"I Know That I Shall Meet My Fate, Somewhere Among The Clouds Above"
World War 2 was an epic conflict in every sense of the term. Armies of unprecedented scale clashed over battlefields that had been stained for centuries with the blood of past wars of the ancient Monarchies. However, during WW2, air power rose to new levels of importance. It in became just as crucial to the war effort as the ground combat. In some cases, such as the Battle of Britain, the entire conflict was fought in the air. These conflicts, like the rest of the war, were massive engagements of sometimes hundreds of fighters and Bombers. Until now, no World War 2 flight combat simulator has ever captured the raw size of those battles. With the release of Microprose's European Air War, we now have a flight simulation that captures the epic drama of the massive air battles of World War 2, and is one of the most accessible flight sims to come out in years.
European Air War is the long awaited sequel to 1942: Pacific Air War, one of the most popular flight sims ever made. EAW was originally titled "1943: European Air War" but the 1943 was dropped, most likely due to the sim's inclusion of conflicts from both 1940 and 1944. Much like the Falcon series of sims, 1942: Pacific Air War was a true classic and one of the major reasons why Microprose used to be known as the king of simulations.
EAW allows you to fly a total of 20 planes from the USAAC (United States Army Air Corps), RAF (Royal Air Force), or the German Luftwaffe. You can fly this happy mob of aircraft (including the German Me-262, the first jet fighter aircraft) over most of Britain, France, and Germany in either a quick mission, single mission, or one of three campaigns; 1940: Battle of Britain, 1943: European Theater, or 1944: European Theater. The two European Theater campaigns differ only when your career begins, not ends.
Once you begin a single or quick mission, or fly a campaign mission, you'll notice the quirks of the graphics engine. Restricted to a resolution of 640x480 (unless you get the patch) and operating with a 256 color, 8-bit palette, the graphics may seem at first somewhat low tech. Once you get into the meat of the game though, you might begin to appreciate the simplistic approach to graphics found in European Air War. The flat terrain, which is believable for the most part, as France and Britain are fairly flat in the areas of concern, delivers a great sense of altitude and a good sense of speed when you get down low. Also, the limited color palette gives the game a somewhat grayish, gritty feel which feels appropriate for World War 2.
The good part of all this is that the lack of complexity in the terrain allows the graphics engine to have enough power left over to support up to 256 planes in the air at once. This allows you to fly with a wing of 12 planes into a sortie that very well might include two waves of bombers (about 24) and a similar number of fighters. This gives the game one of its greatest boons, flying in a battle that is actually reminiscent of the great air brawls of WW2. 3D Accelerator support is provided through both D3D and 3DFX modes.
The flight modeling of the planes is also top notch. It really is quite thrilling to get in behind a very realistically realized B-17 and shoot its engines out, causing it to plummet to the ground trailing smoke. That's simply one of the most dramatic events that can happen in air combat. Hey, anyone ever seen Memphis Belle?
To go along with the great sense of historical realism present in the large scale battles, European Air War features some very fine physics modeling. In EAW you really must take care not to exceed the limits of what your plane can do. For instance, g-forces will have realistic effects on your craft like bending wings, perhaps sending you into a spin. That'll require some fancy rudder stick action to break out of. Also, as this is WW2, an era in air combat before pressure g-force suits, your body cannot take as much as it could in say, Falcon 4.0, meaning that blackouts and redouts are very easy to attain.
One of the great things though, is the accessibility that EAW offers. A large list of realism/difficulty settings and the comparative simplicity of WW2 flight to modern day aviation, combine to make European Air War a great choice for both hard core sim grognards and aviation plebes alike. EAW even includes a Wing Commander-esque "skip to next event" command to pass over long, uneventful flight sequences.
There are a few spots on this bird through. First of all, although the campaign is dynamic, it is hardly exciting. There are over 20 planes to fly, but each campaign you must concentrate on only one aircraft. Furthermore, each mission ends up being highly repetitive as you cannot choose your targets and the opposition is very similar in each type of mission. In Battle of Britain, for instance, you are always either a jolly British chap in a Spitfire dealing with incoming flights of bombers and fighters or a German brute in a Messerschmitt escorting the bombers. This gets very dull after a while. Also, the emphasis on function over form in the graphics may leave many gamers who are more used to exquisite visuals disappointed.
Overall European Air War is a good, solid, almost traditional WW2 flight sim. In some ways it is a last hurrah of the past just before the ultra sleek Jane's WW2 Fighters and Fighter Squadron: Screaming Demons Over Europe hit the shelves soon. Though it may seem a tad aged, European Air War offers deep, rewarding gameplay for flight gamers new and experienced that makes it a great choice for those who care more about gameplay than style.
It's a pity that the campaign isn't a bit more interesting though. With the immense narrative backdrop of WW2, there is almost no reason anymore that any WW2 flight sim should achieve anything less than making you recite Yeats' "An Irish Airmen Foresees His Death" before climbing in to the cockpit and kicking some Jerry, British, or Democratic ass.