|Dev: Rowan Software|
|Pub: Empire Interactive|
|Players: 1 (2+ Online)|
|Screen Resolution: N/A|
by Sean Engemann
Simulation games are certainly not a rarity inside the video game world, and thanks to series like Ace Combat and Microsoft's Flight Simulator, taking to the skies has always been a popular method of blending realism with arcade. The success rate of any given game of this variety comes from attention to detail and pure authenticity of every element. This is where Rowan Software achieved gold with Flying Corps; with so many subtleties and true-to-history touches, it was hard to not grip the controls just a little tighter.
Flying Corps was part of a small breed of fighter simulations that hailed from the World War I era, as most gamers (even simulation buffs) generally prefer faster-paced action and dozens of nifty gauges and controls. True, the biplanes of Flying Corps wouldn't break any sound barriers, but the lack of speed was made up for with solid maneuverability. While chasing down or evading your target, you'd perform loops and spins with grace while setting up for an attack.
While it may have looked simple at first glance, the tight controls required a practiced hand and adjustments for every cockpit you strapped into. Each plane, from the British S.E.5 to the German Albatros and the Fokker monoplane, were painstakingly re-created to be visually accurate and handle faithfully to the actual planes of the time period. Plane weight, engine specs, and wind resistance were all part of the experience, requiring you to keep your fingers close to the controls to stay on target. As you'd expect, there was very little in the way of an onboard instrumentation, with your compass, altimeter, and fuel gauge comprising the most critical dials to keep your eyes on. However, with a lack of any radar or targeting controls, firing on an enemy became a game of intuition and luck.
Among the various camera angles you could switch between, one clever view was the "padlock" camera, where your eyes stayed fixed on the target, and you could adjust the plane to keep the enemy in your sights. Whenever your machine gun struck true, you'd enjoy the spectacle of the enemy plane being torn apart, whether it was shredding the tail, snapping off one of the wings, or even disabling the landing gear. Of course, you were prone to the same damage yourself, and while not every shot would kill you outright, your plane would react accordingly to the damage it had taken. If your fuel tank was leaking, you were best off quickly finding a safe place to land. And should a vital part of your plane be eliminated, you'd have the fatal moments before crashing to the ground to ponder your mistakes.
Besides the various quick missions you could partake in, there was also a campaign that took you through key aerial battles of WWI. You'd receive a performance rating after each mission, and scoring well enough would grant you a rank promotion, which in turn would unlock customization tools for your plane, as well as the luxury of choosing your wingmen.
But you weren't just confined to air-to-air combat; several bombing objectives were involved, as well as plucking down ground troops. The areas were large and the environments reminiscent of a pre-industrial, mostly farmland venues. They were all bitmapped, which limited them in terms of fine detailing, but they were well-constructed for the time. The clouds were admirably portrayed, providing both a visual differential when flying above the ceiling, as well as a tactical defense when flying through the many layers.
Probably the best credit to authenticity in Flying Corps was the sound effects. Each engine sputtered when starting up, and groaned when you decelerated too much. The machine guns rattled loudly, nearly deafening you if you had your speakers turned up, and when flying close to the enemy, you could hear cries of pain when the bullets hit their mark. If your wings were hit, you'd hear the cracking of the wooden frame as they snapped away. All these audio touches made the experience so much more visceral, and you were likely to find a ball of anxiety in your throat whenever you engaged another enemy.
The game also came packed with a robust (albeit fairly technical) mission editor, as well as multiplayer support for up to twelve players via networking. Despite being limited to deathmatch dogfights, it was still a fun way for friends to experience an arcade-style thrill in a simulation game.
Rowan Software certainly took great care in embracing the true merit of a simulation game by focusing on details that stimulated all the senses possible. Its painstaking attention to authenticity and detail make it a worthy inclusion on any list of best world war games out there. As such, it shall be lauded once again, fifteen years later, for not conceding to an arcade-centric demand and producing an excellently crafted aerial experience we still haven't forgotten.
CCC Contributing Writer