"Rise of Flight" is a truly beautiful WWI combat flight sim, a feast for the senses. Unleash the 200 straining horses of your Hispano-Suiza, the bellow of the engine, the rumble of your undercarriage over the uneven grass field, your stringbag creaks and groans around you. The rising roar of the wind as you approach take-off speed, then the relative quiet as you lift away from the Earth, up, up and away.....AIRBORNE!
One crazy flier has hooked up fans around his monitor to blow air into his face as he plays! This game will do strange things to you, you feel like you are there; ninety years ago, on a rural French field; in the cordite-reeking air over shell-churned no-man's-land. Put out a bowl of hi-test and an oil-lamp burning Castrol R, the immersion is total. The graphics colaborate, break out of early-morning ground-mist into the rising sun, the light plays across your wings and cockpit, doped fabric, wood, leather, wicker and brasswork, the rendering of the planes is lovely, one of the German planes' engines has an exposed valve train, you can see the rockers bouncing up and down from the pilot's seat! The landscape too is beautiful, fields, woods, rivers, towns and of course trenches and the shell-torn combat zone.
The game starts with a "learn to fly" training program which features Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker teaching you to fly a Spad 13 in glorious period sepia. While the voice-acting was a little stilted and the chalkboard graphics were jerky on my machine the lessons were concise and valuable, leading in easy steps to combat missions and career modes featuring different aeroplanes, and equipping you to fly online with other humans.
The single player mode gives you the opportunity to enjoy the landscape, the flying and the machines while taking on escalating challenges from ground attack to balloons to AI controlled fighters, observation planes and bombers. Watch those two-seaters! The rear firing guns can be deadly, and you soon find that planes of this era were not especially robust! On the one hand a single bullet in the engine or radiator can spell the end of your days flying as you dive for home belching black smoke. Worse, one in the fuel_tank can mean FIRE! No extinguisher here.....no parachute either.....you are about to become one very crispy critter!
And there is not much surrounding your pilot, just an engine, fuel-tank and guns to hide behind. A wound to your pilot leads to "The Eye of Sauron". a shrinking of perception....tinged with blood and slowing responses until...well, you get the picture.
On the other hand, especially when I am trying to down an enemy plane, you realise just how much of the hard-to-hit target is nothing but fabric stretched over wooden frames.....my bullets just go right through...doing little damage and no satisfying fireballs! The game has an innovative "Progressive Damage Model", so those innocuous dime-sized holes, when aided by vigourous, high-stress manoeuvring, can lead to bigger holes, and eventually nothing but fabric tatters clinging to a wooden skeleton where there used to be a wing! .....Try flying that back to the pub!
While the single player game is a good opportunity to explore the planes, tactics and landscape, and the AI does put up a reasonable fight, air combat to me is all about fighting other humans who pull stunts and surprises that no bot, however well crafted, could even dream of. Multiplayer is where this game will live or die, and I have to keep reminding myself that it is still early days for "Rise of Flight". I want to see it as popular and well supplied with servers as it's daddy IL2. I have to remind myself that Oleg Maddox' classic is now ten years old, ten years of improvements, patches, mods and community support. In fact Hyperlobby where most virtual Biggleses fly and fight is a pure community site, the old publisher sponsored UBI.com rooms where the baby grew up has withered away. "Rise of Flight's" multiplayer games are hosted through Neoqb's Moscow-based server and accessible from the game's launch page. While not a patch on the IL2 zoo, I always found at least half a dozen servers offering games, at least 2 populated with helpful, friendly and knowledgeable predators....many of whom speak English. Multiplayer games cannot be "flown into" after they start, so often one faces a wait of up to 15 mins to join, this has attracted much criticism from the community and the developers are working on a "Dog-fight" mode a la Hyperlobby. I didn't find it too onerous as I took the opportunity to click through the planes flying (shift or ctrl F2) to watch the action and pick up tips. It's early days for "Rise of Flight" and I see the community and server support only getting stronger as the game matures.
This game has not been without controversy. Some simulator fliers of long standing have taken exception to the DRM security system which requires an internet conection to check with Neoqb's server to even play the game in local single player mode. The buying of new plane models ('Eres a nice shiny new Sopwif Camel....only $7.50 to you Guv!) has also raised grumbles in a community accustomed to free models and content from a talented and dedicated crew of freelance modders. When you first start the game you have access to four beautifully modelled aircraft that fly just like their namesakes......it's kind of hard to check that out as the last Sopwith Beagle jockey has long since checked into the Valhalla Motel. Though these guys are building accurate REPLICAS and reporting on their flying characteristics. There are six further planes available to buy at about $7.50 each with more in the pipeline. The famous Sopwith Camel and Fokker Triplane being eagerly anticipated. While much has been written criticising this business model, at least we are all getting the same plane.....no rocket-assisted, lazer-beam armed transformers will enter this game the way they have some other sims.
SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS are pretty standard for current games, my middle-of-the-road gaming RIG handled the game fine in multiplayer despite some "interesting" european and Russian host server pings. The only gripe I had was mentioned before regarding training dialogues and chalkboard graphics.....Definately not a game-breaker.
Should you rush out and buy it? Well, it is certainly keeping it's place on my hard drive. It's beautiful eye-candy, its ragged edge flying is humbling after zooming up the world in a Spitfire, and it has such amazing potential for delivering those "Great Gaming Moments" as one of my IL2 colleagues so eloquently wrote: "this is the best bit though!!! i fly out of the clouds to have a look around get my bearings a bit and no joke i find my self 500m behind an enemy plane i quickly dive more to get beneath him and slowly gain on him at this point i think well bugger it im dead anyways may as well give it a crack! I get 2 within 60m cock the gun say a prayer and pull the trigger The Vickers 28 barks to life an im in luck the first round hit his wingtip and i work my way to the center of the plane bits of his plane fill my screen and a 4 second burst sends him to the ground in a fiery mess. it been a long time since i yelled in joy at getting a kill but boy did i let it rip this time. 3 or four minuets later im at the home base and landing although i buggered the landing severely and ended up in 3 parts i turned around hands shaking and said man i love this game. i can only think of 2 times in the past both being on il2 where iv said man that was a gaming moment ill never forget. and i say rise of flight has now made it 3!!!" (sic)
But be aware....this is a "Combat Flight Simulation" not an arcade shoot-em up where you go out and immediately pwn 50 Red Barons on your first flight. The learning curve is steep. You will abort missions because you forgot to open your radiator and cooked your engine.....motors die for no reason...maybe your mixture was set too lean. You will not master this game in a few weeks....it may take that long to get your first kill! Even just looking around you can be a challenge, and you won't even see the first five enemies who kill you. I set my joystick and view buttons up just the way I have them in IL2.....the way I'm used to...and still find this tougher than IL2 closed cockpit. There is NO open cockpit mode. (like being in a glass enclosed bombardier's position where you can see all around you) The nose of the plane and the engine obscure your view, as does the top wing.....it's rather like fighting through a letterbox. I'm sure there are superheros out there who can play this game with just a keyboard, but I say the MINIMUM you will need to play this game is a Joystick with "coolie-hat" button for looking around. Then set up your view padlocks on the base buttons the way you do in IL2. A TRACK IR (REVIEW) is on my Christmas wishlist and is almost a requirement to play this game. Pedals would be nice. Soooo....if you are still with me and eager to become the next Billy Bishop I suggest you clear your schedule for the next 3 days,download the DEMO, and take a Spad for a spin.