Fight or Flight?

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The Flyboys movie was not exactly a hit. It cost something like $100 million to make and only made a fraction of that at the box office.

That said, my father and I went to see it (the only other new movie playing at the same time was Jackass II) and I enjoyed it quite a bit, as did he. Sure there was a little too much love story and too little action, and it went a little long, but all in all it was a good movie.

With the movie as a backdrop, I had high hopes for the Flyboys game. You see, I spent hours and hours playing another World War I flight simulation many years ago. It was a little game called Red Baron by Sierra. And there really has not been another great WWI flight simulation since then. Unfortunately for Flyboys, there still isn’t.

I guess given that this was a movie tie-in, that I was expecting an easier game to play. I basically just wanted to hop into my aircraft and head into the skies, blasting those Fokkers and protecting my aerodrome from bombers. I mean Red Baron was not exactly a high-end simulation, yet it was tons of fun to play and a huge hit at the time.

Flyboys instead is a simulation that only a hardcore pilot could love. To start with, the controls are extremely complex. What is wrong with using the arrow keys to fly the aircraft and the left mouse button to shoot the guns? We are not talking about a modern fighter jet jammed with computer equipment. In real life you could probably fly one of these old airplanes with only a few hours of instruction.

Secondly, if you try to make the controls simpler, the game does not make it very easy on you. You have to first select the group of controls you want to fix, like Fighting and Bombing. Then you have to pick which control you want to reprogram from a drop down menu. Then finally you can select the key you want to use. The trick is that if that key is already assigned to another function, I don’t think your change actually sticks. I could never get the new controls to save, which meant I could not really fly my airplane anywhere. Eventually I just had to learn the default key layout.

So after learning how to fly my aircraft, I found that it still was pretty difficult. I mean you just nose over a little too far in one direction and suddenly your aircraft is tumbling. Perhaps this is realistic, but nothing on the packaging leads me to believe that this was anything other than a fun flight game.

If you think about it, this is bad all around. The hardcore pilot types that this game is certainly aimed at will pass it by. And the people like me who just want to jump in there and have fun (like you could with Red Baron) are going to be pretty angry that they spent money on a game that is more or less unplayable for them.

Ok, shifting gears, lets look at Flyboys as a simulation and not a fun movie tie-in. Even here, the game falls a little short of the mark, though not too far. Graphically it’s a bit of a mixed bag. The airplane models look fantastic complete with realistic decals and damage modeling. The sky also looks very real.

However, anything on the ground is pretty bad. Even when you get close to the dirt, things still look like little squares. Perhaps about five or six years ago this might have been top of the line, but today, it looks very dated. I have a feeling this is why most of the 12 missions actually start you in the sky without making you take off and get into position. There are even some people down there in some missions, but man, they look like Legos. It’s about the worst people models I have seen in over 10 years.

So long as you stick to the air, the game looks pretty good, but here again the game seems to be fighting itself. Hardcore pilot types are not going to want to be dropped into battle without first checking all their flaps and doing all that hardcore sim stuff. But once you get there, those that just want a fun game are going to be overwhelmed and probably crash before ever engaging the enemy.

Flyboys is a game that is trying to find itself. Whether it is trying to be a fun movie game or a hardcore simulation is unclear. However, the "lets have fun" gamers should look elsewhere. Only pilot types have a chance of a good time here, though again, this may or may not happen.

One plus is that you get to play online for free, though I never found more than a few folks at any one time, after looking for about two weeks. There are thankfully a lot of AI aircraft online so you have something to fight. But my radio chatter of "Is anyone at all there?!?" was rarely answered.

If you like simulations, then give Flyboys a try. Otherwise, I guess just keep waiting for the next WWI flight sim. It’s been years, but what choice do we have?

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