Wings Over Flanders Fields – PC Game Review
Passed Inspection: Completely immersive, fantastic graphics, tons of airplanes, choice of difficulty level
Failed Basic: Very difficult at highest realism, frustrating claims system at highest realism, need to create a pilot even for fast scenarios, no multiplayer
I closed on the Pfalz, the two .303 machine guns of my Se5a blasting away. That German pilot was good; his banking and weaving had kept me from getting a good hit on his plane. He tried to jump me after I had smoked two observation balloons, but my Se5 could hold its own and soon he found himself the prey. I had chased him too far behind the lines, and he lined up to land his damaged craft at an airfield. Just as I moved into position to hit him again, three of his buddies jumped me and this time it was my turn to have bullets tear into my plane. I banked left and firewalled the throttle, soon leaving the Germans far behind. It was that German pilot’s lucky day—and mine, too. Today, we would both make it home alive.
So went one mission in my Australian pilot’s Wings Over Flanders Field campaign.
It’s been nearly five years since I reviewed the original Over Flanders Fields and, with this new release of the simulator, it’s time to revisit the front and engage in some good old-fashioned air-to-air combat during the Great War.
Simply put, Wings Over Flanders Fields is the upgraded edition of what is arguably the best World War I flight simulator on the market. You still must own a copy of Microsoft Combat Flight Simulator 3 (MCFS3) to use as the core of the game. Usually you don’t even need to install it, just pop in the CD/DVD when WOFF installer asks (unless you have an old CFS3 disk). Once that program is installed, Wings Over Flanders Fields (WOFF) then installs and completely changes MCFS3 into a whole new, graphically state of the art simulator.
Improvements in the update include more advanced and realistic AI, a greater choice of flyable aircrafts, dynamic campaigns and more photorealistic graphics.
With the core game, you get 55 airplanes—French, German, British and American. Each airplane has many different color and camouflage variations making for hundreds of different looks. Each plane is fully modeled and can be viewed from different external directions plus different views from the cockpit. Additionally, each has authentic cockpit layouts and control systems. An expansion has just been released adding even more airplanes, including more early war planes such as different versions of the Fokker Eindecker, Be2Cs, a fully controllable Gotha with all crew positions modeled—even Zeppelins to try to shoot down.
The core of WOFF is the creation and management of pilots Arguably, this is one of the greatest strengths and one of the greatest weaknesses of the system. Pilots must be created in order to fly. Even if you want to just take a plane for a quick and dirty air battle, you must pick a pilot to fly the plane. This can be a little exasperating in the short term but, by building the simulator around the pilot (he can be a citizen of the UK and its dominions, French, American or German) it completely immerses you in the game. If you want, you can create a generic pilot and then set it up so that the pilot never dies. That way you can use the generic pilot for quick fights. For each pilot the player gives the character a name, birthdate and town of origin. Additionally, you can pick the category of plane the pilot flies (bombers or scouts) and then choose the type of plane he starts with. The plane must be available for the year—no flying Fokker DVIIs in 1916! The game covers 1915 to 1918.
Game play options include campaigns, quick scenarios and quick combats. Quick combats give you the option of picking the planes, location and other parameter of the combat. Training missions are provided for new pilots to get their “air legs”. Unfortunately, there is no multiplayer option but the amazing AI more than makes up for it. You really feel like you are flying against living, breathing enemy pilots.
The true joy of the game is taking your pilot though a campaign and watching as he either dies or survives, winning medals and accolades. Be warned though, I have found that the chance of being killed in combat is about equal to what it was for a real World War I pilot—roughly 75%! Remember, you have no parachutes and even making a crash landing can be difficult, as my Albatros pilot found out when he was jumped by three Nieuports. He brought his plane down as it was shot full of holes. The landing was perfect as it could be, and he landed near a German observation balloon team, but he died from his wounds before he could be taken to a medical station.
Not only does the game offer excellent combat against smart AI opponents but even the weather can be deadly. Thunderstorms, high winds, and snow can make your flight very challenging.
Missions include attacks on airfields and ground targets, balloon busting, protecting two-seaters, etc. Each flight is different and exhilarating even if you never sight an enemy plane. One mission in the campaign of my Australian Se5a pilot was a transfer flight from one airfield to a new one closer to the front. Our flight of eight planes never spotted an enemy and the transfer flight was routine, but the weather was gorgeous and, ‘way off in the distance, we could see the front and a huge artillery barrage making life miserable for the foot soldiers.
Full motion video of news footage of the battles helps set the mood for the game, as does a wonderful and evocative music score by Matt Milne. Additionally, in the campaign game, newspaper stories help fill the player in on the progress of the war.
The player has full control of the graphics. I pushed them to the max level of detail on my 8-core system with a Sapphire Graphics card. The minimum system requirements as listed on the webpage are:
“Intel 2.6GHz or more CPU (overclocked may help if you are struggling for core speed). NVidia Graphics card, 560 GTX or above, 640 GTX or above, or equivalent. Also the GPU / Video card should have at least 1GB Video RAM (or equivalent ATI graphics card). PC with WINDOWS 7 64 Bit, WINDOWS 8 or 8.1 64 Bit 4GB RAM or higher”
The more advanced your system, the higher the detail you’ll want to set the in-game graphics sliders to.
Additionally, the style of game play can be adjusted to set the level of realism you want. A novice player may want to start by setting the difficulty to “pilot never dies,” “no collisions,” “unlimited ammo,” etc. I prefer flying with almost full realism but I have accepted several options to make my gaming life easier, including the option to have a small circular HUD display to add to my situational awareness and an arrow to point me to my selected target. Of course, these can be turned off but I have found that to be a little too difficult even when I’m using the toggle on my joystick to turn my virtual head to scan the sky around the plane. For those wanting a more high-tech approach, various eye tracking software can be used with WOFF.
I’ve also used the option to make claims for killed aircrafts a little easier. At the intermediate and advanced levels of play, for every plane you shoot down you have to fill in a claims report after landing. The report lists the type of plane shot down and which of your wingmen may have witnessed the shoot-down. If there is no confirmation from either your squadron mates or soldiers on the ground, you may not get credit for the kill. I have set my game to use the medium level of difficulty because I have had too many unconfirmed kills on the advanced setting. This may be realistic but it is frustrating. A nice guide for achieving positive claims on the advanced setting has been posted at: http://simhq.com/forum/ubbthreads.php/topics/3884512/Quick_claim_report/description#Post3884512
The expansions are all easy to install; they differ in price. The first, “The Fokker Scourge,” is fascinating, as it adds very early planes to the mix, including Fokker E I and E II monoplanes.
It’s a real challenge to develop the skills to fly an E I and real blast (pun intended) when you fire on British and French pilots who are not used to an aircraft with a forward-mounted machine gun firing through the propeller.
The second expansion is WOFF 2.0, which adds:
Gotha IV complete with all fully rendered gunner stations
Fokker EIV (Twin Machine gun version)
Halberstadt DIII (Argus Engine)
Zeppelin R Type (AI flyable currently)
Zeppelin P Type (AI flyable currently)
BE2C HD (Home Defense Type)
BE12 HD (Home Defense Type)
This expansion also gives players the ability to either attack Britain or defend it during day and night Gotha and Zeppelin raids, and it also seems to give the graphics detail a nice boost. Flying the Gotha is a lot of fun and is an experience that I don’t remember being offered in any other World War I flight simulator.
All in all, I can’t say enough about Wings Over Flanders Fields. For fans of World War I aviation, this new version of the simulator is a must-have as it is one of the best flight simulators on the market! By the way, for a nice Easter egg, watch the credits to the game.
Armchair General Rating: Base Game 95 % (97% with expansions installed)
About the Author
A college film instructor and small business owner, Richard Martin has also worked in the legal and real estate professions, is involved in video production, film criticism, sports shooting and is an avid World War I and II gamer who can remember war games which came in plastic bags and cost $2.99 (he’s really that old)!