Rise of Flight - Iron Cross Edition
By Grant MacLean (June 23, 2011)
Whether you're into combat simming or just flying legendary aircraft in an authentic historic layout you might want to reach for your leather helmet, goggles and silk scarves for this one.
Like all complex sims it has had its teething problems, but from its Western release in July 2009 to the present day, it's won high praise for its modelling and graphics, its flight dynamics and damage models, and its wealth of simulated details and its combat simulations.
Rise of Flight is a full-fledged simulator depicting aerial warfare over the Western Front during the First World War, covering the critical years from 1916-1918. Scenery and game map covers over 120,000 km2 of war's Western Front. Originally developed by Neoqb, a Russian sim group, it is currently being developed by 777 Studios.
The sim's name is well-chosen: pushed by the demands of a terrible war, flying rose from its stumbling beginnings and soared.
ROF's Iron Edition includes eight of history's most famous aircraft, and one bonus model - more than double the flyable aircraft in the original game. You get the Albatros D.Va, Fokker D.VII (generally acknowledged to be the war's finest aircraft), Fokker Dr.I (the triplane made famous by von Richtofen, the "Red Baron"), Nieuport 28.C1, Pfalz D.IIIa, RAF S.E.5a, the outstanding Sopwith Camel and the Spad 13.C1 (perhaps best known for its use by America's Eddie Rickenbacker). In addition, there are dozens of skins available for each aircraft, along with numerous additional WWI aircraft at very reasonable prices.
A pivotal draw is that each aircraft and the simulation of its respective engine and weapons is modeled in meticulous - often stunning - detail. The game also provides surprisingly detailed damage models, depending on the source, airframe stress, battle damage, fire, and collisions.
Download, Installation And Front End
At around 3.4 GB the download is a big one and could be a bit of a marathon if your web connection is slow. Although I had no problems with the install, if you're running Windows Vista/7 and run into Error Code during install, reading the Project Error Insert PDF in the ROF directory should clear it up.
For long-time MS Flight Simulator users there's a bit of a learning curve: menus and control keys are quite different to the MS series - some reviewers have found them klunky - but the effort seems well worth it.
ROF recommends the following system specs: WindowsÂ® XP (SP2) / Vista (SP1) / WindowsÂ® 7 (SP1). CPU: IntelÂ® Coreâ„¢ 2 Quad 2.6 GHz+ or IntelÂ® Coreâ„¢ i5/i7 2.6 GHz+. Graphics card: 1024 Mb+, GeForce GTX 260+/Radeon HD5850+. RAM: 4 Gb+10 Gb+ free hard drive space. DirectX 9.0c/11 compatible.
On my newish system (Windows 7, Intel Core i7 950, GeForce GTX 470, 12 GB RAM), in a dogfight with all options sliders maxed out it's as smooth as glass. On older systems it'll run with the usual tweaks, to be found on the forums.
But if you have doubts about whether your system can handle it - or if the sim's for you - you can always test it with the 14-day demo, available from the ROF site.
Aircraft Modeling And Graphics
Right at the beginning, this is where the sim grabs you. The graphics are outstanding - a series of dazzling external views and meticulously executed cockpits.
Instruments, knobs, switches, joysticks, rudders are all beautifully rendered: the gleam of brass and leather, the lustre of wood, even the texture and semi-transparency of the fabric are all there - it's almost as much a pleasure sitting in the cockpit and looking around as it is flying.
The developers have now implemented a variety of shadow effects that add hugely to the sense of immersion. Moving shadows across the cockpit instrument panel - only crudely present with FSX's "DX10 Preview" feature - are beautifully rendered, as are more subtle effects. As you fly under a cloud, the shadows fade in sharpness, both in the cockpit and on wing surfaces. Clouds now move realistically in the sim as do their shadows on the ground.
There's a wealth of other detail: stick your head out into the slipstream and the wind sound changes to a roar, and so on.
It seems that the developers have pushed hard to get this right, making for some of the most challenging flying in my experience. Among the factors modeled: thermodynamics of the internal combustion engine; wake vortex turbulence; a multi-layered model of wind and turbulence which takes into account the effects of the earth's surface; atmospheric properties across a wide altitude range, taking into account temperature and pressure; and 'plane fatigue', dependent on things like previous damage, fuel quality and other factors influencing aircraft performance.
Each aircraft is modeled individually, each having its own unique personality, and there's nothing generic about their "feel." The Sopwith Camel, for example, with its rotary engine and massive gyroscopic effects, can get away from you really quickly - and it took an instructional video before I was able to extricate myself from a Camel spin.
This is impressive, using a detailed, progressive damage model; each plane is divided into sub-objects, with effects of damage on each is calculated separately. Collisions with the ground or water are simulated on the basis of collision-physics and hydrodynamics theory - for example, because of the large undercarriage wheels crash-landing in water immediately flips the aircraft on to its back, after which it sinks rapidly.
Surprises pop up often. Getting in line for a pass at a British observation balloon in a Fokker DVII, I didn't notice the SE5 on my tail, got distracted at the last moment and glancingly hit the balloon - causing enough damage to send the aircraft spiralling down into an unrecoverable spin.
Again, although a few reviewers have criticised the sound quality, I'm impressed: the primitive rotary and inline engines - blips and all - seem intuitively right, as do the scrape of tail skids and the rattle of wood and fabric undercarriage structures, the hammering of machine guns.
Weapons, Other Vehicles
The full variety of WWI machine gun weaponry is there. Various types of weapon ballistics are also modeled, and the model provides a visual track of the trajectory of bullets and shell fragments, along with a combat sim's flak, explosions, flaming aircraft. Authentic Allied and German balloons are modeled, while ground scenery has an array of artillery, trucks, trains, etc.
I'm not sure whether it's what ROF calls Enhanced Graphics featuring High Dynamic Range (HDR) lighting, or something else, but the effects of sunlight on the aircraft - the play of light across doped fabric, or across instruments and weaponry - is, to my eye at least, more vividly realistic than anything I've seen in a sim.
The scenery, its towns, rivers and bases - or 'aerodromes' - was designed according to the historical maps and information from 1914-1918, and includes eleven French towns and more than 300 smaller towns and villages.
Game Modes And Missions
A number of combat game modes can be selected: Quick Mission, Single Missions, Campaign, Career, and Multiplayer. There are piles of positive reviews out there on the ROF's combat aspects, but if you want a quick sense of how compelling this can be, YouTube's a quick way to go.
If you're not into combat simming, you can choose what amounts to a free flight option by choosing Missions and Fly Now - then, after start up and take off, practicing landings and aerobatics or just explore the countryside. You may still get bounced by enemy fighters - but can avoid the angst by clicking the Invulnerable button in the Options menu.
Using ROF's Flight Recorder and Playback System you can record, replay and edit - including changing camera viewpoints - of flight and combat sequences. The tracks can be shared among other ROF users. your friends and you can demonstrate your finest dogfighting moments to all.
For YouTube, you'll need a video capture program like FRAPS. From basic flying, side slips, spin recovery, aerobatics and physical flight dynamics to combat scenarios, there are dozens of ROF YouTube and other videos out there.
Some simmers have gone further, producing professional quality ROF-based videos of WWI pilots and their actual combat lives. Some of these docs, like ones documenting the battle deaths of Albert Ball and Manfrend von Richthofen, are deeply haunting, bringing home - without preaching or sentimentality - the true nature of that horrific war, reminding us of the gut-wrenching fear, piercing agonies and oceans of grief that any war brings.
Much like the best-selling IL-2 Sturmovik before it, Rise of Flight is state of the art and has become a firm favorite with combat flyers - but free flight simmers might find it just as compelling.
With dazzling graphics and authentic flight dynamics, this is flightsimming at its most immersive and challenging. At the Iron Cross edition's current price, to this reviewer it seems a steal.