First Eagles: The Great Air War 191810 Mar 2007 0
Until recently I had never heard of Third Wire Productions or its new World War I flight sim, First Eagles: The Great Air War 1918. With little fanfare the game was released in November 2006 and has since received limited press coverage, which may explain why news of the game still takes many by surprise. For modern flight sim enthusiasts, however, Third Wire Productions is most likely a household name since it has released several post-World War II games including Wings Over Europe: Cold War Gone Hot, Wings Over Vietnam and Strike Fighters. The independent developer has also explored the origins of powered flight with First Flight: The Wright Experience Flight Simulator, which was originally developed as a training tool for Wright Experience Centennial test pilots.
As the name implies, First Eagles: The Great Air War 1918 covers aerial combat during the closing stages of the Great War. The game offers players the opportunity to pilot three of the greatest fighters that took to the air during that conflict, including varieties of the SPAD XIII, the S.E.5a and the Fokker DVII. Combat takes place above the complex network of trenches and surrounding countryside of Verdun and players have the opportunity to manage and lead a squadron belonging to either the US Air Service, the Royal Air Force, French Military Aviation, or the Imperial German Air Service.
Installation & Technical Issues
First Eagles is published by G2 Games in Europe only and while there are limited copies available in North America, I took advantage of the digital download option available at Third Wire's on-line store. Once the 113MB file is downloaded it can be stored permanently on disk, eliminating the need to re-download the file in the event the game needs to be reinstalled. There is no need for the game CD to be in the drive after installation. After running the Setup file and following the installation prompts, the game consumes over 500MB of hard disk space. At the time of writing, Third Wire Productions has released its second patch for the game, based on user feedback, which corrects some graphics problems and makes some improvements to the AI.
Documentation & Tutorials
Included with the game is a 23-page manual that outlines the game's features and covers the basics of flight and aerial combat, including how to perform basic maneuvers such as the famous Immelman turn. Other than highlighting the fundamentals of the game to get players flying quickly, there are no "hands-on" tutorials. Fortunately, flying planes of canvass and wire is comparatively simple and only a few controls need to be understood before players are flying and dog fighting. Adjusting the game's difficulty settings to Easy will help ensure the current mission lasts longer than the first burst of machine gun fire.
Graphics & Sound
The game includes several graphics options to help cater to the differing specifications of gamers' machines. These include several screen resolution size and color configurations, which accommodate standard and widescreen monitors and options for adjusting object detail and texture, cockpit texture, terrain and horizon distance to name a few. Listed at the end of the review are the game's minimum specifications. As there can be approximately twenty aircraft in the sky at one time, frame rates can take a severe hit even on higher-end machines when the graphics details are set to High. In general, however, there are fewer aircraft than this flying, making low frame rates much less a problem. These issues aside, the graphics in First Eagles, while not leading edge are nonetheless very good. The aircraft models and skins are designed to a high standard, much akin to those found in the popular World War II flight sim, IL2 Sturmovik. Control surfaces move correctly, engine exhausts vibrate, machine gun tracers illuminate the sky, and pilots' heads can be seen twisting as they scan their surroundings for danger. The cockpits are very well detailed and the few dials that could be found in aircraft of the day function correctly.
The environment is graphically well presented, although it has some shortcomings in terms of its functionality. While clouds of varying density can be seen meandering across an azure sky, which changes hue depending on the time of day or night, they do not produce lightning, rain or snow. Nevertheless, clouds can provide players with the opportunity to conceal their aircraft and can make finding the enemy more difficult. An environmental feature that is less effective is the sun. While it looks nice blazing away and throws out the now standard lens-flare, it does not blind the pilot if he is looking directing into it. This eliminates the possibility of enemies surprising the player by diving out of the sun or conversely, taking advantage of the sun and doing the same to the enemy.
On the ground, trenches, craters, and mud merge into a wide scar that snakes its way across an otherwise lush landscape. Although the trenches are void of soldiers, the battlefield is not completely static as artillery shells explode around active battles and tanks can be seen plodding laboriously across no-man's land. Beyond the trenches, the landscape hosts villages and cities that consist of houses, churches and other three-dimensional buildings. There are forests and trees scattered across the countryside and while they look good, they have no effect on game play: should a player fly through trees they will not cause any damage to the aircraft. The map of Verdun that ships with the game is large and while representing the terrain over which the fighting took place is mostly flat. Representing the landscape in the warmer months only, the game does not include winter terrain tiles, although this can be modified using third party tools.
The game's sound effects are of a high standard. Engines sputter and growl depending on whether the aircraft has a rotary or in-line engine, wings groan under excessive G-force, machine gun bullets ping as they strike home, near-by ack-ack explodes loudly and planes make an earth-shattering boom when they hit the ground. The quality of the sound can be adjusted via the Options Screen where the number of channels (8-32) can be selected. Changes to the speaker setup can be made as well as adjustments to the game's sound and music levels - the latter being a few pieces of classical music that add little to the atmosphere.