Its been quite some time since a Pacific WWII flight sim has been released, in fact the last similar game I sat down and played for embarrassingly long lengths of time was Microprose’s Pacific Air War. To bring things up to speed and give gamers the chance to take part in these great historic Pacific air battles Microsoft bring us Combat Flight Sim II: Pacific Theatre.The original CFS1 was pretty well received and CFS2 builds on the original’s success bringing familiar game play styles to the sequel.
If you played the first game , getting to grips with the sequel will be a breeze, the controls and layout all follow a similar idea. In CFS2 you choose either to play as the Japanese or Americans, each side with their own unique aircraft. Not wanting to go for the obvious, the mouse sped towards the Japanese.Before you get right in on the action you have the option of quite a few different game modes. Campaign, Free Flight, Quick Combat, Single Missions and of course training. Being a bit rusty training was the best place to start. The training increases in difficulty from basic flight to take-offs and landings. A couple of us here had a great laugh trying to land on an aircraft carrier, that lasted for about an hour, it’s not easy, that’s for sure. The Training is very well presented and easy to understand with audio and text guides that appear at the top of the screen, once it’s completed you’ll have a taste for the ‘real’ action.Once you’ve chosen the mode of play for the Japanese, the first thing that takes you by surprise when playing are all the mission briefings. They are all in Japanese! This is a fantastic touch to the game, adding real authenticity to the proceedings. Ok so you haven’t got a clue what they are saying but boy does is sound good.
If, like me, you have no Japanese knowledge you will be pleased to know you’re not left in the dark, subtitles are provided just to make sure you don’t s*** up and go dive bombing any friendly ships.As soon as CFS2 kicks in you’re in for a visual treat, the game looks stunning to put it mildly and sports resolutions that go right up to 1600×1200 in 32 bit colour, assuming your hardware can handle it. Things start looking real good once you actually get off the ground, the terrain, usually comprising of islands or land masses covered in jungle look rich and vibrant and the sea with its different colours of blue makes you want to dive in for a dip. The aircraft themselves are nothing short of amazing, they are so detailed. If you change to the outside cam and swivel around the aircraft you can really appreciate the amount of work that’s gone into them.CFS2 will allow you to choose from a variety of view modes, there is the standard cockpit, the virtual cockpit, the cockpit removed view and the outside cam. For the best realism the standard c**pit is the one to go for but for ease, the view with the c**pit displays removed will give you the best view of the mission area and action.
The outside cam does have it’s uses especially during training missions or takeoff and landings, other than that it’s a great way to marvel at the game’s impressive graphics.CFS2 has a lot to offer the gamer due to the amount of customisation that can be done in the game menus. For the hardcore sim fan you can whack the realism settings right up giving an authentic flight model but if you prefer to get into the air for some dog fighting action you can reduce the realism which makes the game a lot easier. Even with the realism reduced you still get the authentic feeling of flying one of these amazing aircraft.The Campaign mode, which we played the most of, allows you to jump into the Pacific conflict at various points in history or play the whole conflict from start to finish. CFS2 has great variety of missions types, anything from submarine patrols to stopping a Japanese attack on your fleet, rest a*ured the game will keep you on the edge of your seat throughout the campaigns. Each part of the campaign is is split into sections all joined together with the use of some great cut-scenes which are in the style of a comic from that period with narration over the top. It’s actually great to see cut-scenes presented in this way, it gives a real feel of being part of the historical time period.When the campaign missions start you normally start on a runway or aircraft carrier. Start the engines, take to the air and watch the waypoint indicator on the radar screen in the top left. Each section of a mission is split into waypoints which you can either fly to in real time or skip directly to the next action sequence by hitting the X key.
This ability to hop straight to action sequences keeps the game fast paced and action packed. Fortuntely skipping to the next action sequence is an option, you don’t have to skip through but if you don’t want to, but a majority of the time it’s the sensible choice.Once you reach the mission target it’s time for the action to start. On most missions you will be accompanied by friendly pilots to which you can send basic wingman instructions like attack your selected target or instruct them to take up different formations. CFS2 has pretty good wingman AI for once, they will usually do what you tell them and they will actually go all out to takeout any targets you specify or any of the mission briefing targets.
Dog fighting in CFS2 is brilliant fun, the limitations of the period aircraft really test your piloting skills and the game AI is no pushover, especially in larger battles. During fight sequences damage is indicated at the top of the screen, something you have to keep your eye on carefully.As soon as your aircraft starts taking hits, the aircraft itself will show some very realistic damage effects. Hopping to the outside cam is usually a good way to check if it’s time to bail out and hope for the best. Bullet holes will appear along the aircraft, wings will show damage and if it gets really bad you may find yourself sitting in a c**pit with no wings at all! This amount damage to the aircraft will send you spiraling towards the sea in a ball of flame, at that point it’s time to whack that eject button and hope that at the end of the mission you will be rescued and not lost at sea. We have to say the damage effects are superb, the smoke and gunfire looks excellent and watching bits of aircraft flying off, whether it’s your own or the enemies, makes you feel like a real part of the action.CFS2 is not all about dog fighting though, in the game you will also have to take out ships or ground placements with wither gunfire or bombs. All the ships look excellent as you would expect, all highly detailed. As they move around you can clearly see their wake from the air and if you imagine actually flying one of these aircraft with their limited technology, you soon realise that visual aids like a ships wake are vital to hunting down your targets. It’s attention to details like this that brings CFS2 to life.The sound effects in the game are pretty solid with realistic engine and propeller noises and the gunfire and flak have a good punch to them. The voices in the game are excellent during the radio chatter and the cut scene narration is very well done.
Extra kudos for the use of Japanese on the Japanese pilots, this is a very nice touch.If you have completed all the missions, which will take considerable time, you can try your hand at the mission editor that ships with the game. The editor is pretty easy to use with it’s point and click interface and will no doubt keep the CFS2 community alive for sometime to come with users creating new missions for download. If mission creating seems to much trouble then there’s always multiplayer which can be played over TCP/IP, IPX or the Microsoft Gaming Zone. There are two types of multiplayer, standard deathmatch or teamplay, not a huge variety and unfortunately no co-op but nevertheless the game is a lot of fun online and very addictive.
To sum up CFS2 is an awesome game, it’s one of those flight sims that has a unique atmosphere that keeps pulling you back to the PC. The game looks amazing with some of the fantastic graphics , the flight model is spot on and with all the customisation you can do to the game gives it broad appeal. If there is one flight sim we would recommend at the moment, this would be it, Microsoft have certainly come up with a real winner!