Rise of Flight Beta: Guest review by Sandor Baliko (translated by Balazs Toth)

Posted by David on June 06, 2009 03:13 PM

Hungarian review from flyonline.hu written by Sándor Balikó and translated by Balázs Tóth (VO101_Balázs).

This article is about the beta testing of Rise of Flight.  The screenshots are presented with the approval of the publisher.

When I read the news that the creators were awaiting the application of online squadrons for beta testing, I did not hesitate and signed up immediately. We almost ran out of time, but after a few days we received the keys and access to the beta files. I had the same feeling as we were testing IL-2 Forgotten Battles. I really looked forward to testing the game, and it was not a disappointment at all.

Install

Nothing special to mention here.  After unpacking the files, it started to install the program, which aside from the core program also installed the .NET Framework 3.0 and the newest version of DirectX. If you are updating your operating system regularly, you will not need the latter. The game looks for updates upon each start-up, then downloads and installs them automatically, no manual intervention needed whatsoever. The options and start button from the launcher menu are not active unless you have the latest version of the program. In the configuration menu the usual settings are found: graphics, sound and controller settings. Let’s start it up!

Main Menu – the first steps

Before getting to the main menu, the much-criticized login screen welcomes us.  You can’t play without a live internet connection, not even offline. There is a bright side however, as there is no starforce protection. The animated main menu looks really nice and attractive, with the view revolving around a SPAD XIII in a hanger. The buttons are pretty straightforward, and can be found at the bottom of the screen.

Menu screen

Training: this is where you get to know the game through flight itself and a bit of navigation. All of these missions have nice training videos.

Eddie Rickenbacker in a training video

Single player: before rushing to the online front, it is strongly advised to get some experience in single player mode. It is better for everyone if you first play around with the game settings, especially controls and graphics, while trying to fly offline in a grounded plane. It's certainly better than crashing on the first flight which starts mid-air. All missions have primary and secondary objectives, and it’s best to keep those in mind.

Mission mapMission map
Career: Your first task will be to select the squadron you want to fly in, thus also selecting the side you are starting your career on, which year you will start, etc. You will be able to choose from five difficulty levels from beginner to ace.

Multiplayer: you will not need any third-party application to fly online (as you needed HyperLobby for the IL-2 series). The game contains a list of the available online servers, which gives detailed information about the server (country, number of players, number of slots available, name and type of the mission), so that you can choose the best server for your needs. It's possible to run a dedicated server as well, however if you choose to run one you will have to use your account login.  This will prevent you from running another instance of the game. Hopefully this will change in the final version.

Profile: Information about your virtual pilot, side, statistics, current squadron, etc.

Awards: Player achievements are shown here.

About: obvious :)

The mission builder was not fully complete during the testing phase. I did not have the chance to get to know it in detail. At first glance it is more sophisticated and complex than the builder IL-2 had. It definitely has potential even if it’s not yet complete.

Before take-off

Before getting comfortable in the pilot’s seat, it’s best to review the difficulty settings first. You will find many settings: map icons, flight aides (auto-pilot, auto-rudder, RPM control, etc), and optional simplifications (flight model, collisions, invulnerability, wind and turbulence, unlimited fuel).

You can play around and find the best settings suited for your style of flying. Hardcore players will not need any help anyway, right? You can also set the convergence of your weapons as well as fuel load.

START! The loading screen appears. In the beta version, it took about one minute to load everything, hopefully in the final version it will be smoother and faster.

Settings screen

Fokker D.VII

Fokker D.VII, with the pilot using hand signalsFokker D.VII, with the pilot using hand signals
It’s amazing how smart and simple WWI era planes were! Minimal instruments are a bit unusual to the eye of one who is used to WWII or modern flight simulators. The BF-109 cockpit looks mad complex compared to these planes. Since you will not find a precise altimeter or speedometer, you have to the feel the airplane.

The designer of this plane was the Dutchman Anthony Fokker. It was designed to compete against the French SPAD XIII and the British S.E.5a. In total there were 2029 produced, and it was introduced to the front in mid 1918. It was used mainly to escort bombers, combat fighters, shoot down balloons, and attack supply lines. It had problems with radiator efficiency, but after redesigning the radiator and engine cover, these problems disappeared.

The pilots loved it for its climb rate, good visibility from the cockpit, stability, and the especially good low speed characteristics. The Germans used it until the end of the war, and it was a threat to the English and the French.

The Mercedes D.IIIa engine was capable of 180 HP, the plane had a maximum speed of 186km/h, and the service ceiling was 5970 meters. The cockpit had a clock, altimeter, tachometer, fuel gauge, and coolant temperature. Navigation was based on a simple magnetic compass, as well as a built-in basic artificial horizon.

The Fokker D.VII cockpit

SPAD XIII

The frame of this plane resembles the SPAD VII, which was a fairly new construction. It had an additional Vickers machine gun, a better engine, and an auxiliary fuel tank in the middle of the upper wing. The main fuel tank was installed in the lower fuselage. The engine was a 200 HP Hispano Suiza 8Be, which made the plane fly as fast as 218 km/h. The fuel was enough for roughly 2 hours of flight. A total of 8472 were produced, and it was introduced in the summer of 1917.

SPAD XIII in flight

The instruments are common for the era: coolant temperature, oil pressure, tachometer, fuel gauge, speedometer, altimeter. It has a switch to select the fuel tank, a cut-off valve, and an emergency fuel release. Navigation is aided by a simple compass and clock.

Take-off

Peering over the edge during a takeoffPeering over the edge during a takeoff
At last! After checking ailerons, elevators and rudder, we are set to go! It’s not enough to just turn on the ignition to start the engine: you need to set the proper mixture, gas setting, and radiator setting. If all is set, the engine starts. It's advised to run the engine idle a bit to avoid nasty surprises in the air.

Temperature OK, throttle to the back (the Fokker has it opposite as usual) mixture rich, and it starts to roll. The engine roars, and nothing can be heard in the slipstream. The first thing is to get the tail off the ground. To do that you will need to gently push the stick forward, but very carefully, as the propeller can hit the ground in a matter of seconds.

The TrackIR 6DOF is just amazing, and it really helps during take-off to be able to change your point of view. With the help of the rudder you can stay on course, and when you reach take-off speed a gentle pull is enough to launch it into the air. After reducing rev and setting fuel mixture you can begin to climb.

During flight

Fokker D.VII in flightFokker D.VII in flight
Engine management is essential during flight in order to adjust to the ever-changing circumstances. For example, in a minimal rev glide it is advised to close the radiators to prevent the engine from cooling down more than optimal.

On the other hand, operating an engine at high-performance for a prolonged period will result in the engine ejecting coolant, which is a sign of overheating. In these circumstances the engine will lose performance dramatically in a matter of minutes if the throttle is not set back. A jumping tachometer needle is definitely a signal to find a place to land immediately. Additional stress will render the engine inoperable.

Landing

Landing isn't any easier than take-off, and you will want to check your altitude by looking out of the plane. You also need to have good feel of the speed. Pull up lightly on the stick as you lose airspeed and keep the heading with the rudders. If all goes well, you can make a perfect landing. If you fail, the undercarriage will bump back on the plane hard (since it has minimal suspension). If you don’t have enough speed at this moment, a nasty crash is what’s going to happen in the blink of the eye.

Inappropriate rudder usage may result in stalling the plane or causing the wingtips to touch the ground and damage the wing. It may still fly after that, but you’ll have a hard time keeping her in the air.

Dogfight

There is something you should know about WWI era dogfights: there were no rockets and no sophisticated sights to help with aiming and bombing. The weapons had a very simple sight system, and you have to be really close to the enemy plane to have a decent chance of downing it. You need to know the weaknesses of the enemy plane and aim for the weak spots to inflict maximum damage. You have to lock and load the weapons before firing them, and in case of a jam you need to fix it in-flight.

The relatively low rate of fire does not help either, but once your shots land, they will have the desired effect. TrackIR is an amazing tool to help visibility in the cockpit. Lose the sight, lose the fight. This device helps prevent losing sight in the first place.

The AI is smart and puts up a decent fight. It will use the plane’s advantages to gain a better position to break a stalemate. It never flies straight, and always banks and turns in a fight.

Flight and damage model

The rudder did not have a significant importance in previous flight sims. Rise of Flight is a new era in this respect. You will not be able to make a tight turn without using the rudders and the stick simultaneously. The Fokker D. VII is easy to handle in stalls, where it's easy to get in a spin, but as easy is to get out of one using full rudders. The carburetor engines lose performance in negative G force, which can be the edge in a dogfight, so you better watch it.

Checking out the landscape from the Fokker D.VII cockpit

Over G, or exceeding maximum speed can damage the wings of the fuselage of the plane resulting in a crash. Damage scales from minor structural damage (ailerons, wingtip), to even losing the wing in extreme cases. You will still be able to "fly" the Fokker, but better pray that you will able to walk away from the "landing" site. The SPAD however will aim towards the ground and slam into mother Earth.

Collisions in the game are the best ever modeled, with damage corresponding to the force and area of impact. After a collision, the plane will sometimes still be flyable and you can even attempt a landing. Hitting objects like trees or poles will immediately spin and crash the plane.

Graphics

Flying through the cloudsFlying through the clouds
The landscape just looks amazing whether flying at ground level or at an altitude. The horizon is not just a line but rather a blurred edge. The special effects (smoke, fire, explosions, shadows, glare on the wing of an enemy plane) are on a calibre seen nowhere before. Clouds are astonishing, and flying through them without an artificial horizon is really risky.

The planes are not really stable, so you always have to make small adjustments during flight, and without a reference point this could get you into very difficult situations. You can end up in a situation where you only notice the wind whistling through the wings. This is the best sign that you are flying straight to the ground. A gentle pull on the still and throttling back the engine may save the plane at the cost of losing some parts of the plane. Good luck with dogfighting after this!

A lush forest on a sunny dayA lush forest on a sunny day
The landscape has detail as never seen before: woods, small cottages, lakes, cities.  You can see the front from far away. There are train tracks with steam engines pulling rail cars. Planes and generally all static and dynamic objects are nicely modeled. For example, from the cockpit you can see the valves moving on the engine, as well as the lock and feeding mechanism of the guns. You can even see when you are running out of ammo.

The planes of this era were not equipped with radios, and the pilots used hand signs to communicate. This you can do in the game by pressing the correct buttons, but using VoIP communication such as Teamspeak or Ventrilo will render these elements rather unimportant in the game.

These are the little things which make the flying experience even closer to reality. Thanks to the developers for these things!

Final thoughts

Despite the flaws of the beta version, I think Rise of Flight is a milestone in flight simulation with moderate system requirements. On the test PC (AMD X2 4000+, nVidia 8800GT 512MB and 4GB of RAM) it was running at 30-50FPS with medium graphic settings. The game has a long playtime and you will learn something new during the learning curve.

The Russian version hit the stores on May 7, 2009, and English version is due to be released about a month later.

Translation notes

Thanks to Sándor Balikó for the original review and Balázs Tóth (VO101_Balázs) for the translation from Hungarian (with some of my own edits)!

If you have any comments for Sándor, send me an email and I can forward them along.


Related:
Rise of Flight beta review (guest review by Timothy Scott)