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Wings Over Europe asks “What if?”

The Cold War is one part of history rarely visited by aviation simulations. Perhaps scenarios where American Navy fighters stared down Russian bombers and ended without any shots being fired would make for mundane combat simulation content. Still, such encounters were not void of suspense; at times we were only one poorly disciplined pilot away from war. Bold Games and Third Wire Productions give computer gamers a chance to examine an alternative history with Wings Over Europe: Cold War Gone Hot.

Wings Over Europe

Wings Over Europe: Cold War Gone Hot ($30, requires Microsoft Windows XP or 2000, 650Mhz processor, 256MB RAM, 1.35GB hard drive space, 32MB video card, CD-ROM drive, Internet connection required for multiplayer components, is another in the line of add-on products for Third Wire Productions’ Strike Fighters. Strike Fighters’ troubled debut is ancient history, and the title has improved to the point that it is now a reliable simulation platform. Although it lacks some of the fine touches and production finishes that make Microsoft Flight Simulator X or Lock On: Modern Air Combat stronger consumer products, its core engine still delivers solid graphics and combat play. The simulation comfortably takes a position somewhere between hard-core realism and accessible playability. Wings Over Europe is the next add-on for the game and can be installed as a stand-alone product or as an expansion pack to the previous add-on, Wings Over Vietnam.

The title adds three new hypothetical campaigns starting in 1962, 1968 and 1979, respectively. Each features classic Cold War aircraft in air-to-air and air-to-ground missions. The early campaign puts the Republic F-105 Thunderchief to work, and later campaigns introduce the McDonnell-Douglas F-15A Eagle and Fairchild Republic A-10A Thunderbolt II in their debut variants. Luftwaffe McDonnell F-4 Phantom IIs and RAF Hawker-Siddeley Harriers represent NATO allies from Germany and Britain. Adversaries include a throng of entries from the Mikoyan-Gurevich family, the MiG-17, MiG-19, MiG-21 and MiG-23, and the Sukhoi Su-17. Each campaign looks at what might have happened had altercations erupted during the Cold War in West Germany.

Although now several years old, the Strike Fighters engine with gradual improvements remains visually respectable. Its performance is also pleasing, considering that the game regularly manages several aircraft in addition to the player’s. On an escort mission, for example, three additional computer-controlled wingmen make up the player’s flight, four more aircraft will compose the strike package, another four fighters make up a fighter-bomber complement, and the adversary will have at least a four-plane flight and perhaps more in the air at the same time. Terrain and weather elements are clearly a step behind more recent simulations, but overall the simulation is aging relatively well.

Along with the ability to play online, to play stand-alone single missions and to install user-made content, Wings Over Europe proves a fair value for busy desktop pilots who don’t have time to create these missions themselves with the game’s mission builder. This doesn’t mean the title is without foibles. It totally skips naval aviation, lacks printed documentation and doesn’t have a lot of personality. One of its omissions is peculiar: The MiG-25, one of the Cold War factors leading to the F-15’s development, is nowhere to be found. But it’s still worth a visit. There are few other places in the simulation world where a player can explore the possibilities of air combat between superpowers in the ’70s and ’80s.

Company of Heroes

Company of Heroes ($50, requires Microsoft Windows XP or Vista, 2Ghz processor, 512MB RAM, 6.5GB hard drive space, 64MB video card, DVD-ROM drive, Internet connection required for multiplayer components, is a WWII real-time strategy game. Although the action is largely about infantry and armor battles between the Americans and the Germans in France, the title qualifies for a brief mention in “Airware” because aviation plays a valuable accessory role.

Some of the missions feature access to the services of the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt. Players can request reconnaissance as well as strike assistance from the “Jugs.” These are quite effective when used in tandem, with one flight identifying a target and the second flight delivering either a strafing run or bombs. The graphic effects are excellent, and the Thunderbolt strikes add impressive style to the battles with their bombs, which produce thunderous explosions and smoke. Company of Heroes takes some license with realism, but still delivers a valid message: The combined forces of infantry and aviation can be an effective pairing.


Originally published in the May 2007 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here.