Francisco J. Campos reviews Jagdverband 44 | 1999
To my knowledge, Spanish programming teams never have been real good at flight simulation. Some give a try to "aerial arcades", like Topo's "Stardust" or "Silent Shadow"but that's all.
This is a curious fact, since flight sims always have high sales in Spain and a videogame shop isn't complete here without a specific simulation section.
That's why, at the end of 1999, when I heard first time about Jagdverband 44 - Screaming Eagles I jumped for joy.
The bad thing about being a flight sim collector is that you buy everything just for the sake of having it... and sometimes you get bad surprises in nice boxes!
In order to understand the "know-how" of Jagdverband 44 - Screaming Eagles , we should know a bit about its developer, Hammer Technologies.
In 1988, an enthusiastic group of young and enthusiastic Spanish developers set up the company based in Madrid.
They wrote a game-programming oriented tool called DIV Game Studio (a highly customized Pascal language focused on 2D gaming). They comercialized it and earned some notoriety.
Since DIV didn't allowed 3D games, they released DIV2, able to deal with polygon-generated shapes. In fact, all the games they released (almost all were sports games, like Roland Garros Tennis or Radical Snowboard) were made with an uncut version of DIV2, more complete than the commercial one. They set up with this a nice 3D engine, not the best possible, but they had to demonstrate the possibilities of this software.
And they decided to make a flight-sim, knowing they were the first to do this in Spain. Let's say results were mixed.
Since Lucasfilm's Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe, no flight sim developer had paid much attention to some of the strange planes the Germans designed in WW II. Yes, you can fly a Me-262 Sturmvogel or a Me-163 Komet in certain games but, what about a Horten or a rocket-driven Bachem BA?
People love big bombers, like the Liberator or the B-17, so why do not put all this together on a single game? There was a lot of expectation regarding Jagdverband 44 - Screaming Eagles for these reasons. But expectation turned into deflation once the game appeared on the market.
Messerschmidt Me-163 Komet
Certainly, Hammer has really capable and crafty people using 3D Studio Max modelling, and you can appreciate it looking at the nicely-textured planes and cockpits. They choose a "polygon-generated" approach for cockpits instead of the usual bitmap, and this gives pilot a lot of visual freedom.
Unfortunately, the originality on the game ends there, we can't speak of a truly flight model or a great gameplay here.
I've tested the game in three different computers, operating systems even under a Virtual PC Windows emulator!
The planes never answered to keyboard, mouse or joystick, and I still don't know why.
No flight sim fan will be content just seeing some nice cockpits and fair external views of wonderful planes while an enemy plane is ramming you from behind... It seems all the design efforts went into planes, neglecting the world were we fly (a rather plain and boring Europe) and details like clouds, explossions, tracers, and the like.
Designed with DirectX7 in mind, these graphics should be improved. The programmers used the old trick about 'doubling' the cockpit for several planes: all the rocket-based German fighters and the Allied bombers share the same cockpit and views, even though there are some colour changes between the 'big birds'.
Dials are nice, but the cabin structures are very neglected on certain planes, like the Mustang or the Thunderbolt. IMHO, the Komet cockpit is the most beautiful, even not very accurate. The 'plane director' icon on upper screen can't be removed, and it's an ugly and not useful one: providing you have a true 360deg field of vision (and not a succession of static views), it's a little nonsensical.
Since I had no control in any way over planes, I can't tell you about maneuvers like take off or landing: the plane bounces a lot once in air, showing strange glitches on dials, that's why I conclude it's not a very good flight model. Controls are very basic, and there's no option for rudder pedals and the like.
There are several play options: from a simple 'test-drive' of the different planes to a campaign mode, not very historical, but very complete in stats and goals. There's also a 'head-to-head' option, useful for multiplayer games. The mission editor is also present, with wide parameters to choose from, but the same lack of 'historical feeling' you can sense in the overall game.
It is hard for me to be as negative as I'm being with the (to my knowledge) only flight sim made in Spain, but the love for air combat and good gameplay prevails over patriotic feelings. Let's say J44SE is a good idea badly done, that died of sheer ambition: its 3D engine would work well for sports or racing games, but it's not suitable for an 'serious' flight sim.
With some tweaks and an 'arcade' approach, it could be a fun game. Accuracy and realism are more than just writing the historical specs of a plane under its picture.