As I flick switches and turn the dials, Ferocious Frankie, the P-51D Mustang that I’m piloting, starts waking up all 1,760 Horses in her Rolls Royce Merlin engine. Pushing up the last metal switch forces those 1,760 horses into a wild frenzy. Spluttering at first, the engine coughs into a wild frenzy, slowly relaxing into its least agitated state. Gently pushing the throttle forward lets you feel that the engines are alive and before I know it I’m airborne, being gracefully chauffeured by the Cadillac of the sky.
At least that’s what I like to think. In reality, I can’t feel the cold metal switches, or hear the purr of the V12. I can’t legally fly any aircraft, I have to reside in the virtual skies behind my computer screen with recorded sounds and a cheap plastic joystick. Ironically, the closest I can get is a similar feeling of a numb posterior after a particularly long flight.
She’s still a joy to fly even with my Thrustmaster T.Flight HOTAS X ( if somebody were to get me the Thrustmaster Warthog, I’d be forever grateful). As with any title from Eagle Dynamics, BETA or not, there are beautiful flight mechanics. You only have to look at the DCS: A-10C simulator and the applause that real A-10C pilots have given it to see that. From that single point, great things are expected from Eagle Dynamics. Fortunately, they don’t disappoint.
Obviously, in a niche genre like flight simulation, any publisher needs to present themselves as the best simulator on the market to even have a chance at success. Eagle Dynamics have done just that, they’ve pushed boundaries and given us absolutely everything the P-51 has to offer; switches to flick, buttons to press and a lifelike beast to master. They have even made sure that all switches are one hundred percent true to life, giving the most realistic experience of flying in this brilliant and deadly war bird.
Part of the allure with this simulation, for me anyway, was that it was so in depth, so dependent on skill and procedure, forcing you to think like the brave pilots that tamed the Mustang in deadly combat. You can’t just leave it on 100% power when tuning, you need to know what speed is optimum for turning the aircraft. What speed the aircraft has to be to put the flaps down. It’s not a forgiving simulator by any means, only a few miles per hour on landing might be the difference between a landing you can walk away from and a landing where the aircraft is reusable.
That’s not to say that this game won’t cater for the newer players, there is an option to turn on ‘game’ flight mode; eliminating the steep learning curve and letting you fly around free of stalls and spins, making it a whole lot easier to line up a shot on that pesky bandit at 12 O’clock. While I’m not a fan of this mode, I can guarantee that your average Ace Combat or HAWX jockey will be able to have a lot of fun with it.
I should probably point out that I don’t feel that the ‘game’ mode is bad, it’s not – it’s for what it is, it’s just not the way I want to play the game, unfortunately it changes it too much for an experienced sim player like myself. I adore the challenge of the game, including the stalls, crashes and spills on landing. That’s all part of the experience for me. Sliding down the runway on the belly of the aircraft, after touching down as gracefully as a baby elephant doing the hurdles, is something you can learn from. You know how you made a mess of it and you know it was your fault. While the game mode isn’t for me, it’s defiantly a great feature to have fun with if you’re new to the flight-sim scene or want a more arcade like experience.
While starting up and flying is an experience in itself, the combat is where the game really comes into its own. Again, it’s a steep learning curve, you really have to know how to fly the aircraft and be able to pull off manoeuvres real pilots use. It’s a tricky task and I must admit I have ended as a smoking pile of scrap metal more often than not (even with PvP experience and finishing 8th overall in a Birds of Prey WWII simulation tournament).
DCS: P-51 may be a hard game, but I have to admit that it’s one of the most rewarding games I’ve played in a long time. That first piece of enemy aircraft you shoot off after a burst from your six.50Cal machineguns sends you into an ecstatic frenzy, every single time. No matter how small the piece is that falls off. You can only imagine how seeing the aircraft in front of you bursting into flames feels. Again, it’s something that never gets old. It will always feel like a struggle for your life, a desperate battle that might actually end up with you dying. Only a game this difficult and intricate can manage a constant emotional attachment to each individual kill.
Unfortunately, there are a couple of things that set the simulator back; namely the environment and opposition available. The P-51 is basically a really big add-on (although it is stand alone) for the DCS sets Ka-50 Blackshark and A-10C. This means that you’re flying your P-51 in the Caucasus region of the Black Sea. Not very authentic for the history geeks, however an exciting and challenging campaign does help you forget the geological misfortune and help you focus on the flight and combat mechanics which really make the game.
The second issue is that there is a limited amount of legitimate air-to-air opponents. While you can fly against another AI controlled P-51, there aren’t different types of aircraft from the era to fight against. I believe you can play against an AI A-10 or Ka-50 (along with a few other aircraft) however, that is hardly a fair fight. personally, I think there would be far more enjoyment if you could fight a BF109 or FW-190. Just one other non flyable aircraft from the era could make this game a stunning addition to any simulation fan’s collection.
A similar problem faces the very modern ground targets, they while it detracts from any suggestion of a 40’s/50’s feel to the game, I personally don’t think the ground units matter too much; trucks are trucks, they blow up well when a round of rockets are let off and equally easy prey for the machineguns.
Aside from these tiny faults (I will remind you this is a game in beta – the developers aren’t finished yet) I have to say the immersive experience is really hammered home by the graphics and sound effects in the title. Running off the same engine as the other DCS titles, you can expect great modelling of both the exterior and interior of the aircraft. The sounds heard throughout the game are equally as stunning (especially the purr of the Merlin) all thanks to the access to the actual P-51’s at the Imperial War Museum Duxford.
Overall, it’s hard to remember that this is still only the beta stage for Eagle Dynamics’ P-51. Subtle improvements are being added and bugs ironed out (not that I’ve seen any), my only wish is for the developers is to include some form of German opposition to shoot down. That, I think, would make this game a “must have” item for people right around the world. If P-51’s had radar, they would undoubtedly have this title all over it.