For me - this was the first of the ‘modern’ flight sims I tried. Having failed to get my old copy of Dawn Patrol working on my XP based PC - I hunted around for a decent WW1 game - but ended up with a twin pack of CFS1 and Crimson Skies. Originally it would have been supplied in a big box with nice printed manual(s) - but this re-release by Xplosiv was a CD-ROM only version with the manual on CD.
CFS1 is Microsoft’s original ‘Combat Flight Simulator’. Whilst dating to the late 1990s it apparently has more in common with Microsoft Flight Simulator 2000 than 98. It appears to have been very well received when it was launched - but frankly by the time I obtained my copy (2003) I didn’t see what the fuss was all about.
However the user interface was clean and quite pleasing:
But the scenery and planes didn’t excite me and the planes seemed to have poor handling qualities.
Flying from the cockpit was fine and although the game does offer external views - I remember struggling to find a suitable gun sight overlay without which it was impossible to fight. I’m led to believe the game does cater for this - so I’ll take another look.
Having said that it was reasonably easy to shoot down enemy planes, and the game was quite configurable so you could enjoy decent frame rates without needing the latest hardware.
I returned to CFS1 in early 2006 and gave it another chance. By this time I had had the opportunity to play CFS2 and CFS3 as well as other similar games such as Jane’s Attack Squadron.
CFS1 curiously enough had actually improved with age. I no longer found the flight handling so poor (I suspect I’m now more use to simulation rather than arcade style flight handling) and I actually experimented with the game a bit more and unlocked some of its potential.
Part of the solution was probably a better joystick. When I first bought CFS1 I had an old Quickshot which just wouldn’t calibrate with this game. I did then buy a Saitek ST50, but my current stick is a Cyborg EVO Force (basically the force feedback version of the Saitek Cyborg EVO) which is much better than even the ST50.
The real breakthrough was getting past the rather mundane set of WW2 planes supplied and actually trying some of the many free planes available on the internet.
This Dornier Do335 pictured below (by Bernd Rossner) is a good example of quality of planes available:
There is even a fair selection of WW1 planes available. Its true that Microsoft supply a fairly basic Sopwith Camel - but a much nicer version (apparently by Andrew W. Hall / Andre Kemner) is available for free. This is part of the WW1 Dogfight Collection of planes put together by Ted Rogers.
Both the above planes came from Simviation though this is by no means the only source of free planes.
I also tried of copy of Just Flight’s Luftwaffe Collection which was given away with issue 6 of PC Pilot magazine. This provides a nice selection of planes used by Germany from WW1 to the present - though the quality and functionality is no better than from the many free planes also available.
One area where the planes do differ wildly is in compatibility with the force feedback option of my joystick. The game as a whole supports it - but it seems to be implemented on a plane by plane basis. Therefore some planes give more ‘feel’ than others.
Its easy to add planes to CFS1 but if you want to be able to fly/fight against them in Quick Combat mode you normally need to do a little file editing. Fortunately there are several free tools available to help out. The one I’ve settled on is JoneSoft CFS Quick Combat Editor. I’ve lost track of where I got my copy from but the latest version looks to be downloadable from JoneSoft itself.
One quirk I did find was that Fraps - my favourite screen shot grabber caused big problems with CFS1 - especially on exiting the program. Fortunately I found another free alternative which is specifically designed to work with CFS1. Click HERE for more details.
In conclusion then its not a bad game at all - and its only the arrival of better/newer games that shows it up at all. Microsoft themselves have 2 replacements in the form of CFS2 and CFS3. CFS2 is pretty much everything CFS1 is - but with more features and even more free downloadable planes. CFS3 is a rather different beast and does not have the selection of planes/addons the other 2 have - but is still worth a look.
Combat Flight Simulator 1 is (c) Microsoft 1998. This version reviewed is the Xplosiv re-release.
Reviewed January 2006