What would you get if you took the classic flight sim IL-2 Sturmovik, pumped it full of steroids, then turned back the clock a bit to 1914? You’d get the game Rise of Flight – the First Great Air War (or ROF), a project begun back in 2009 by Russia’s neoqb Studios (they named it Война в небе – 1917) and acquired in 2010 by its US developer 777 Studios. The game has been released in many packages, such as the Iron Cross Edition (which is what I own), the Cross Channel Edition and so on, and is still alive, well and expanding to this day as a free to play download. Free? Well, not absolutely free, but close, so just read on and you’ll understand.
As you peruse my little tome, however, note we aren’t talking about a flight simulator, but an uber complex and uber detailed flight simulation, one that would seem quite familiar yet challenging to Rene Fonck, not to mention a certain pugnacious Beagle from the American Expeditionary Force. I downloaded this “free” version over the weekend to take it for a spin, and here are my ruminations.
Most of the computer games I review are pretty light on the resources needed to run the software in question. This is not one of those games. Here is the recommended hardware specs needed to play the game with my own rig’s in parenthesis. This includes software Win XP SP 3 thru Win 10 (Win 10), processor Intel Core 2 Quad 2.6 GH plus (AMD Quad 3.5 GH/4.2 GH Turbo), RAM 4 GB Plus (32 GB), video 1024 MB, GeForce GTX 260+/Radeon HD5850+ (GeForce GTX 1050 TI 4 GB), sound DirectX 9.0c/11 compatible (yup) and hard drive space 10 GB (6 TB). I’d also recommend a good gaming joystick like the Saitek J13 Cyborg and a good gaming keyboard to boot. And given this game is one of the few to work well with a mouse, it deserves something like a Mad Catz MMO. Obviously, you will also need a good Internet connection for registration and multiplayer meetings, the latter a bit unique.
While installation was easy and faultless (turn off the AV if it does something weird like run files in virtual mode), but this is an 8 GB + file, so download was slow. It also took a long time to install, but this is actually a good thing because it will give you time to read the manual that comes with the game, available as a separate free download to anybody. Here “read” is the operative term, because this is one time that I will admit to studying, not skimming, the instructions first. If you play this game at its full potential, right in the middle of dueling with Eddie Rickenbacker is not the time to learn your trade on the fly (pun absolutely intended).
As the manual points out, when the game starts you will see a screen boasting several tabs at the top giving you access to several areas where options can be turned on, turned off or modified. These are pretty standard such as setting screen resolution, visual detail for various things like grass or buildings and Internet play. This is detailed, not cursory, stuff such as adjusting frame speed.
The next screen is similar but bigger, and getting these setting right is as important as actually playing. The tabs on this screen are General, Camera, Input, Controls, Responses, Video, Audio and Network. There is a lot of really detailed options here, and its critical you get them right to be successful. For example in the Camera section you learn there are actually two cameras in the game, one external and one inside your cockpit. The cockpit of every plane in the Great War has been carefully reproduced, so if you need to check your fuel gauge, and that happens to be to your left, behind your seat, you will need to turn your head. Other screens will designate hot keys for doing things like firing flares at an enemy pilot while dogfighting. And while the Response tab will allow you to adjust joystick controls on a per plane basis, it also locks you out of certain options such as a Throttle on the Fokker E-III, which had none. Instead speed is changed by manually adjusting fuel mixture. Yes, that realistic, and why you really need to read the book first.
The rest of the 170 pages is devoted to how to engage in online play where you can not only play as a single pilot within a squadron, but also as a single member – such as a machine gunner – of a multi crew plan such as Germany’s Gotha bomber. Here you will also find instructions on how to execute Quick Missions, formal Scenarios and overall campaigns of which there are four. There is also a huge section devoted to the history and technical specs of each of the 40 + playable planes covered by the game, to include a very detailed picture on where all the controls sit within each cockpit. Pay attention because . . .
Actually playing the game can be quite easy if you wimp . . . I mean “decide” . . . to change the Difficulty Settings. There are 27 options here, and outside two presets, designated Gameplay (simple gauges at the bottom of the screen so no neck injury), Simplifications (no wind or weapons’ misfire) and Pilot Help (automatic control of fuel mixture and radiator, or automatic engine start). Seriously, I would use these options the first few flights, but the real beauty of the game can only be experienced when all of these switches are ignored and you fly the plane for real. This means no computer generated compensation for any errors made.
What you experience instead is a screen that vibrates slightly due the buffeting wind. You will constantly need to turn your head (aka cockpit camera) to check on things like fuel mixture or number of rounds remaining, assuming those readouts were even available. Meanwhile, recovering from a spin and stall actually requires a special stick and rudder technique, unless you happen to be one of the historical exceptions such as the German Pfalz D.XII which also requires you turn the engine off. Then on top of everything, you might not even find your target because the little mini-map with enemy icons to show heading isn’t there.
Then there distractions, the most “annoying” being the gorgeous graphics of over 150,000 square km of air and ground space, and beautifully rendered aircraft customized with both historical or original paint schemes from the ROF community. Think of the hyper-realistic school art where the paintings are created to look like actual color photographs. The detail is that good, and so is the animation which correctly shows how planes break up and die when shot down, sans all the Hollywood History fireworks some might expect.
This is a tough game to master. Flying missions are going to be bumpy because the real thing was bumpy, so expect a few crashes before you get the hang of it. I did, though I am also certain a software bug is at least partially to blame (cough, cough). When you do catch on however, the feeling of getting it done close to the same way the Oswald Boelke’s of the war really did is nothing short of exhilarating.
And it’s free! Well kinda
Now let’s talk about the way this product is sold. You can download the entire thing, lock, stock and wing strut, for free . . . BUT . . . the download only comes with three planes activated for use. These are the French Spad 13 C.1, the German Albatross D.Va and the Nieuport 17 C.1 built by the Dux Plant for Russian service. The activation codes for other plans are sold individually, as are modifications. For example, the Franco-Italian Hanriot HD.1 fighter will cost you $5.99, its modifications $1.99 or $7.98 US for both. The modification pack includes three additional machine gun variants to include over the wing and balloon busters, a compass (yes, some of these birds were initially built without compasses), a French and a British Refractor Collimator sights and a cockpit light for night ops. Buying three items gets you a 25% discount, six or more a 50% discount.
Some eyebrows might raise, but I like this system. I’m tired of seeing the same old Me-109, P-51 D Mustangs, Fokker Triplanes or Sopwith Camels in nearly every flight sim out there. I’m tired of World War I sims completely ignoring the Eastern and Italian fronts. This system allows me to concentrate on some of the more exotic fronts and aircraft whose only sin was the lack of a good publicist. My first purchase? It’s gotta be Igor Sikorsky’s S – 22 ILYA Muromets Russian heavy bomber. Sure its $ 20, but it also includes a complete Russian campaign so to me it’s worth it.
Bottom line – great game with enough difficulty switches to flip so that even casual gamers can enjoy the ride. Nevertheless, this is a game that was specifically built for hard core, realism or bust simulationists, and in that regard the game has everything, and with its unique sales process, much more. There isn’t much out there to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Great War in the air. Miniatures have Wings of Glory, and computers have . . . well, they have Rise of Flight. Fortunately, that is all that is needed.