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Crushing, crushing disappointment
on 10 May 2003
Combat Flight Simulator 3 is, frankly, a crushing disappointment. Microsoft's promise of dramatic dogfighting and exciting air-to-ground combat has utterly failed to materialise, and to top it all, this game has so many technical problems that even getting it running reasonably well takes tremendous effort.
The faults with this game have already been covered in other reviews. Personally, I found performance (on my high-spec machine) jerky and difficult, and after many hours of tinkering was still not really any further forward. Microsoft have issued a patch which fails to address any of these particular issues. The main problem lies in the terrain engine, which seems to be woefully ineffective, and when so much time is spent at low-level it makes gameplay and graphics very disappointing.
The aircraft models are generally superb, as are the damage effects. The clouds are the best I've ever seen, and the terrain from 10,000 feet and above is convincing enough. But low down it is rubbish, with low resolution fields, etc. and buildings sporadically grouped together as towns. Not good. The ground war is represented by small groups of German and Allied vehicles that are miles apart. There is little or no sense of any kind of ground battle that you are supporting.
The idea behind the campaign is that your mission success or failure affects the frontline of battle. This is on shaky ground from the start as the Americans and British just don't really co-operate, with either nation launching an invasion of Europe all by itself. In my first campaign (flying as British), we invaded Europe after my first mission, and despite me not failing a single objective in any mission, some 10 missions later the Germans had invaded Britain and despite my continued successful missions could not be pushed back! I then gave up.
The mission types involve attacking German convoys in the English Channel or North Sea (not terribly realistic as the Royal Navy ruled the seas here, and when you do attack a convoy it is ALWAYS four cargo ships and two destroyers - you can also completely sink a cargo ship with the cannons on a Typhoon in two strafing runs), attacking production centres (factories, etc.), tanks, infantry formations (tents), etc, etc.
You take off, fly to target, destroy it, fly back again. Sure, you can look for targets of opportunity but these appear to make little difference to your mission performance so if you use the warp key, you can complete a standard mission in a few minutes. Repeat ad infinitum. There is rarely any interference from enemy air forces. Flak is a major problem when on a bombing run, but if you are flying a fighter-bomber, just fly under the flak and strafe the target with your cannons and you will destroy it and escape unscathed. This even works against 'huge' targets like factories and the like.
Your wingmen are staggeringly stupid (they often get caught in bomb blasts, wander off on their own, disappear for minutes on end, take an age to respond to your orders, that kind of thing) which makes your role as wing commander pretty pointless. The 'role playing' element of earning experience points to spend on pilot attributes through the number of kills you score, etc. is fatally flawed. On one ground attack mission to destroy a factory, I scored 24 air kills. On one mission. I did not engage ANY enemy aircraft in this mission. My only assumption is that there were planes inside the factory that somehow have been awarded to me as air kills. Daft.
Tow good things though: firstly, the game is highly configurable so even the greenest flight sim rookie can get right into it, and the top guns of the skies can ramp it up to D-Day difficulty. If they can be bothered, of course. Secondly, dogfighting can be pretty satisfying and is the more convincing realm of combat after the rubbish ground attack simulation.
CFS3 is a poor piece of software: it has graphical and performance problems, the campaign is one of the worst I've ever seen and it is simply one long bout of frustration. What a shame.