Eagle Dynamics latest release for DCS World is not an aircraft as is typical but is instead a ship for aircraft to interact with. That makes it a relatively unique module release for the series and one that is worth a closer look. Now that it’s been out for several days and I’ve had a chance to check out DCS: Supercarrier, it’s time for a mini-review of this early access module. I’d like to try and answer two big questions: Who is this module is for? Is it worth the price? Let’s have a look!
The most detailed simulation of a supercarrier
Eagle Dynamics has been touting that their DCS: Supercarrier release is the most detailed simulation of a U.S. Navy supercarrier that has ever been done. I don’t doubt it! Supercarrier impresses in the details department and that goes from the waterline right up to the tallest antenna.
DCS: Supercarrier is rendered with high resolution textures, highly detailed 3D modeling, and comes with plenty of animations of the ships operation to make this carrier come alive. The ship’s elevators and lower deck are also modeled with the elevator moving up and down, guard rails extend, and the doors protecting the lower deck area are fully operational as well. It’s quite the sight to behold!
Perhaps the single biggest piece of the DCS: Supercarrier experience that elevates it above the default USS John C. Stennis that’s been in the sim for a few years now (and is free to everyone) are the deck crew.
Eagle Dynamics has painstakingly created dozens of crew that stand on the deck of Supercarrier and perform various duties. From guiding you into the correct launching position to making sure your aircraft is properly connected to the catapult and giving you permission to launch. All of the hand gestures and movements represent the carefully choreographed procedure that is involved with launching from an aircraft carrier.
When Eagle Dynamics announced that they would be including deck crew I was a bit skeptical on how good they would look. After all, bigger companies sometimes invest large sums of money to make sure their soldiers and soccer players run up and down the field convincingly. Far from the halting animation I was expecting, Supercarrier’s deck crew are surprisingly fluid. They are convincing enough to forgive the few foibles you sometimes see (the odd snapping to position happens but often when you’re not looking).
The ATC experience is far and above what we’ve seen from other aspects of DCS World. ATC guides you in from initial contact all the way down to the deck with a series of procedures that need to be followed to complete the full experience. At the end, the LSO gives you a grade on your performance. It’s a nice ending touch although it isn’t nearly as detailed as the grading and diagram that Heatblur offers for their F-14B.
Two aircraft are supported by DCS: Supercarrier. Eagle Dynamics own DCS: F/A-18C Hornet was what the module was ostensibly made for and it shows as Eagle Dynamics has done all of their own testing to make sure that Hornet works – first and foremost. They are even selling Supercarrier at a discount for Hornet owners.
Heablur’s DCS: F-14 is the second aircraft to support Supercarrier and it works relatively well too! There was some question if that would be the case at launch but Supercarrier had been delayed several times and that presumably allowed for Heatblur and Eagle Dynamics to work together to make sure that the two work together.
The plans on future aircraft being supported are still a little vague but it sounds like Eagle Dynamics does want to offer up a plan for future developers to ensure that their aircraft, if compatible with the Nimitz class of carriers, can take off and recover from this module.
It also sounds like Supercarrier technology that has been built into DCS World will be taken advantage of by other third parties. Heatblur intends to offer the Forrestal-class of carrier with the final release of DCS: F-14 and so I hope to see many of the features available here leveraged for their carrier as well.
There’s also the AI release of the A-6 Intruder by Heatblur that will hopefully support Supercarrier and hopefully the F-8J being worked on by Leatherneck studios will also have a home somewhere in this new aircraft carrier eco-system.
I also want to talk about supporting aircraft. Supercarrier operations are more than just F/A-18’s and F-14’s and includes a whole host of aircraft that make the carrier viable. The S-3 Viking’s role in ASW and aerial refueling over the years has made it an important piece of carrier operations. There’s also the E-2 Hawkeye AWACS of which the E-3D variant is available. Finally, the SH-60 Seahawk helicopter that performs several key roles including SAR and providing a watchful eye on the deck of the carrier in-case of an ejection at sea.
Only the E-2D has an updated model that would be worthy of modern DCS World modules. The SH-60 and S-3 Viking date back to Lock On: Modern Air Combat and are immersion breakers in what is otherwise a visually spectacular experience on the carrier deck. I hope that some of the sales of Supercarrier help to fund updates to these models.
DCS: Supercarrier also brings with it the introduction of the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer with its impressive defensive and offensive capabilities including AEGIS which gives the ship impressive sensor and weapon abilities. As a fan of TNT’s The Last Ship, it’s great to finally see the Arleigh Burke-class finally make it into DCS World.
I haven’t spent any time with it but the updated Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier and the standalone DCS: Su-33 are also included in the bundle. They provide something of a counter balance to the F/A-18C + Supercarrier setup.
On the deck, you can also jump into the LSO Station and PLAT Cam positions (other positions are planned later) which I don’t think offer that much for singleplayer pilots but which do offer quite a bit of capability for multiplayer – especially for those organized squadrons that want to have their team involved with as many aspects of the launch and recovery as possible. I’m told these positions are stunningly immersive when using VR.
Who is Supercarrier for?
I’ve been asking myself about who DCS: Supercarrier is really for and I’m left with two possible audiences for the module. First, DCS: Supercarrier seems purpose built and tailored for the single player career pilot or virtual squadron that wants to conduct the most realistic carrier operations possible.
We’ve seen mod groups for years try and make carrier operations work and as DCS World has caught up to their expectations more and more it has made for a better experience. Now, with DCS: F/A-18C and DCS: Supercarrier together you can have a highly realistic experience with ATC, deck operations, and recovery operations all being modeled to impressive levels of detail.
Second, DCS: Supercarrier seems to satisfy those that want the eye candy of the experience (with the notable exception of some AI aircraft). Supercarrier is visually stunning with the highest details we’ve seen from a non-aircraft in DCS World. It looks even more impressive in bad weather and at night with impressive lighting and wet texture effects that I hope to eventually see proliferate to other areas of DCS World.
Is it worth it?
I will admit that my first hour with Supercarrier was a bit disappointing for me. Unlike the feeling you get with a new aircraft that you can fly, get a feel for, and start to use, Supercarrier is more like an expensive piece of scenery – albeit one that has a lot of features built into it.
Although I love realism, I am a little more of a seat of the pants kind of virtual pilot than one who relishes in the details and nuance of procedure. I’m located at the intersection between where a little procedure feels good and realistic and a lot of procedure feels oppressive. Supercarrier has plenty of procedure that you must follow and get right – or it won’t work correctly. That sometimes runs up against my sandbox flight sim desires.
That said, if you love every nuance of U.S. Navy supercarrier operations, want the most detailed supercarrier experience, and relish in those details I think you will find that DCS: Supercarrier does not disappoint.
Its detailed graphics, carefully animated deck crew, and ATC experience will likely meet most or all your needs. If that extends to you and your virtual squadron then this experience likely multiplies a few more times over.
If you just want to launch off the deck of the carrier and don’t really want to follow too many rules. You may find less value here with the potential exception of how good everything looks. There’s an eye candy element here that screenshots just can’t do justice to and in an industry where it’s possible to spend $20-$40 for a highly detailed airport in X-Plane or P3D, DCS: Supercarrier seems right in line with the more expensive scenery options out there and it offers quite a bit more interactivity to go along with it too!