Just Flight’s Korean Combat Pilot
The Korean Conflict (which apparently can’t be called a “war” since there was no formal declaration of such, even though it seemed very much like a war to those who participated) has also been called “The Forgotten War” because of its relative obscurity, overshadowed by the Vietnam War. The Korean action was significant for airplane development because it was the first test under warfare conditions for the early jets, as well as the last generation of propeller-driven fighter airframes.
There have been a few simulations on the market that have addressed this era. Virgin Interactive released Sabre Ace several years ago, but it was a terrible simulation and roundly ignored by flight simmers and gamers in general. Rowan Software’s 1999 introduction of MiG Alley, on the other hand, was a terrific simulation for many reasons, although winning all the scenarios and campaigns was well nigh impossible. Microprose’s Falcon 4 primary campaign was also set in Korea, but the complexity of the sim made this a tough nut. Which brings us to Just Flight’s Korean Combat Pilot, addressing the same era but using the Microsoft Combat Flight Sim and CFS2 engines as a base.
Korean Combat Pilot is really two different add-on packages in one. The first is the Korean simulation, providing the planes and campaigns for that era. The second is an upgrade to CFS and CFS2, providing better graphics and animations to the basic Microsoft packages. Let’s deal with the second item first.
The changes made by Korean Combat Pilot to the CFS and CFS2 engines are subtle but noticeable. They fall into two categories. The first thing noticeable is the better terrain. Mesh terrain scenery is used to reproduce the Korean landscape and provide a more realistic view out the cockpit window. The change in terrain rendering is good but not dramatic, although it does allow better ground-based missions. For example, roads, bridges and railways as well as minor cities are all represented and play a part in some missions as targets to be destroyed. Low-level passes over trees or farmland looks better than the unmodified CFS2, and there is a slight improvement in image quality at altitude. The area of modelled terrain is wide, covering the entire land areas of North and South Korea as well as offshore islands and sea from Sushima in the south up to the Yula River and Chinese border. (The famous attacks on bridges over the Yula are included as a mission.)
The animation upgrade is easier to spot when looking around through the cockpit glass and from exterior views. Pilots in planes move their heads, a subtle but interesting effect that adds a little life to the units. While the pilots don’t follow other planes with their head, the subtle movement of the heads to follow the turns of their own plane does add to the realism. The only exception to head animation is in the B-29. The control surfaces of all the planes are also animated, so you can see the flaps, ailerons, elevators, air brakes and rudder all move (in the proper direction) for changes in attitude. Undercarriage drops and retracts, and a dirtied-up plane (flaps and wheels down) looks and feels as though it creates more drag. The landing gear doors and the gear themselves are all animated. The propeller-driven aircraft have animated semi-transparent and slow-moving props, with the effect realistically varying according to the engine RPM.
Aircraft are all painted properly, and the markings match those in the reference books. There are even wear and tear effects on the planes, showing up as weathering and oil stains as appropriate. While both the terrain and animation effects together would not be worth the upgrade price, the addition of these improvements to the CFS engine make this seem almost like a free bonus to the Korean campaign package.
The main focus of Korean Combat Pilot is, of course, the Korean peninsula and the air-based combat that occurred there. Korean Combat Pilot’s plane retinue is impressive. Propeller-heads will find a few piston-powered units available, especially at the dawn of the Korean Conflict. The Fairey Firefly served as a reconnaissance fighter with several forces (the model depicted in Korean Combat Pilot is from the Royal Australian Navy) and can be carrier landed. The arresting hook is animated and looks great. The Royal Navy’s Hawker Sea Fury also has an arresting hook, and while it served primarily for ground support, it did participate in a few MiG showdowns. For the US forces, the Chance Vought F4U-5N Corsair, which was showing its age in Korea, allows you to fly the familiar inverted gull-wing onto a carrier.
The F-51D Mustang was probably the best fight plane during the closing years of World War II, but was showing its age at the start of the Korean Conflict. Since only much slower piston-engine aircraft from the North usually opposed the F-51D in the first year of the Conflict, it was noticeably faster and more manoeuvrable. The introduction of the MiGs was the end of the Mustang’s glory days. Another holdover from WWII is the F-80 Shooting Star, which really was outclassed in the Korean Conflict where it served as both a fighter and a bomber.
The focus for most simulation fans will be the newer jets, which are well represented. As the Korean Conflict was brewing, a number of new fighters were added to the USAF’s arsenal. The F-86F Sabre was the first swept wing jet and was used by many countries through the 50s and 60s. The simulation of the F-86F includes the airbrakes, which can be extended and retracted (with accompanying animations). Grumman’s F9F-5 Panther (with arresting hook for carrier landings) is in the flight line, and the damage modelling shows how well this plane managed to stay in the air and make it to the carrier even when badly shot up.
From the bomber perspective, there’s a Boeing B-29 Superfortress, a lumbering four-engine monstrosity that handles as well as a concrete mixer in the air. You can’t move around the positions in the B-29 like you can in other bomber simulations but it’s a novel experience to fly this aircraft in CFS. Also added to the flight line is a Bell H-13B Sioux helicopter (the famous MASH helicopter).
The other side of the Conflict is also represented with Illyushin Il-10 Sturnovik, MiG 15, and Yakolev Yak-9. The Yak-9 and Il-10 are propeller driven, and for a while at the start of the Korean Conflict the Yak-9 dominated the skies. The MiG-15 was a capable plane, but the lack of advances as the Korean campaign dragged on allowed the US to gain the advantage with faster, more capable jets.
The variety of planes available in Korean Combat Pilot is better than those available in MiG Alley, probably the only real competition for this game in terms of realism and playability. MiG Alley didn’t allow you to fly the Yak-9, for example (although it did have variants of the MiG 15 that are missing – but not important – in Korean Combat Pilot). The Corsair is also missing from MiG Alley, which totally lacked carrier operations (one of the strengths of Korean Combat Pilot).
The cockpits of all the planes are very well modelled, and comparison with photos shows the accuracy of Just Flight’s interiors. In all cases, one particular unit that participated in Korea has been chosen to represent each plane, except for the MiG 15, which has three different liveries. There are several pop-up panels available in most planes, and these can be moved about the screen to suit your needs. The basic panel, though, is fixed in place.
Installing Korean Combat Pilot is simple from the single CD-ROM. A new icon can be added to the desktop. Korean Combat Pilot must be installed in the same directory as CFS or CFS2. To play the European campaigns or missions, you have to start CFS/CFS2 normally, instead of using the Korean Combat Pilot icon; otherwise the wrong maps will appear. Similarly, while the Korean planes are available to CFS/CFS2 when starting without the Korean Combat Pilot icon, the maps will be of Europe and not Korea. This does allow for some interesting battles, though. Pit a jet against the Spitfire or Messerschmidt to see the difference in technology!
If you plan to use the enhanced Korean Combat Pilot graphics boosted to their maximum, you’ll need at least a 400MHz Pentium with 64MB RAM and a 16MB 3D graphics card. For slower machines, you can step the graphics down a notch or two. All of the usual CFS/CFS2 sliders work to allow you to tailor the Korean Combat Pilot settings for your machine. (A warning for CFS2 users: the CFS2 engine allows only 98 aircraft to be in the database, so you may have to uninstall some add-ins to reduce the number of aircraft appropriately. This limitation doesn’t exist with CFS.) The documentation that comes with Korean Combat Pilot is rather limited, really just an installation guide, a list of the available aircraft with performance specifications, and a few pages on the campaigns and individual missions. Splash screens used throughout Korean Combat Pilot are much like those in CFS2, except reflecting the Korean aspects of the Conflict. Some sensitive types may complain about the stereotyping of Koreans in the splash screens, but, hey, get over it. It’s a game!
The campaigns and missions are a strong point with Korean Combat Pilot. There are two major campaigns and twenty missions. There are six starting locations for the missions or campaigns. Three are ships (the US aircraft carriers USS Essex and USS Leyte) and the HMS Unicorn. The carriers (and their support ships) are superbly rendered and detailed, providing takeoff or landing platforms for carrier ops. With the animated tailhook on carrier-compatible aircraft, there’s the challenge of not only winning a mission but also returning safely to land on the carrier. Carrier landing is a difficult skill to master, but Korean Combat Pilot is more forgiving than some other simulations where everything has to be just perfect. With Korean Combat Pilot you can make the usual errors, coming in too hot or too slow, or slightly off target, and still get down in one piece. With some other simulation, any of these factors would cause a wreck. The three land locations (Kimpo, Pyongyang and Seoul) are well modelled.
The missions are divided into British, North Korean, and US. For the most part, they are interesting and have varying degrees of challenge. Some missions seemed too easy, but those that require every ounce of skill you can muster balance them. Unlike MiG Alley, all the missions are winnable with a little practice and a touch of luck. Missions range from air dogfights to ground attack roles, and are balanced between land and carrier for the American side. The two British missions are ground attack only, although bombing a train with a Firefly is a challenging task. The North Korean missions include ground missions, attacks on carriers, and both offensive and defensive air combat patrols.
The included campaigns are for the United Nations (a combination of the US and British missions) or the North Korean, and generally are simply the missions in series. There’s no enhancement to the campaign model used in CFS/CFS2.
Damage modelling in Korean Combat Pilot is accurate. Some planes, such as the Panther, were famous for making it back with extreme damage. Other planes were not so lucky, and suffered catastrophic failure after only a few hits. The modelling is different for each plane, and tailored to represent reality as much as the designers could discern. The effect of this realistic damage modelling is interesting as you can fly one mission with two different planes, run into the same amount of damage, and return alive from one yet perish in the other.
The flight models are as good as they can be with the limitations imposed by CFS/CFS2. Each jet has a slightly different feel, and requires different strategies. If you think you can jump from jet to jet, or from US to North Korean jet, with no trouble, you’re in for a surprise. There are major differences in the way they each behave and you have to tailor your flying to match. There are a few idiosyncrasies in the game, such as managing to land a jet on the water (wheels down), and sit there until the crash screen suddenly appears several seconds later. The helicopter doesn’t really behave like a helicopter, but it is good enough for CFS fans to have a little fun (and fly a few MASH-like sequences among the hills). Having spent four weeks playing Korean Combat Pilot, though, I can report no crashes at all, and no bugs worthy of note (heck, landing on water is fun!).
Comparing MiG Alley and Korean Combat Pilot is inevitable as they are the two best simulations of this period. The flight models used in both sims are close, but there are differences. The visual appearance of the planes and scenery in Korean Combat Pilot are better (MiG Alley had an awful lot of non-descript brown terrain), but there are some planes that feel more realistic in MiG Alley. MiG Alley was also a much harder game to jump into, while anyone who has flown CFS or CFS2 will have no trouble adapting to Korean Combat Pilot. MiG Alley had more campaigns (five in total) and they were a bit more fun and much more dynamic than those in Korean Combat Pilot, but as noted earlier some of these campaigns were virtually unwinnable. At least you can complete both campaigns in Korean Combat Pilot if you take care. The AI in Korean Combat Pilot doesn’t seem as clever as the one included with MiG Alley, where the opponents would gang up on you and cleverly manoeuvre around you to put someone on your tail. MiG Alley’s manual shames the booklet included with Korean Combat Pilot, but then when you consider the original CFS/CFS2 manual as part of the package there’s more of a match.
Without doubt, though, the biggest attraction of Korean Combat Pilot is going to be a simple one: flying jets. The different sounds of the jets are good, and the feel of a jet is quite different from props. Having the ability to firewall the throttle and leap forward (or upward) instead of slowly gaining speed (or failing to accelerate in a vertical climb) is intoxicating. So is turning inside an opponent’s slower prop-driven plane. There’s no modelling of red-out, so you can pull as tight a turn as the flight model allows with no effect. The sound that accompanies everything in Korean Combat Pilot is very good, and adds to the feel. For those with force-feedback joysticks, the feel of the guns and bomb drops adds even more to the simulation.
There’s a lot to be said for Korean Combat Pilot. It may not be quite as accurate and complete as simulation as MiG Alley, but it is more fun and easier to learn. Building on CFS/CFS2 is a good move, because it means there’s nothing new to learn (except two new keystrokes for air brakes and arresting hooks). The stability and quality of the underlying CFS and CFS2 games is intact, and Korean Combat Pilot adds an extra layer of detail and polish to the visuals. More important, though, is that Korean Combat Pilot adds a new dimension to CFS/CFS2: not only the jets but also the Korean peninsula. Recommended for those just looking to have fun as well as those searching for accurate historical simulations.