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     " Fires come in all shapes and sizes, and impart a sense of impending doom for your hapless prey. "

   Title: Combat Flight Simulator 2: WWII Pacific Theater by Microsoft

   Format: PC Flight sim

   Reviewing Monkey: Cornelius

   The Hype: Microsoftís much-anticipated second foray into the world of WWII flight Sims. Change the course of the war with your mighty Corsair and six Browning fifties.

      What This Monkey Thought...

   Graphics: Praise be to the Great Monkey for bringing us CFS2! Microsoft went all out here and by the Monkeyís tail does it show. Aircraft now have a battle hardened look to them, chipped paint, oil streaked cowlings, and soot on the wings from repeated machine gun fire. Shell casings are actually ejected while guns are fired. All the moving aircraft parts move on the model, right down to the cowl flaps. The damage detail is incredible. Wing tips can be shot off, and burnt, deformed spars are all that is left. Engines can be blown off, leaving you with little more than an aerodynamic brick. Even ships and ground units have detailed damage models, and will burn where you hit them. It is cool to see the bow of a ship burn instead of the migrating fire in the belly. Probably the coolest graphical feature is the fire and smoke effects. Different colors of smoke indicate different types of damage, just like in real life. Black, sooty smoke usually indicates oil, white smoke is cooling or possibly fuel leaking. Fires come in all shapes and sizes, and impart a sense of impending doom for your hapless prey. Though you will want to be careful; self-sealing tanks can cure those problems. The graphics are marvelous, and even though you can import old CFS planes, you probably wonít want to, they just canít compete. 5 out of 5

   Sound: There is only so much you can do with the sound in a flight sim. Make the radio chatter more realistic, and less annoying. Make the engines throb better. Have the machine guns and cannons sound like their real life counterparts. Other than that there isnít a lot to do. Microsoft added A3D, which is very cool. The best part is now there is bullet sounds as shells zing by your canopy looking to turn your plane into a metallic version of Swiss cheese. The radio work is done well, and the voices impart a good sense of the urgency and terror of combat, all in all a good job on the sound side. 4 out of 5

   Game Play: This was every monkeyís chief complaint about the original CFS. While a great sim, the campaign game held about as much interest as watching a geriatric slug race. Fortunately Mr. Gates heard our cries and set his minions on creating a diversified, and encompassing campaign mode. Well, they tried anyway. Unfortunately it still doesnít come through the way it should, and is nowhere near what Interplay did with Mig Alley (last yearís sleeper hit). You now have wingmen that stay with you until they die; their kills are tracked, and they actually start flying better as they get more experience under their collective belts. The good thing is that you actually care about your wingmen, and will try to keep them alive. And while Microsoft did try to include a more dynamic mission set, it seems far too random, and that your actions have no effect on the overall war effort. It was this monkeyís understanding that CFS2 was supposed to have an interactive mission tree, but if it does I sure havenít noticed. Even though I won the battle of midway in my campaign as the Japanese, the Americans just kept pouring it on. Another downer is the randomness from which you fly. One mission you will be at a land base, then the next two will be from a carrier, then another form the ground and right back to the carrier. I donít know if it was like that for pilots in the war, but I canít imagine it was. It definitely detracts form the overall campaign aspect, as you never feel like youíve accomplished anything. With three versions of the flight model the game can be as arcade-ish, or as realistic as Microsoft can make it. As of yet, MS has yet to figure out how to model a true spin, or stall for that matter. Even FS 2000 suffers from this problem. It is about time they figured it out. Otherwise the game play is smooth and consistent. The last glaring problem is the lack of flyable aircraft. There are seven aircraft, yes you heard right, a paltry seven. And that is if you count the A6M2 and A6M5 zero as two different planes. Not included in the seven are any torpedo or dive-bombers, what were they thinking? Dive bombing it one of the coolest aspects of the Pacific air war, and watching your torpedo slam the side of the Yorktown would have been a lot of fun, in my opinion a big oversight. To their credit, MS is one of the first developers to figure out how to put bullets in between the tracers, which is very cool. You can actually see flashes from hits that you never saw as tracers. Damage models are hugely improved, and the performance of your aircraft suffers accordingly. Damn that is cool. Not to mention the engine tracks every aircraft in game with the same damage model, give it up to the mighty Microsoft machine. 3.5 out of 5 (Mr. Gates: hear our plea, and add a true campaign mode where we can affect the outcome of a war)

   Level and Environment Designs: I know some of you cynical chimps out there are criticizing, "Sure the planes look great, but didnít Microsoft set this game in the Pacific for a reason? Vast stretches of ocean can be hard to render you idiot." All you misanthropic simians couldnít be more wrong. Microsoft actually tuned up their scenery rendering, and even though what little land is spotted through the Pacific is covered in jungle, it looks gorgeous. As expansive and empty as the Pacific Ocean is, Microsoft did a phenomenal job on the environments. Small atolls and huge volcanic peaks shrouded in dense jungle, show like gems in the vast blue of the south Pacific. Microsoft has done a great job conveying the hostility of the ocean where land hard to come by, and when you do it is rugged, and doesnít offer any solace. The detail here does a great job of incorporating the player into the game. However, it is still mostly ocean 4 out of 5

   Multiplayer: Far and away the best way to play the game, and as an added bonus, Fighter Ace 2 is included with CFS2. Up to eight chimps blasting away at a time, with various mission sets allows lots of ways to have poop slingingí fun. Suffers from the lack of aircraft, but with detailed flight models for each type, it makes for a varied and fun way to play. 4 out of 5

   Replayability: So youíve done both the campaigns, made all your friends cry during multiplayer, and are the leading ace at MS game zone. What is next for a stud such as you? Check out the mission editor included with the game. It is the same editor used by the designers to create the missions. Just about everything you want is included. I guarantee it is possible to create a flight that not even you can defeat fan-boy, so send it to your friends and tell them you passed it with the realism at 100%. If nothing else keeps you coming back the graphics will. I may never get sick of seeing Zeros explode until CFS3. 4 out of 5

   Story/Dramatics: The story is told in the form of a 1940ís graphic novel. Apparently Microsoft did this to relate a feeling of being in the 40ís. It just left me feeling cheated. I much rather would have had gun camera footage, and voice over. Some of you simians may enjoy it I however did not. 2 out of 5

   Instructions and Learning Curve: Giant instruction book. Sort of reminds me of a LA phone book. Fortunately a lot of it is history and combat tips, as well as basic flying lessons. If you played CFS youíll do just fine. Although as an option you can choose a new keyboard mapping that Microsoft has deemed more CFS friendly. I definitely agree, as the original key map was taken directly from the Flight Sim series and didnít translate well to a combat game. The strange part is that MS didnít include one big key display. You have to jump all over the manual to figure out which keys do what, this is more annoying than your girlfriend hounding you to take her to a movie, when you are obviously in the middle of a war for global domination. It is still flying and shooting, though that is easier said than done. My biggest problem is that the description of the aircraft during the game is lacking at best. You constantly have to go back to the book to see what you want. 3.5 out of 5

   Installation and Real System Requirements: Smooth as silk. Running it here at the GMM office on a K62-450 with a voodoo 3 and 64 Megs of RAM and there is hardly a bump even at high resolution. In fact the only time it seemed to slow down was with a multitude of aircraft and when explosions or fire is rendered. Microsoft learned their lesson on FS2K and put some effort into great packet transfer and it shows. You should be able to run CFS2 on a P-II 266 but you will miss the pretties, and that is why you want this game in the first place. So skip dinner, be late with the rent, go on a sabbatical for Christmas and save up enough for a machine manly enough to run CFS2. You know you wanted to anyway, and now since Iíve told you to you have an excuse. Blame it on the monkeys. 5 out of 5

   The Verdict:

       Microsoftís second try, while still not perfect, it is getting there. Still, a monkey could find a far worse way to spend $39, like 15 pet rocks, 50 pounds of bananas, two copies of Beach Head 2000Ö.

   The Good: Insane graphics that will make you forget all about the 100 Megs of porn on your hard drive (for at least an hour)

   The Bad: Microsoft still falls behind in the campaign mode. Claiming to be better than the original CFS campaign mode is like telling people you can beat up quadriplegics.

   The Overall Ugly: Definitely worth the buy, a great follow up to CFS.

   What it's Worth: It is only $39 at most stores, with the addition of the mission builder and fighter ace 2 it is worth that and more.

Buy it now from Amazon.com

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