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A quick look back at the Microsoft Combat Flight Simulator series

Microsoft combat flight simulator

The current version of Microsoft Flight Simulator is getting some mainstream media attention. That's because Microsoft created a free DLC for the game that lets players pilot a virtual version of the Royal Atreides Ornithopter that was shown in the 2021 movie adaptation of the sci-fi novel Dune. The Ornithopter appears again in the just-released Dune Part 2.

The movie tie-in DLC represents a very different type of flight sim experience compared to the rather relaxing missions and planes that you can pilot in the current Microsoft Flight Simulator game. However, back in the 1990s, there were a ton of PC flight sim games released from major publishers that put pilots in the cockpits of virtual military aircraft from WWII to modern day planes. Microsoft decided to join that trend with the launch of the Microsoft Combat Flight Simulator series.

Before the launch of that series, Microsoft did offer a small combat experience in the original 1982 Flight Simulator game, where players could pilot a World War I Sopwith Camel. However the military flight combat game genre came into its own in the 1990s, thanks in part to the availability of more powerful PCs that could handle 3D graphics. Just some of the games that were launched during this time period included Electronic Arts' Jane's Combat Simulations series, LucasFilm Games (later LucasArts) Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe, and many more.

Microsoft's game development studios decided to release a spinoff of its Flight Simulator series in November 1998 with Microsoft Combat Flight Simulator. The game had the subtitle WWII Europe Series, and as you might expect, it concentrated on missions and aircraft during the European theater in World War II.

There were two main campaigns in the game. One depicted the Battle of Britain as the players could fly aircraft from both the British RAF in planes like the Spitfire or the Luftwaffe's Messerschmitt planes. The other campaign was the Battle over Europe, with the US Army Air Force and its P-51 Mustang fighters going up against the Luftwaffe. There was even online multiplayer support with Microsoft's Internet Gaming Zone.

The first game in the series was considered a commercial success with total sales of 450,000. Oddly enough, Microsoft tried to create a version of this game for the Sega Dreamcast. A version of that title was found nearly a decade ago and some folks got it up and running and posted footage on YouTube. Reportedly, after Sega got out of the console hardware business, Microsoft tried to adapt it for a release on its new Xbox console. Ultimately that never happened.

In October 2000, Microsoft released the sequel, Combat Flight Simulator 2: WW II Pacific Theater. Along with the new World War II campaign setting in the Pacific, the sequel got a big graphical boost and offered up seven historically accurate planes from the American and Japanese forces.

Microsoft combat flight simulator

Microsoft released the third and final game in the series, Combat Flight Simulator 3: Battle for Europe, in October 2002. The game returned to the European Theater of World War II. This time, the single-player campaign was more open-ended. The player could choose to play for the USAAF, the British RAF, or the Luftwaffe. Each mission could result in the player influencing what might happen in the next mission, and that could even alter the historical outcome of the war itself.

The game also had a much bigger lineup of planes. There were 18 aircraft in total, and they included bombers where you could decide to leave the cockpit to become a bombardier or a gunner. Players could even take control of some of the first military jets in the third game.

However, by the time Microsoft Combat Flight Simulator 3 came out, there was less of a mass market for combat flight sims in general. It soon became a niche game genre as most of the major publishers decided not to continue with that kind of title. While there are some exceptions in today's market, most notably the free-to-play game War Thunder, the heyday of combat flight sims is long gone.

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