Let's face it, it couldn't have been much fun being alive, young and male during the First World War. You couldn't walk down the street without being bombarded with abuse and hit over the head with carrier bags full of white feathers. Eventually you'd give up and go off to war. If you were one of the lower classes, you'd spend your time standing up to your chest in fetid, crap-filled water, your limbs slowly rotting away, watching your chums go floating past face down, until the day you were ordered to bayonet-charge a machinegun post by a 90 year-old headcase sitting snug in the drawing room of some chateau, 300 miles away.
Summoning a huge effort, you'd drag your disintegrating carcass out of the trench, get a hail of bullets in the face and die. If you were one of the upper classes, you'd probably try to get out of all that and join the Royal Flying Corps to have a romantic time of it, swanning about in leather gear, snogging with chicks and drinking champagne cocktails. But after a few days of this you'd have five minutes of training, and it was up into the air in a glorified lawnmower with wings before, 17 seconds later, a German with a fancy name would fly along and you'd get a hail of bullets in the face and die.
Either way, you're probably better off being alive these days. Especially (crap link alert) now that Empire's rather lovely Hying Corps is with us. If you've seen the news pieces or the booklet we did on it, you'll already know a fair bit about it already - but I'll go through it all again for those who haven't been paying attention.
The campaign trail
The principles of the wwi flight sim have changed little over the years, and the mission types available to you will be familiar to anyone who's played one before. There are patrols, balloon bursting, ground attack, escort and interception missions. The difference is that the game is subdivided into four separate campaigns, set at different times towards the end of the war.
The first cam Flying Circus, has you playing Lothar von Richthofen, the Red Baron's brother. Big brother's on leave suffering from rsi in his trigger finger, leaving you in charge of the squadron. Your task is to beat his record number of kills in the month you're in charge. The second, The Battle of Cambrai, casts you as a German Jasta commander, trying to hold back hundreds of British tanks for three days. You've got to stop them taking Cambrai, partly because it's the centre of German operations, but largely because that's where you keep your string of high-class paramours. In The Spring Offensive, you're a rookie pilot, new to the Royal Flying Corps. After delivering an SE5a to your new chums, you'll be chucked in at the deep end against the Germans' all-out assault. And in Hat in the Ring, you have to try to emulate the exploits of American ace Eddie Rickenbacker, as you join in the war at the last minute and boast about how you saved the Allies for the rest of the century.
Each campaign gives you the chance to fly different planes, and each campaign has a wide range of missions and takes place in varying flying conditions. You won't finish any of them in a hurry, either. It's worth noting that throughout the campaigns, you can change your name. You don't have to be Richthofen,
Rickenbacker or anyone else - so those of you with a good line in humorous German surnames should be well pleased. And if you don't want to bother with the campaigns there are a handful of quick-start, gct-up-there-and-start-blasting type missions as well.
The planes, boss, the planes...
The planes available are the Sopwith Camel. Fokker dri tri-plane. Nieuport 28. Albatross Din. SE5a and Spad 13. But many more appear in-game, including the Be2C. Bristol F2A. DH9 and Sopwith Pup and Snipe on the Allied side, and the Fokker dvii. Halberstadt Dii. Pfaiz D3 and Rumpier c on the German side. All the planes have been modelled from their original specifications, and each has its own flight model, from the I super-fast, but not particularly manoeuvrable, ses to the super-slow and extremely fragile Nieuport.
It's less noticeable at the easier levels, but whack all the options to their hardest settings and the inherently i unstable rotary-engined planes become 1 flying nightmares if you move the stick too suddenly, plunging off at 90 to the direction you actually wanted to go. I Great if you live long enough to get used to it - because you can perform ridiculous manoeuvres to impress chicks - but fatal for beginners. As for the Nieuport. the Hat in the Ring campaign is particularly tricky simply because you start with it. As well as being a rotary-engined jobbie. and thus about as predictable as Attila the Hun on crack, it was notorious for falling apart if asked to do anything unreasonable (like turn around) in flight. You only have to break wind and your wings fly off. Now you know what Always Ultra users have to put up with.
She's breaking up, she's breaking up...
One of the best bits, in fact, is that the planes react as much as possible like they would in reality. Being made of a few sticks, some knotted-together hankies and a bit of bubble gum, bullets passed straight through most parts. And with the targeting settings at their hardest, they do in this game, too. You have to hit a fuel line, the engine or the pilot to bring them down. Cool. (If you're lazy, you can have it set on easy, and any hit makes the enemy's plane go up like it's been hit by a bazooka.)
Throughout the game, the attention to detail is outstanding. Before taking off on a mission, you can check out the ingame map, clicking to cycle through the various targets, like opposition artillery positions, and friendly locations, like Mlle Fifi's House of Rubber, or whatever. If you want to play it authentically, you can use this, and the real maps that come with the game, to plan your route. (If you can't be bothered, you can just take off and hit the auto-pilot button, and be whisked along until something exciting happens.) Each plane has a different cockpi; and instrument layout, and every instrument works properly (unless you have the faulty compass option switched on). The sound effects are superb, sampled from the real things. Different planes actually sound different - even different guns sound different: you can tell who's firing by the noise the gun makes, which is handy during a dogfight. The landscape graphics are taken directly from contemporary maps and charts (drawn up to a more accurate scale than present-day ordnance survey maps), and they're so good you can navigate by looking around and matching things up on your map. When you shoot tents up in a ground attack, little men run out and start taking pot-shots at you. Sometimes you'll see flocks of birds taking off as you fly low over trees. There are even supposed to be dogs running about in some camps.
Even the documentation that comes with the game is good. Admitting that you read a manual is like confessing that you're a Trekkie who speaks Klingon, or that you're an avid collector of darning needles, but this manual provides an interesting read, full of quotes and tips from pilots of the day. You also get a replica wwi flying manual, which is a really nice touch.
As far as multi-player facilities go, there aren't any at the moment, but there will be a patch in the near future which will provide network, modem and serial options, as well as a heap of 3D accelerator card stuff for people with them. And naturally, it will be on our cover disk, so you won't have to pay for it.
To get to the nub, basically it's a great game. It's graphically outstanding (but as you'd expect, processor hungry) and oozes atmosphere. Taking off early in the morning, in a little light fog, you sometimes feel like just flying around, looking about and listening to the engine. And then you get a hail of bullets in the face. Ah well...
The height report
The one gripe about the game is that it's difficult to tell just how high you're flying when you get down low to the ground and you're using an external view. There's no shadow, and the ground effects start to break down into what look like gigantic carpet tiles. There's a toggleable info bar, however, which is a help, although purists may think it spoils the atmosphere to have it switched on. Without it, you can have some unnervingly bouncy landings, bad examples of which can lead to Unanticipated Curtailment Of Life Syndrome.
Down & dirty
Ground attacks in the lightweight planes of WWI are a lottery in which it's only too easy to come a cropper. You might find yourself on the receiving end of a stray bullet as someone celebrates their first morning erection for several months by firing skywards, or simply get your wing caught on someone's arm as they try to hail a taxi. Here we see a young French pilot hurtling gleefully into the attack in his trusty Nieuport, only to find a casually discarded Bosch cigarette butt, flicked from the window of a tent, landing in his fuel tank. Seconds later he's hurtling somewhat less gleefully into the ground, to become just another smear on the French landscape.
I must admit that flight sims normally bore the pants off me. Modern flight sims, that is. Zooming about the place at a zillion knots, targeting an enemy who's barely visible and then letting off a fire and forget missile at twenty-odd thousand feet is about as challenging as playing my sister at two-player Tetris (she's crap by the way, but it keeps me in extra beer money). Old-fashioned WWI flight sims on the other hand, now that's a different story. Gently easing back on the stick and chugging up to a couple of thousand feet before letting rip with a machinegun with a range measured in inches before making a troubled landing at 50-odd mph: that's what it's all about. That takes skill. You have to fly those crates, not press a few buttons and switch to auto-pilot. The sooner I can get my hands on a force feedback joystick the better. At the moment, I'll just have to be content with playing Flying Corps with my trusty CH Flight Stick and pretending. Anyway, to get to the point, Rowan have truly surpassed themselves. Flying Corps is just awesome. You really have to fly, navigate and shoot by the seat of your pants. That's what flight sims should really be like -and it looks gorgeous (what a bonus).
If you're a bit bored with the likes of EF2000 and US Navy Fighters, give it a go - it'll make a nice change.
Processor: PC compatible,
OS: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game Features:Single game mode