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New to the free-to-play movement, DCS World is a high-realism simulation integrating formerly separate products such as DCS: Black Shark and the Flaming Cliffs series to a common digital battlefield. DCS (Digital Combat Simulator) products are not entirely new, and “Airware” has already covered several of these authentic and detailed simulations. But the free-to-play model is one of the newer developments in this product’s distribution strategy.

Players can get DCS World from the DCS website ( en/world). Steam digital distribution users can also obtain it from the Steam client (

Free-to-play systems like War Thunder or World of Warplanes entice players to purchase a premium-level membership, enabling them to accelerate their advance through the ranks or obtain new vehicles. DCS World takes a different approach, offering a full-featured game engine and the Sukhoi Su-25T Frogfoot with several missions in the base product. Additional content must be purchased from separate expansion modules that plug into the base game. Users can also create missions with the included scenario builder.

DCS World’s Su-25T is meticulously modeled and includes a suite of single scenarios and campaigns to fly. Many of the DCS World aircraft feature beautifully rendered virtual cockpits with actual working switches and six degrees of freedom, even allowing players to move their simulated heads around, for example, to get a closer look at a symbol on the head-up display or get a better view of a target in a gunsight. The flight models are accordingly strong. Note that DCS World requires a capable computer to run well; I would recommend exceeding the minimum requirements.

Nine currently available expansion modules feature a varied selection of craft from multiple eras, including the Bell UH-1H Iroquois helicopter, North American P-51D Mustang and Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II. Most of the current expansions are for helicopters or attack jets, but a project is in the works to create a WWII add-on. The DCS World engine underlies them all, so aircraft can be piloted in single- player or multiplayer missions. Modules cost between $14.99 and $49.99.

DCS fans might initially be nonplussed by the change in strategy. Many might have already flown an Su-25 in Flaming Cliffs, an earlier product from Eagle Dynamics. And they might need to upgrade older editions to gain compatibility with DCS World’s engine. But the new strategy is likely meant to attract new players. Existing players value DCS’s high-fidelity simulations and are already interested in this sim family’s improvements and motivated to invest in it.

Investment is a good word to describe the time spent in DCS World. The game supports lighter difficulty modes, but true appreciation of these simulated aircraft requires a time commitment in addition to the monetary outlay. Modules typically include a training syllabus, featuring virtual tours through the instrument panel and practice scenarios. Learning about each aircraft is like going to flight school.

This is probably the best combat flight sim for diehards. The Arma series also delivers an impressive virtual battlefield and graphics, but its flight sim component is shallower than DCS World’s. Anyone interested in realism should check out DCS World. Even if players stick to flying the Su-25T, they’ll find much to see and do.


Originally published in the July 2014 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here.