Wings Over Flanders Fields: Ultimate Edition
OBD Redefines modding by Transcending it
For the better part of the last decade, Over Flanders Fields has represented one of only a few First World War flight simulations. Within a shrinking market for flight simulations, titles featuring aircraft with eccentric names like Sopwith, Fokker, and Pfalz represent a niche within a niche. Over Flanders Fields, or OFF, began as a third-party mod for Microsoft's Combat Flight Simulator 3. The World War II themed venture was the last combat sim from Microsoft's studio and it received mixed reviews from critics and fans alike. While CFS3 received some third-party support, it was OBD software, and their First World War mod for the sim, that capitalized on a unique opportunity to build not just a World War I sim, but the most fully realized and feature complete recreation of the conflict ever made.
Old Brown Dog Software is the brainchild of Mark "Winding Man" Andrews, who founded OBD in the early 1990s as a company selling audio transformers for valve amplifiers. Andrews had been interested in the First World War for years and discovered the flight sim genre with classic games like Dawn Patrol. Mark recognized the opportunity that the CFS3 engine presented and began working on modding the sim for the First World War. Eventually, he met Mark "Polovski" Rogers and, with the addition of other team members, the project continued to expand.
OBD initially released Over Flanders Fields in phases to give players a sample of the team's capabilities, while also getting a product out as quickly as possible. The first two phases were free to the public, with Phase 3 becoming a commercial venture in order to support the small studio's efforts in expanding the sim. OFF then moved from phased releases to full-fledged titles - OFF: Between Heaven and Hell, OFF: Hat in the Ring (a homage to the famous American 94th Pursuit Squadron), and then Wings Over Flanders Fields, the title change reflected the complete overhaul of the sim. Each successive release improved upon the game's core dynamics: graphical fidelity, immersive design, and most importantly, a dynamic campaign that created a compelling theatre for players to take part in.
Now, OBD's team of designers, developers, and programmers have reached a benchmark they conceived of years ago, and have marked the occasion by releasing what they consider the "Ultimate Edition" of their ultimate First World War flight simulator.
Before I continue, some authorial disclosure: I've been a fan of First World War flight sims since I discovered Wings of Glory in a computer magazine over twenty years ago. I've loved the genre ever since and I've played just about every title released in the last two and a half decades; from F117A Stealth Fighter, Falcon 4.0, Strike Fighters, and DCS to World War II sims like European Air War and IL-2 1946.
But I always seem to return to the First World War. In October 1998, I picked up a copy of Red Baron II, and discovered the flight sim community six months later. Many of the fans who worked on improving Red Baron 3D moved on to work on OFF. The lineage between the two sims through their respective communities means that, essentially, Wings Over Flanders Fields is the spiritual successor to the classic Red Baron series. With all of that said, I want to take you through a detailed review of Wings Over Flanders Fields: Ultimate Edition and highlight the sim's strengths, its weaknesses, and where I think the sim belongs within the larger legacy of flight simulations.
Installation and Setup
OBD has moved beyond its modding roots and created a professional packaging and installation of WOFF:UE. After purchasing the title from OBD's web site, you can download the game in one file (at the time of writing, OBD is looking at a DVD option for those who want a hard copy of the sim and would rather not burn one themselves). Once the package downloads, simply double-click icon, run the installation file, and wait. The sim is extensive and it will take some time to finalize its installation, even on a modern system.
Once the game is installed, be sure to check OBD's web site for updates to the sim. The team at OBD patch the game regularly and are quick to respond to any bugs that are reported, often in less than a few days time. WOFF:UE has implemented copyright protection in the form of an order number, which you receive with your purchase of the sim. Simply type it in on the initial running of WOFF:UE and you're all set. The game does not need an internet connection to function. Just be sure to store the number in a safe place just in case. I burned my copy of UE to a DVD and saved the order number as a text file, there for safekeeping.
From there you are greeted by the main menu, which is as comprehensive as any sim I've ever seen. The menu screens in WOFF:UE are a massive step forward from previous iterations of the game, with beautiful historic photos that are period appropriate and localized to reflect which side of the war you're fighting on. The options screen presents an array of settings to tailor the experience to your tastes. Thankfully, this section has been reorganized and simplified from its predecessor, which presented a dizzying display of options, settings, and tick-boxes. The sim is designed from the outset to run well on its default settings, which gives the player a nice compromise on graphical fidelity, high frame rates, and cinema-style sound. Every possible option, from flight modeling and ground fire intensity, to aerial gunnery accuracy, graphical detail, sound mixing, campaign settings, weather implementation, and more, are all here and all customizable.
While WOFF:UE does not come with a fully realized manual - a reflection of the limited resources the team has to work within - it does feature a fantastic FAQ which addresses every conceivable issue that the player might encounter, from installation to initial setup to customizing graphics, and game controls, and describes the array of options in the sim. Once you're satisfied with your settings, you can return to the main menu and create a pilot.