Eagle Dynamics, responsible for the successful Lock On: Air Combat Simulation, change direction to bridge the gap between combat simulation and the high fidelity of flight simulation. The package looks good and the hype on their web site will get any combat simulation air force pilot wannabes heading to BT Games. Flight simulation enthusiasts will also find value in this release.

If you are running Windows Vista with an ATI card, forget it. The thing is just not compatible resulting in repeated crashes-to-desktop each time a mission reaches its conclusion. This is particularly annoying as the logbook is not updated and mission progress not recorded. dcsbs02Despite the Vista problems Digital Combat Simulation: Black Shark runs very well on an XP machine. Although the game is shipped with one aircraft, the Russian-built Ka-50 Black Shark, it is a masterpiece of detailed graphics. The flight model is extremely demanding in simulation mode. An arcade mode is provided so you can blow stuff up if you’re not into the whole learning to fly thing. Be warned though, the chopper is complex even in arcade mode, requiring time to learn the keyboard functions. From my soapbox let me say this, “Why can’t developers of flight simulations just stick to the same set of keyboard functions?”

A set of tutorial videos is included which help to familiarise one with the Black Shark. These include basic stuff right up to combat manoeuvres and weapons system training.

The game’s strength lies in both the instant action mode, and the mission builder and editor tools. Basically, you can create almost any conceivable mission or modify missions downloaded from the website. The mission builder is easy to use, but the map editing utility requires a level of dedication most may not be willing to give. Unfortunately, the extent of the map is very limited. Currently, only The Balkans is available, and that is the only map you can edit. The map tools do not allow you to create new worlds. We have seen in games of other genres that scalability is the key for a long shelf life.

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The developers intend to release additional aircraft over the next few months, I guess in an attempt to prolong interest. The expansions are expected to be offered for free. The game’s scalability should offer a measure of longevity, but you will tire of the relentless killing of AI.

Online play to the rescue: up to 15 players can join a single session in teams or free-for-all to determine the last chopper flying. Online ranking would have been a nice touch. DCS: BS does not have dedicated servers for online gaming, but NAG has been assured they are coming soon.

The gameplay offers great combat action with myriad settings such as boggy map and the ability to control friendly AI. The arcade mode offers easy flying without compromising realistic graphics found in many console offerings. The typical Combat Ops will have you flying dangerously below the tree line as you hunt down the enemy.