Usually I play a game extensively before attempting to say anything about it. However for a change - this one is going to be more of a first impressions review. History Channel Battle of Britain is a game I've seen on the shelves of my local game shop for some months now - and bought it in a sale. Its not that I didn’t have other sims to play - and currently have a backlog of ones I've bought but don't have the disk space to install. However HC BoB looked like a nice simple Battle of Britain sim - so I installed it anyway.
The pictures on the box reminded me of Jane's AS and I assumed it would be similar. On loading the user interface screens actually reminded me more of a cross between Fighter Squadron and MS CFS1 - but the flying itself - well thats a different story.
The graphics are very serviceable - without being particularly stunning - and you have the choice of internal and external views for flying the plane. However even in external mode the screen is quite cluttered and turning the HUD on gives more information than appears useful.
The actual flying and combat are okay - though I've not found a way to view the enemy target plane up close. There are colour coded plane labels (much like MS CSF3) though annoyingly the default friendly colour is red whilst the enemy is green. One slightly unusual aspect is the extensive free running radio chatter - which assuming you have time to read it gives you a lot of info on whats going on in the air battle.
The game splits into several main areas:
Training – this is very well put together – though the choice of a P-38 Lighting is odd as this plane was not used during the Battle of Britain. This is the first sign that this game is not quite what it seems.
Instant action – a few sample missions – though the choice of planes is very limited and in some cases entirely non existent. Also on some of the missions you appears to have unlimited ammo and be invincible against enemy fire – whilst on other – normal rules apply.
Campaign - not tested
Free flight – On selecting this mode you get to choose what plane to fly and what terrain to use – as well as a host of other configuration details. The plane choice is very interesting as many non Battle of Britain arena planes are available (like the Japanese A6M2 Zero) and even WWI planes make an appearance. However its very disappointing that you can’t specify any enemy planes. This appears to make the choice of over 70 planes to fly pretty pointless if you can’t fight with them. However all is not lost. Pressing ‘/’ brings up the radio bar and entering ‘.offbomberambush’ or ‘.offairattack’ (note the leading dot) gives you a few planes to shoot – though not necessarily historically appropriate enemies to what you select. There are many more ‘dot’ commands listed in the readme file on the disk and it looks like it should be possible to specify enemy planes by number/model type.
Online – not tested
There is also an online update feature which I’ve now tried. See note at bottom of the page.
Other useful features are autopilot which flies and flights for you and autolanding.
In conclusion initially I thought it was a bit unfinished - but the occasional reference to Warbirds III indicate that it is revamp of an existing game.
Actually the Warbirds III reference is a big clue as this is the flight sim designed for online play. The latest version (Warbirds 2004) can be apparently be downloaded for free – but you only get 2 weeks of online play before you have to start paying – though it is playable offline also. HC Battle of Britain on the other hand does have an online mode which appears to be free – but I’ve not tested this yet. Have a look at:
Certainly the game gives the impression it is really designed for online play - as its not remotely geared to allowing the player to set up dogfights of his/her choosing. Also it doesn’t even seem possible to pause the game!
As a standalone game – it’s a bit of a mixed bag. There is quite a lot of gameplay and novice users will like the training mode and autopilot. More experienced pilots will also find other aspects interesting - not least the possibility of modifying the offiline missions by adjusting the scripts which appear to control it all behind the scenes. There is a lot of competition from arguably better sims like IL-2 Sturmovik though - which is available at an even more budget price than I paid for HC Battle of Britain!
If you are thinking of playing online though - it could be a good buy.
I’ve now tried the online update function. The download was 135MB - but what do you actually get? Well - according to the readme files - lots of minor improvements and bug fixes have been made. However this isn’t particularly noticable - though a few extra planes and menu options do show.
I’m not able to compare the 2 versions side by side - but it looks like the air attack and bomber ambush functions have been added to the freeflight mode - and you can now set up your own dogfights without resorting to ‘dot’ commands. However more control is available if you do use ‘dot’ commands and the list of these has been expanded - if not documented very well. There is also some mention of a mission editior - though I’ve not investigated further.
The worst problem with the update (other than its size) is that its designed to patch the game on the fly - so if you de-install and re-install - you will probably have to download the update again.
My patched version claims to be version 3.05 R3 (8.25.04) whilst the original CD version dates to 09.08.03. The changes.txt file dates all the way back to 03.14.01. It is good to see continual development and this patch gives me hope this game has a future.
“The History Channel, Battle of Britain World War II 1940” is (c) 2003 by Activision Value Publishing.
Reviewed February 2005