Although the point and overall objectives of European Air War may be reminiscent of other games, the way in which the flights and scenery are portrayed is impressive, especially when played with a 3dfx graphics card and a good quality joystick. The rousing animation and use of genuine newsreel footage adds to the atmosphere, as does the number of views the pilot can choose from. One very useful option within the game is to fly without having the instrument panel in front of you, giving you a clearer view of the enemies -- if you can find them.
As with many previous flight simulators, the game arrives with a huge flight manual, full of control details and historical facts about the aircraft used in this part of World War II. Also as with many other flight sims, you get to choose from an impressive array of both fighters and bombers. You also have the choice to fly for either the United States, Britain's RAF, or the mighty Luftwaffe, whose aircraft always seem so boxy compared to the Allies' planes.
You have intercom and R/T speech facilities, which aid you in the search for the enemy and help form a real bond with your flying buddies and wingmen. The engine noises and sound effects are as realistic as you would expect.
The graphics are good (far better than many competitors) and the ground and scenery are especially spectacular - just what you need when you're on a bombing run. The planes handle well.
When many games flooding onto the market are based on generic futuristic spacecraft or state-of-the-art jet aircraft, it's a pleasure to find a simulation that is realistic, historic, fun to play, and challenging, as this is.
Graphics: Detailed terrain and aircraft detail.
Sound: Intercom facility very useful.
Enjoyment: Enormous realistic fun .
Replay Value: Other airplanes, other missions, other nationalities!
European Air War is a fantastic game and worthy of the "Air War" tradition. Not much remains from its Pacific Air War heritage, other than perhaps its namesake and the inclusion of another wicked stall/spin model, albeit of a different flavor. From the very beginning, European Air War sets itself apart from its predecessor, attempting to set a mood that first starts with the install process and continues ultimately on through to its three dynamic campaigns. The effect is subtle, in that no individual component truly stands far above another in terms of the coolness factor or a relative lack of problems, yet the tired and oft-used phrase "the sum is greater than the whole of its parts" is quite apt here. Regardless of the many things you can find wrong with European Air War, you can't help but love this sim.
Just so we get this out of the way first, the biggest drawback for many will be the strict 640x480 resolution with no other option available, and rightly so. This is obviously the major skeleton in European Air War's development closet, but all things considered, this is a great looking 640x480 flight-sim. The terrain is very well done, with a horizon that gives you the impression that it goes on for miles and miles. It's appropriately flat because that part of Europe is very . . . well, flat. You want elevated terrain? Go take a Bf109 up near the Alps and you'll find plenty.
Flak bursts look like they're straight out of some classic WW2 footage reel or gun camera. The 2D cockpits aren't as nice as those in Combat Flight Simulator, but the 3D virtual cockpits look strikingly similar to their 2D counterparts. They are much nicer than those in CFS (what aren't?), but can't really compare to those found in Jane's World War 2 Fighters. Trailing smoke effects are a bit anemic when coming out of your plane, but collectively they look fine when coming from dozens of damaged bombers. Even if you are forgiving of the resolution, your monitor does make a difference. Up to 17", what's drawn on the screen can be tolerated, but those with monitors 19" and bigger are going to have a more difficult time with European Air War no matter how much they rationalize it.
Given the fact that resolution wasn't going to be a frame-rate killer, Microprose decided the sheer number of planes in the air would be. A staggering total of 256 is possible, hereto unseen in any other flight-sim. I haven't come across 256 planes yet in the sky, nor do I want to: 50+ was bad enough. This sim might be relatively low res, but flying through a pack of wounded bombers with flak and smoke and God knows how many enemy fighters is enough to bring the most powerful of machines to its knees. Most of the time, however, this is not an issue. European Air War scales surprisingly well on less capable systems with detail levels turned down, much more so than either CFS or WW2F.
Another feature that's truly superb (at least for me it is, some are having problems) is the sound. I don't think I ever realized I had a working subwoofer until I flew European Air War. Engines sound like they are throwing a rod when you've run them too hard. Wind, engine, and radio chatter all work well together. (Some in-flight music that matched the shell menus would have been nice, though.)
Equally grand is European Air War's "sense of scale," as one Usenet newsgroup participant astutely observed. Combined with the total number of planes in the air and how the horizon seems to go on forever, this makes it very easy to feel just how small you are and how big the sky really is. The best way to appreciate this is to chase away an enemy Focke-Wulf from your box of bombers for a while, after he does a Split-S. Minutes later you'll realize you're all alone and those bombers are now very far away. Oops. Sort of what it must have been like back then: You want to get the enemy fighters to break off, not go chasing unnecessarily after a kill.
The flight model is a sort of mixed bag. At its hardest settings, many areas seem lacking: the torque is weak, movement is crisp without much sideslip, flaps deploy at any speed, and the energy bleed in the turns is often weak enough to leave one feeling far too confident when down low in the weeds. But for European Air War, all of that is overridden by one single and determinant factor: the desire not enter a stall/spin. (And stalls and spins do seem married to each other in this game, which shouldn't always be the case.) At the moment of entry, it feels like the spin implementation is based on a table model that reminds me of Air Warrior's. It does, however, keep you on your toes -- all you care about is not stalling your plane. If you do, make sure you have enough altitude to recover. It seems European Air War's approach to air combat is based on countless reports from veterans pilots and related documentation from World War II stating a stall could happen on a moment's notice and without warning. As a result, pilots usually kept their speed up at all times and tried to avoid any fancy maneuvers in the hopes of not stalling one of the wings. Again, not to sound trite, "the sum is greater than the whole of its parts." Break down the flight model piece-by-piece and you'll see a lot of cracks, but the result overall is a very effective one.
It's unclear whether the enemy AI play by the same rules you do. According to Microprose, they don't cheat, so it is possible to sneak up on them, and you won't see any uber moves that defy the laws of physics. However, they don't seem to make any mistakes while flying either. You'll be on their six and apparently following the same flight path as they, only to sometimes find yourself in spin city. So far, I haven't witnessed an AI suffer any equal consequences. The AI's repertoire of moves is fairly standard and could be much better, but what they do use, they use effectively. The degree of combat difficulty is determined by adjusting your wingmen, rather than the enemy AI, which seems counter-intuitive to me. They become competent once you set your campaign to "easy." In fact, I wish I'd get a fraction of the six calls in Warbirds that I will get from my wingmen in European Air War.
Finally, we come to the campaigns. Much like the rest of European Air War, the campaign isn't all it could be and can sometimes pale when compared to some found in other products. However, it is a dynamic campaign, and for the most part, it works well as one. (A lack of replacements can be a hindrance.) The classic argument can be made, of course, that such dynamically-generated missions feel sterile compared to more exciting scripted ones. Although for me it's the fun of the dogfight that counts, and I tend not to notice much else when a plane is filling my sites, at times European Air War can feel too repetitive. Is that merely poor design/implementation, though, or an example of just how faithful Micropose is in recreating the sort of missions pilots faced day after day? Just how much variation is there within the context of defending or shooting down bombers?
Like many Microprose games before it, European Air War has its share of omissions and bugs. The end of multiplayer cooperative missions is a bit disorienting and ultimately frustrating - the second the goal is achieved, you are abruptly kicked out of the mission. Co-op via the Internet isn't that smooth. Landing is very difficult to gauge because you don't hear the sound of your tires hitting the ground, and autopilot landings aren't very successful. In fact, you might as well land anywhere you want if you have wheels, most of the terrain behaves like one giant tarmac. Try to belly-land and you'll sooner win the lottery. But why belly-land when you can bail out at any speed or altitude? Getting to an encounter via accelerated time often gets you there too late (although "skipping" puts you there on time). You can't zoom in the map, and so on. Fortunately, Microprose also has a history of fixing a lot of bugs (eventually), as well as usually adding some extras.
The list of good stuff is just as long as the bad. The force feedback is nice. Planes have a good damage model. Bombers will slowly drop out of formation, falling victim to enemy fighters. Strafe a building and soldiers will run out of it. Guns jam when fired in high-G turns (that's a new one). The communication options with your wingmen are effective, with plenty of options. In fact, even having comms in the first place is a positive; neither CFS or WW2F model it. Bombers actually have nose art. Did I mention the subwoofer sounds great? I know it seems this review had listed more bad features than good, but when you throw it all together, this game rises above itself.
We've seen one issue countless times in countless other games: Gameplay will always win out over graphics. If you want eye candy, pick up Combat Flight Simulator or World War II Fighters. If you're looking for a long-term relationship, you can't go wrong with European Air War. It's not perfect, but since when is a successful relationship not about compromise?
People who downloaded European Air War have also downloaded:
1942: The Pacific Air War, Jane's WWII Fighters, Aces over Europe, B-17 Flying Fortress: The Mighty 8th, Falcon 4.0: Allied Force, Red Baron 3D, Combat Flight Simulator 3: Battle for Europe, Aces of The Pacific
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