Over Flanders Fields – PC Game Review
Over Flanders Fields: Between Heaven and Hell. PC Game Review. OBD Software. Over Flander’s Fields $29.99; Hat in the Ring Expansion $19.99
Passed Inspection: Amazing graphics. Many types of one- and two-seat planes from all four years of World War I. Fascinating and challenging campaigns. As addictive as a game can be. May set the realism to match the skill of the player.
Failed Basic: Must have Microsoft Combat Flight Simulator 3 (MCFS3) to play and that game had a few crash issues. A few issues with confirmation of kills. Some other minor quibbles.
A nearly perfect re-creation of the Great War as seen by the pilots serving in their country’s air corps.
For years I’ve been trying to find a World War I flight simulator that takes advantage of the PC platform’s advancements over the years. Back in the 20th century (Wow—doesn’t that sound strange?) I used to play any World War I flying game I could get my hands on. From Blue Max on the Commodore 64 to Knights of the Sky and Red Baron on the Amiga, I loved and hated them all. When I found out about a Red Baron 3D expansion for the PC, I tried and tried to get the damn thing to work but finally gave up in frustration. The fact that a friend who is a programmer by trade couldn’t get the Red Baron 3D expansion to work finally sealed its fate in my mind. Just as I’d about to give up on a great World War I flying game for the PC, along came Over Flanders Fields: Between Heaven and Hell (OFF) by OBD Software.
First off, let me state that OFF is not a stand-alone game for your PC; it is an expansion to Microsoft Combat Flight Simulator 3 (MCFS3) so you are going to need that game to play OFF. Aside from having to own MCFS3 to play OFF, be aware that OFF is held hostage to many of the glitches inherent in MCFS3, but this is a small price to pay for the amazingly immersive biplane experience that OFF gives you. For their part, OBD Software has actually provided fixes for many of the bugs in MCFS3 and even improved the graphics. One of the many things they have added is visual damage—you can see the large chunk of wing flapping in the air as you try to land your flak-damaged biplane, as happened to me on one flight. It was an adventure just trying to avoid combat and get my newly un-aerodynamically sound plane back to a friendly airfield.
It is highly recommended that before you play OFF that you install the two patches which are available at OBD Software’s highly informative website. The patches fix some issues with the game, which include a highly frustrating (but perhaps realistic) need to have every single kill subject to a verification process. This process devalidated over 40% of all my kills before I installed the patch and turned on the “easy verification” process. The patches also add some airplanes and fix some minor glitches.
OFF fans may also purchase a new expansion for the game called “Hat in the Ring,” which adds even more airplanes and special features.
One of my big complaints with some World War I biplane games has been the low selection of playable airplanes. This is not an issue with OFF. A selection of the flyable one- and two-seaters include: Eindeckers; Spads; Sopwiths of all types including the Strutters, Pups, Triplanes and Camels; Albatrosses; RE8s; CIIs; Fokker Dr-1s; Fokker DVIIs; Pfalzs; Nieuports; DH2s —the list goes on and on. Each plane has its own flying characteristics so, for example, when you are used to an Albatross and then start flying a Sopwith Triplane, you have to struggle to keep the Sopwith from trying to gain height—it goes up like a rocket. I’ve found it to be the perfect plane to go after German two-seaters, but it can’t dive very well. Every player will want to try the famous Fokker DR-1 triplane, an amazing climber and almost as maneuverable as a hummingbird, but it can’t escape by speed alone if you’re being chased. One of my favorites of the early to mid-war German planes is the Halberstadt and my pilot, who started on an Eindecker, is now flying one and has racked up 14 kills.
As I stated previously, OBD has added visual damage to the planes. You know when you’ve been hit and can even see what’s been done to your plane. Fires are a danger in these canvas birds and the AI in OFF knows it. One time while attacking a German two-seater with my Sopwith Camel, the German plane lit on fire. The next thing I know I hear a scream from the pilot as he gives up and jumps over the side of the plane to escape the flames! This was a sobering moment as I realized just how detailed OFF was. I actually felt bad for the pilot and for the gunner who didn’t jump but held on for dear life as his plane plummeted from the sky and the flames spread towards him. OBD has informed me that due to some concern over issues of emotional distress, they have provided an option that can turn off the more psychologically troubling aspects of this realistic damage.
A dynamic campaign mode allows the player to fly for France, the USA, Britain or Germany. After picking your country, you then pick whether you are flying fighters or two-seaters. (OBD has not programmed in the large bombers such as the Gotha or Handley Page yet.) Then you pick your squadron and the date on which your pilot starts flying. The date advances as your character progresses. The available airplane types and the weather change based upon season and year. The weather can even change during the course of a mission. One of my pilots started flying in low clouds, high wind gusts and rain, but by the time he made it back to base (after downing three enemy planes, thank you very much), the sun was beginning to come out and the wind had died down. The campaign mode is fully immersive: it tracks your kills, health and other aspects, including the prospect of your squadron being transferred to another air base.
You may avoid the campaign mode if you wish and either create your own or choose from pre-designed missions or you can just jump in to a good, old-fashioned multi-player shoot ‘em up.
For ground attacks, OBD has provided a full army of units, from machine gunners and cavalry to World War I–era tanks and trucks. Attacking ground targets is fun but be prepared for the nasty effects of ground fire and flak. Also, watch out for hitting civilian refugees—the squadron commander is not overly fond of you massacring civilians, so know what you’re shooting at before you attack. Balloon busting is another fun but dangerous mission alternative.
Players also have the option of changing the paint job on their planes, but I have had difficulty figuring out what the new paint job looks like until the mission starts. A “view new paint scheme” option would be nice (hint, hint).
I have also had difficulty with the maps not being terribly accurate, but perhaps this is also the “realism factor” messing with my gaming sensibility.
Another minor fly in the ointment is that you can’t uninstall the patches without re-installing the entire game, which is a rather time-consuming experience. It would be very nice had OBD included an “uninstall patch” option.
OFF is very processor-intensive, so before you purchase it, go to OBD’s website to make sure your system can handle it.
A few quibbles not withstanding, I found Over Flanders Fields to be one of the best flying games I have ever experienced. It is a nearly perfect re-creation of the Great War as seen by the pilots serving in their country’s air corps. Highly recommended but be warned—it is also highly addictive!
Armchair General rating: 88% before patches; 91% after patches
About the author:
A college film instructor and founder of Nouveau Cinema Group, Inc., an organization which rescues old movie theaters, Richard Martin has also worked in the legal profession, is involved in video production, film criticism, sports shooting and is an avid World War 1 and 2 gamer who can remember war games which came in plastic bags and cost $2.99 (he’s really that old)!
Screenshots provided by Michael Burnside.