Fighter Squadron: Screamin’ Demons Over Europe

Fighter Squadron: Screamin’ Demons Over Europe
3
Platforms: PC
Publisher: Activision, Inc.
Developer: Parsoft Interactive
Genres: Simulator / Flight Simulator
Release Date: March 1, 1999
Game Modes: Singleplayer / Multiplayer

Too complex for beginners yet too simplistic for hardcore pilots, Fighter Squadron stalls.

Far from being a novice developer, Parsoft was noted for their crude-looking but altogether realistic and enjoyable A-10 Warthog series of flight games. Thus, even in a sea of late 90’s WWII-era flight sims, Fighter Squadron isn’t a throwaway experience, but it’s definitely no jewel either.

4_1Like the crew that worked on European Air War, the artists for Fighter Squadron deserve kudos for keeping the look between the aircraft and terrain consistent. The 3D models in the game are pretty top notch considering the available technology, whether it’s the contours of the aircraft or the rolling slopes of the terrain – the only truly annoying quirk is the aircraft being painted too damn dark. The environments, despite some clipping and prolonged texture loading issues, feature superb 2D clouds and detailed terrain that give Fighter Squadron a nice, realistic look.

In the air, Fighter Squadron enjoys a pretty sophisticated arcade flight model. Everything moves with a grace and fluidity that hints at the mathematical detailing underneath. Bombers that lost a wing will plummet to the ground in a spiral pattern, and bent or damaged landing gear is a real challenge to land with. But alas, a little experimenting will reveal serious faults with the flight modelling at just around every corner.

Stalls and spins are almost impossible to get into. The engines are extremely overpowered – you can take off a loaded P-38 at about one-third throttle. Planes have a nasty tendency to wildly pull to the right during take-off, even four-engined aircraft, and the rudder’s painfully difficult to use. Whether you use the runway or not is completely optional however – you can take off and land safely on just about any flat surface. The P-51 Mustang has an awkward tendency to drop its nose mid-flight while the P-38 loves to go up, making them difficult to fly level without the use of the auto-pilot. There’s no time compression option, and so you’re always forced to fly several uneventful minutes before encountering enemy aircraft.

You also have the option of flying bombers, but this too is problematic. For one thing the interface for accessing individual guns and engines is impractical in the extreme. The sights used for calculating high altitude bomb drops are exaggeratedly simple, and don’t even remotely resemble the precision instruments that they really were. The damage modelling feels awkwardly misplaced overall – though you can rip off wings and blow up engines mid-flight, it’s more about attrition than precise shooting – you often wonder how many hitpoints you still have.

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A view of the optional HUD and radar.

A few good design decisions made it in, but are only halfheartedly implemented. For example you can use a modern HUD and mini-map to display and target nearby enemies. The addition of a padlock feature that supports an intelligent zoom function can make for some intuitive dogfighting. Yet targeting feels awkwardly simplified – you can’t quite tell from a distance which aircraft you’ve selected and the aircraft are damn hard to see with the dark terrain textures. Plus there’s no way to disable the virtual cockpit, an odd limitation for a semi-arcade fighter that doesn’t force you to use the panel instruments anyway.

In the end this isn’t a remarkably enjoyable simulation by any stretch, but it does have its moments of close-up air combat despite the occasional interface and control quirks. The AI in particular is competent enough to shake you off in a heated fight. And the ability to instantly jump between planes (both friendly and hostile) prolong aerial matches considerably. But the flight modelling is a hit and miss deal, and the game at large is likely to disappoint both beginners or hardened sim fans.


System Requirements: Pentium 200, 48 MB RAM, 285 MB HDD, 8 MB Video, Win 95/98/ME

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2 Comments

  1. R_Ray says:

    I have been looking for a vanilla installation of this game for a long time. Only a modded version was available. Thank you very much.

  2. Sam says:

    Many of the issues you mentioned were addressed by the mods. I ran a crew that in addition to working on the flight models and damage models also were given access to some of the core programming. Not all of the issues were addressed, but many were taken care of.

    Stalls and spins happen and you have to apply actual recovery procedures to get out of them.

    PC Pilot did a flight model comparison of the Spitfire several years after the game was released. They used all of the major WWII sims available and had people that flew real Spits test them. The result was that every person said the FS Spit was the most realistic flight model in any sim they’d seen. The performance was very close to the real at every altitude and what surprised them was it even had the quirks. When you approached a stall in a turn the inside wing would do a sip to warn you and you could avoid the stall. Only plane to do so.

    Their conclusion was it matched the performance , quirks, and character of the Spit better than any other sim.

    I reworked the P-51 to the same point and roughed in many of the other flight models.

    At that time, with the mods it was the only sim were you could do a realistic hammerhead stall. Something I used in the P-47D to the surprise of people used to other flight sims.

    Is it as good as the modern sims in 2019. No. But with the physics model that was underneath it, if Parsoft would have released it to the modding community, it would be blowing peoples minds these days.

    I was in a discussion with an engineer that had worked on DoD sims for the air force and when I started explaining what the physics engine could do, he told me it was more advanced than what the military had at the time.

    The issue was the person who wrote the physics engine was pushed out by Parsoft before he could complete the work, and the people left had only a partial understanding of what was going on in the engine and frankly, in my opinion, didn’t know enough about aerodynamics to build the planes properly. Something we proved with our mods.

    What was released was a version of the game handicapped by a lack of knowledge of the physics engine and hurrying to get it out of the door because of the other WWII sims that were coming out.

    It’s sad because it could have been a gem. The fact that it allowed network / online play was also a blast. I had 3 computers and friends would come over and we’d fly against each other. Later, dedicated servers were set up and people would play on-line against each other.

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