mostly accurate flight models.
Downs: No spin or stall, no campaign game, somewhat limited choice of planes.
System Reqs:
Pentium-166, 32 MB RAM, 4X CD-ROM, SVGA w/ 2MB, 3D card 4MB.
fs4.jpg (3969 bytes)Fighter Squadron: Screamin' Demons over Europe is Activision’s and Parsoft’s belated entry into this year’s Great World War II Fighter Sim show-down. And that’s part of its problem. Since Microprose’s European Air War and Jane’s World War II Fighters (and to a lesser extent, Microsoft’s Combat Flight Simulator) have already satisfied many formerly sim-starved computer jockeys, what does FS bring to the table that could possibly justify buying it? The answers: fun factor, feel, online play, and bombers. The game has some problems as well, mostly with its flight models, which seem a curious combination of spot-on and something out of a magical realism novel, as well as its lack of a real campaign mode.

Fighter Squadron allows you to fly only ten planes, though more are promised. Most of the planes are late-war, and are limited to German (FW-190s, ME 262s, and JU 88s), British (Mosquito, Lancaster, Spitfire, and Typhoon), and American (P-51, B-17, and P-38) models. Though some of the standbys you might expect to see aren’t here—especially the Me-109—Parsoft plans to release these planes (and more) in later expansion packs, and frankly, getting to fly a B-17 makes up for a lot.

fs5.jpg (5815 bytes)Fighter Squadron also doesn’t include a campaign mode. However, it does provide 30 missions for each nationality—ten each set in Dover, North Africa, or the Rhineland. This can make for some oddly ahistorical missions—for instance, you might find yourself providing ground support in Tunisia with P-38s while P-51s and Me-262s dogfight above. Since you can fly each of the missions as a member of various squadrons—depending on your choice, you could either pilot the Typhoon that makes a ground attack, or the Spitfire that provides cover—there is quite a bit of replayability in the game. If these still aren’t enough, the game also includes a mission editor. The missions are diverse and interesting as well, and the enemy AI is canny enough to make them tough. While this makes it easy to jump in and out of the game quickly, the lack of a campaign game will undoubtedly put off some of the hardcore who enjoyed EAW’s dynamic campaign so much.

Fighter Squadron also looks great; the terrain is detailed and smooth, and the planes look good—damage is also well-modeled graphically. Perhaps the best thing about the game’s graphics are the clouds, which look realistic both from a distance and when you’re in amongst them. The game also has a excellent padlock view system.

fs3.jpg (4502 bytes)The most impressive thing about Fighter Squadron is its feel; it really does give you the impression that you’re flying a warbird. The emphasis here is on dogfighting—you’ll spend precious little time in the air when you’re not fighting, and for pure emphasis on slam-bang air combat, FS is the sim to beat. Flight models are mostly accurate and while the planes are not terribly difficult to handle, you do get a real feel for their idiosyncrasies. You can even jump around from crew position to crew position in bombers. While it’s an unnerving thrill to be a tail gunner facing off against a Me-262, sometimes my autopilot wouldn’t kick in when I left my pilot’s seat, which was even more unnerving.

fs1.jpg (3263 bytes)But a big problem with the flight models--for all their realism in some areas--is that Activision decided to simplify them by virtually eliminating spin, stall, and energy bleed. This was done in order to appeal to a wider audience, but it has of course put off the hardcore simmers who actually buy these things. And I have to admit that even though I had a blast flying these planes, it did put an unfortunate ding in my suspension of disbelief when I could make impossibly steep climbs. Parsoft is working on a patch that will make Fighter Squadron’s flight models more realistic, and when it’s done I will heartily recommend this game to hardcore simmers; as it is, I’m afraid it will disappoint them.

Finally, a documentation quibble: while Activision seems to have decided to release Fighter Squadron as a mass market sort of game, rather than a hardcore niche sim, you’d never know that from the manual, which is skimpy in the extreme. Though it includes some basics on dogfighting and the physics of flight, there’s little to explain the game’s interface or controls, and even the quick reference card lacks some very important commands.

If Activision had released this game with an option for advanced flight models and included a campaign game, this would be my flight sim of choice; it’s got a great feel, the best online out-of-the-box play of any recent flight sim, good looks, and a ton of personality. If you’re not too picky about ultra-realism, I suggest you pick up this game and have a good old time; but if you are, I’d wait and see just how much Parsoft tweaks the flight models in the next month.

--Rick Fehrenbacher