Growing up primarily a PC gamer back in the eighties I fondly remember playing such combat flight simulators as Gunship 2000, Aces of the Pacific, and F-15 Strike Eagle III. So when I first saw Rise of Flight: The First Great Air War (Developed by Neoqb and published by 777 Studios) I was skeptical because World War One combat sims have so often been poorly developed and maintained. No developer has really gotten the genre correct since Dynamix did Red Baron 3D back in 1999.
I opened the Rise of Flight’s black DVD-style box to find something that immediately took me back to that time as a kid playing the early flight sims: A tri-fold keyboard reference chart! There was a time when keyboard reference cards/charts came almost standard in PC games – especially flight sims. Even more often was the practice of the keyboard chart having cutouts on it so you could effectively fit it right over your keyboard. If Neoqb had seen fit to do that I would have fallen out of my chair! Unfortunately, in today’s world of gaming keyboards there are just too many different key configurations for any developer to do this, so I will forgive them. A reference card at all is cool enough.
Also included within the box is a pilot’s knee board-style instruction manual which contains actually useful information needed to play the game and controlling its aircraft. Aside from this useful information is additional historical facts about the war and aircraft which took part in it, making Rise of Flight a good way for gamers to learn a little bit about a war which is so far removed from our present-day life.
The surprises kept coming, however, as I also removed a fold-out map of the game area which consists of roughly 125,000 square kilometers of virtual Europe. Again, Neoqb has brought back something which we used to find all the time in PC gaming. And no I do not speak of the crappy, non-functional pleather maps often included in MMO collector’s edition boxes. This map may only be paper, but it is actually useful and functional. Every airfield, city, and topographical feature is their to help you navigate your course in planning, executing, or evening creating a mission. Kudos to Neoqb for these additions to the game box.
But what good are all of these extras if the game is awful, right? So let’s get into the game itself. As you might have guessed if you read this far, Rise of Flight takes place from 1917 to 1918 in Europe during World War One. Once you select your system settings (which includes Force Feedback for you guys still using it – bless you by the way) and enter the game you will be presented with the biggest issue I have with Rise of Flight: A login screen.
Rise of Flight requires you to login to an online account you will have to initially-create at the game’s official site. While I would not mind this if it were just to activate your game the first time you run it, you must do this every time you run it. If you don’t have access to the web you will not be able to play. While I understand that Neoqb is doing this for a variety of reasons including DRM and player stat-tracking, which I admit is cool, if I just wanted to dogfight on my laptop offline I simply can’t do so.
After you login and get tot he game menu you will be presented with an assortment of options. The first option you should investigate is training. Rise of Flight features a very interesting tutorial campaign which walks you through what feels like a real flight school, starting with basic ground school stuff. This campaign really helps prepare you for whats to come as I guarantee you this game is not what you young kids are used to, what with your ‘radars’ and ‘radios’ and ‘good thrust-to-weight ratios’… Spoiled I tell ya!
Anyhow, after going through the training missions you can select to fly a few single-missions or get into the real meat and potatoes of the game: The campaign mode. Just like Sierra/Dynamix ‘Aces’ combat flight sims used to offer, you will be able to create a career in the air corps of your choosing by selecting the year, side, squadron, etc you want. The career paths will take you to the end of the war, should you survive that long, and throw various missions your way. It is really the best-part of the single player component of the game.
Rise of Flight’s co-op multiplayer options are simply fun as hell with you taking part not only in pre-made missions but also those you can make yourself via the stand-alone Mission Editor which Neoqb has included in the install package.
Unlike modern flight sims in which planes have radios to communicate and tarmac to takeoff from, Rise of Flight has neither. Airfields are actual fields and inter-squadron communication is extremely difficult thanks to a lack of radio technology. See? I told you this would be different. Also depicted nicely is the lousy power-to-weight ratio of aircraft in the era. World War One aircraft were seriously underpowered, even with their main construction materials being wood and canvas. Taking off is harrowing enough as the torsion effect of your rotor can send you careening off-course or into your wingmen if you are not ready for it. Once in the air, you must maintain a conservative rate of climb to reach cruising altitude, which is extremely low by today’s standards – a couple thousand feet on average.
Most of what you are doing is supporting ground troops in various capacities, making your dogfights especially risky affairs. Any pilot worth his salt knows the axiom ‘speed is life’. In Rise of Flight, you don’t have a lot of life to go around unfortunately, and one wrong turn that stalls you out can send you into the mud. At least the impact velocity of your aircraft will drive you deep enough into the ground so that they can just throw some dirt over you and call it a day.
Aircraft seem to handle realistically, at least as realistically as I would assume they actually handled, and various realism settings can be toggled to take some of the wet work out of your hands. These settings include mixture controls and even starting the missions with a pre-warmed up engine.
Communicating with your squadmates is pretty much impossible save for wing-mounted signal flares and wing-shaking. In multiplayer you can use voice chat if you like but for the authentic experience it should be disallowed.
Visually, Rise of Flight features crisp graphics that seem to go back and forth between plain and beautiful depending on what you are looking at. You will often times find plains that stretch on with little or no detail to speak of. Other times you will fly over swaths of ‘no mans land’, scorched and pocked by the bloody trench warfare going on beneath you. I recommend using Matrox’s TripleHead2Go system if you have the necessary hardware as the game readily supports three-monitor spanning. If you do not have three spare monitors lying about, Rise of Flight also supports NaturalPoint’s TrackIR head-tracking system which will seriously help when engaged with enemy aircraft.
Audio is very good, with engine sounds differing between aircraft as well as bullet ricochets and ambient explosions from the ground fighting going on. The aircraft engines remind me of glorified lawn mowers in the sounds they make, helping to drive home the fact of their antiquity in contrast to jet engines of modern flight sims or even a simple Cessna 172 engine!
Currently, the game supports two playable aircraft: The Spad 13 and the Fokker D.VII. While more aircraft are on their way soon, the two included in the game are very well-detailed. Every cable, strut, flap, rivet, and gauge are all in-place and damage modeling is extremely realistic. The good news is that because these aircraft are made mostly of wood and canvas, often times a bit of wing-damage won’t totally ground you. The fact that their are bi-planes also helps with this as the second, lower wing helps provide extra lift in the event of damage. The bad news is that because these aircraft and made mostly of wood and canvas, they are very prone to damage and not always by enemy fire either! Pull too hard on the stick and overstress the airframe, crack! You will be eating dirt faster than you can say ‘Immelman’.
Rise of Flight does have some annoyances which I hope are fixed in future patches. The user interface, while appearing simple, actually provided me with several periods of non-responsiveness. I would click on a link several times before it registered. One thing that continuously brought me pain was the mission load times. On my test rig it takes up to forty five seconds to load a mission. On a friend’s system it takes up to a minute and a half! While this might not seem like a long time it serves to pull you out of the experience and raises the annoyance factor long before you even get into the cockpit. While I totally appreciate Neoqb loading mission assets prior to mission briefing’s, it needs some more optimizing to be tolerable. That, or just split the loading between the pre-briefing stage and pre-flight stages. While the time needed to load would be the same, it would feel like less to the player.
Overall, Neoqb’s Rise of Flight: The First Great Air War is a flight sim worthy of your time which can offer plenty of challenge to keep veteran simmers entertained as well as be scaled-back for the virgin armchair pilots out there who have never experienced WWI flight before. While the single player experience is reminiscent of a less-polished version of classics like Aces Over Europe, its biggest enjoyment comes from playing in multiplayer matches and creating ‘what if?’ scenarios with the Mission Editor. We are looking forward to seeing what Neoqb is going to do next!
Rise of Flight: The First Great Air War retails for $39.90 and is available at GoGamer.com
Our Test Rig:
Intel i7 920 CPU
Nvidia GTX 280 Graphics Card
6GB DDR3 RAM
24” Dell 2408WFP LCD Screen