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Highway To The Danger…Zone!

I have a long history of playing flight simulators, even going back to when it was probably a bit of a stretch calling them such. I remember playing a flight simulator on my first computer, the Vic 20, and that was a triumph of imagination., then there was F-19 Stealth Fighter on the Atari ST, which I’m undoubtedly remembering as having better graphics than it did. This was followed by the 90’s run of PC games: F-117A Stealth Fighter 2.0, Falcon, Tornado, AV8B: Harrier Assault and Total Air War.

They seemed to be very much a 90’s thing, military simulators of all types used to come out on a regular basis like FPS games do now. Then the millennium rolled around and the genre all but died. Now there isn’t anyone pumping out modern versions of this genre despite the potential in processing power. The world simulator has ceased to be military orientated and turned into odd things like Construction Simulator and Truck Simulator.

This leaves DCS World, with DCS being short for Digital Combat Simulator.

The idea behind DCS is quite simple. Provide the engine for free, along with a couple of planes, and then sell additional modules to allow you to fly different planes and even control land forces. As the name suggests the engine creates a digital combat space with a mission editor, campaign editor and the ability to fly the aircraft you’ve purchased in that combat space. As free games go it is ridiculously complete, robust and content rich. The military aircraft you get free is the Su-25T, developed in the 70’s, introduced into service in the early 80’s. I tend to play these games for strike missions not air-to-air combat, so a plane designed for close air support is a good choice.

I’ve taken the plunge and I’ve been trying it out.

I don’t remember these games having such a learning curve? Possible DCS World is more complex, albeit the Su-25 has the middle tier of model complexity in DCS World. It’s also possible I just didn’t think about it much back then while now you’re more conscious of the time investment. I do remember Tornado being a game I purchased only to decide it was unplayable. DCS World isn’t that bad, but after a handful of hours put into it I can take-off and fly steadily. This was a process of learning to start the plane up. Learning to taxi it. Learning to take-off. Then learning about this odd thing called trim. I don’t think any of the flight simulators in the 90’s worried about trim. I also spent time playing with the auto-pilot, trying to figure what it does and does not do and how that relates to the waypoints in the mission editor.

The next step is learning to land the plane. I’ve done it once, on my first attempt, but forgot to open the shoot. This might have been a bit of luck as it’s not gone so ‘well’ since. I may actually have played it for over ten hours before I actually get to fire a single weapon at an actual target. In this day and age some games are over by this point! I’m playing it with my brother and nephew, so the ultimate goal is for us all to graduate to flying a combined strike on a complex target with actual air defences.

The architecture of the game takes a bit of figuring out as there is three levels of flight models, two levels of system models and two levels of cockpit models. The most visible difference is the two levels of system model. The Su-25 uses the standard model which models only essential systems for flight, navigation and combat. This isn’t an arcade simulation, it easily matches the complexity of the games from the 90’s, but the advanced system modelling includes all systems, even if not directly related to flight and the cockpit buttons can actually be clicked as if you’re in the plane (rather than relying just on a keyboard button). The A-10 module that my brother and nephew have uses the advanced model and it’s way more complicated, layered with jargon and system acronyms as it hits you full force with the simulative reality of the A-10. It always sounds like there is a lot of bullshit to cut through. The A-10 model is so realistic it actually takes a ridiculous amount of time to get it powered up, never mind beginning to taxi it along the runway.

DCS World may be a transition moment for the gaming PC which has been sat under my desk relatively unused as my time spent on Star Wars: The Old Republic has diminished. It’s the sort of game I purchased the PC for and it’s what I associate with PC gaming. I don’t see the point in buying games I can happily play on the PS4 on the PC, so this rules out a lot of titles. I’ve since ordered a fancy joystick, but it’s mostly been used for Elite currently (and yes, I decided to give Elite a go). I’ll admit that’s part of what I associate with the modern experience of PC Gaming, it wasn’t something that featured in my 90’s run.

About Ian O'Rourke

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