The WWI combat flight sim is back.
Well, perhaps not in a 1990s golden era kinda way, but for the first time this decade, we're seeing a clear resurgence in early-20th-century aerial combar sims. I've written about some of the key players in past columns - notably, the Full Canvas Jacket superpatch for Red Baron 3D, and the Over Flanders Fields full-conversion mod for Microsoft Combat Flight Simulator 3 - but as good as these add-ons are (and both are exceptional), each requires a working copy of games no longer in print. Those older titles aren't easy to find (most sim fans don't wish to pay inflated online auction prices), so Third Wire Productions recently delivered a standalone alternative: First Eagles: The Great Air War 1918.
Third Wire's Tsuyoshi "TK" Kawahito is something of a fallen legend in the flight sim community - fans weren't too keen when his pioneering Longbow 2 and European Air War contributions gave way to a series of Strike Fighters-based "lite" flight sims - but the guy still knows his airplanes. First Eagles is Third Wire's first biplane simulation, and the game's beautifully rendered vintage aircraft help fill a significant void in the sim-game world.
The game retails for $29.99 at Third Wire's online store (https://store.thirdwire.com/store.htm), and the 113MB download includes a trio of flyable planes (the German Fokker D.VIIF, French SPAD XCIII.I, and British S.E.5a), three late-war campaigns, a random mission generator, and an online multiplayer component. It's a fairly vanilla package - the cookie-cutter campaign missions aren't terribly imaginative, multiplayer is uncooperative, and the limited aircraft count falls well below genre standards - but the game does deliver some solid (and fully scalable) flight modeling, integrated TrackIR support, and enough pyrotechnic flash to satisfy the let's-blow-stuff-up crowd.
As with Third Wire's previous releases - Wings Over Europe and Wings Over Vietnam - First Eagles highlights aircraft over environment fidelity (a diplomatic way of saying that, like every other chapter in the Strike Fighters series, the game's bland and largely featureless scenery blows chunks). This isn't a deal-killer, however, because WWI aerial combat is more about dogfighting enemy pilots than bombing or strafing ground targets, so the only time you even need to look at the terrain is when it's rushing up to meet you.
That said, the game's open architecture design supports myriad third-party add-ons, and a motivated mod community has already contributed dozens of new airplane skins and terrain textures to the project. First Eagles may not challenge established lookers like FlightSim X or Lock On in the beauty department, but the current avalanche of user-created mods will only get it closer.
Purportedly the first chapter in a continuing series, First Eagles: The Great Air War 1918 is already a terrific value for the money.