EA SCOUT the last line of defense for buying on Steam's Early Access
by Marko Susimetsä
previewed on PC
The word ’simulator’ is thrown around with wild abandon especially when it comes to any game where you are supposedly flying an aeroplane. Most often, ’arcade shooter’ would be the more fitting descriptor, but I guess it doesn’t sell as well. I’ve personally used an actual flight trainer (fixed-base rather than a simulated movement cockpit) at a pilot training school and therefore the evident freedom with which the word ’simulator’ is used in relation to PC games is one of my pet peeves.
In the case of 303 Squadron: Battle of Britain, the basic premise shows some promise: you are a member of the 303 Fighter Squadron that was set up in 1940 and comprised of pilots from Poland and other nations. You will not only be able to fly your plane in dogfights, but also chat with your squadron mates and tweak some of the settings of your plane, such as the engine and its parts as well as the cannons and their firing spread. However, as soon as you jump into the game, you begin to see the weaknesses.
Simulator needs realism
You begin the game in the airbase, close to your squadron’s headquarters and your first task is to chat with some people, find your plane and tweak it and then to fly it for practice. You move around the airfield either by walking/running or by riding a bicycle. However, the riding physics are not that great: the bike stops immediately without any inertia whatsoever. This made the warning bells ring in my ears: if the developers add a bike, but neglect the physics, will they do the same with the aircraft?
Unfortunately, the answer is yes. At least at this stage of Early Access, the physics are rudimentary at best: when you roll your plane, the plane’s heading hardly turns into the direction of the roll (a plane should change heading when you roll it, as well as lose altitude unless you pull back on your stick to maintain it). The developers also have very curious ideas of what difficulty levels mean. Using the simulator setting and average difficulty, the plane maintained any stick movement I made: if I pulled on the controller stick, the plane kept pulling up even after I released the stick and only stopped when I pushed on the stick to counter the movement. On the hardest difficulty, however, it was enough to let the stick get back to the centre position to stop the roll or turn. When you use the arcade setting, you are pulled to a 3rd person view behind your aircraft and then merely tell where you wish the plane to go and the aircraft will automatically turn into the desired heading. The game becomes very much a shooter at that point.
Of course, the game is in EA and some of these physics issues may be fixed, but as the EA duration is relatively short, I do not have much hope. Especially since the physics are not the only thing a simulator flyer would like to see. Other missing features include take-off and landing: when you start a mission, you are simply teleported to the dogfight or other area where you need to be. And you return to the base the same way. I was also not able to play the game fully with my game controller and had to go back to the keyboard every so often. And let’s not even talk about my attempt to plug in my Thrustmaster T.16000M when I still expected the word ’simulator’ to mean something (not recognized).
Life at the 303 Squadron’s base is perhaps even less realistic than the flying part. There’s a group of pilots attending an eternal physical education class between the headquarters and the aircraft hangars and other personnel standing stiffly here and there around the base. Apparently, some hidden missions are also available if you examine every nook and cranny of the base, but you are not really tempted to do that, as the graphics are rather bad even at the highest settings. The character models of the pilots and officers that you talk with are equally bad and the Polish accents are pretty atrocious. After every mission or two, you are asked to go back to your bed and sleep until the next day and the next mission. In short, the base – as it is – seems tagged on and doesn’t really have any meaning.
Hoping for the best
As with any game still in Early Access, I try to stay positive and think that all the issues I face can still be fixed and improved before release. However, in the case of the 303 Squadron I get the sense that the developers are not really aiming to develop a simulator and are actually more interested in action shooter in a historical setting. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that and it may be that the game will please a lot of people who are not that serious about simulators. But for those of us who like to feel like they are taking off from an uneven tarmac or gravel runway, on a real plane and then chase after clouds and hide in the Sun when approaching the enemy... 303 Squadron may not be what we are after.
The game has potential, but we're not ready to jump in with both feet. If the game interests you, look, but don't touch - yet.