The PC flight simulation world has only a few active titles but each has their own fans and dedicated followers. Just like the first person shooter world, with it’s Call of Duty vs Battlefield rivalry, there is a rivalry between the high fidelity simulators such as Eagle Dynamics DCS (Digital Combat Simulations) and 1C Game Studio’s IL-2: Great Battles Series. There is also the very popular and more casual War Thunder.
To better organize this page, I’ve broken the titles down into three different categories: High Fidelity, Casual, and From the History Bin.
Digital Combat Simulations DCS
DCS draws its lineage back to the original Flanker and Flanker 2.0 series of the 1990s. Now featuring a modern engine, advanced flight physics, and detailed systems modeling, DCS is the go-to simulator for modern jet combat.
The series has expanded from its original aircraft lineup featuring aircraft like the F-15 and Su-27 into a modular system with official and third party additions like the Mirage 2000C and the MiG-21bis. DCS World War II has added aircraft like the Bf109K-4 and Spitfire Mark IX and added an all new Normandy map. Future modules like the F/A-18C Hornet and F-14 Tomcat are highly anticipated.
Rise of Flight
Going back to the days of struts, wires, and fabric covered wings. Rise of Flight burst onto the scene in 2009 as it sought to represent World War I air combat with graphics and technology not previously seen.
The series would go on to represent over 40 aircraft and would introduce a new model of game ownership. With Rise of Flight, the initial software package, two capable fighters and the default western front map, are free to play for anyone. If you want to expand beyond the initial offering with more maps and aircraft then you pay for those individually in the Rise of Flight store.
An impressive flight sim for any time period, Rise of Flight is the pinnacle of World War I simulator combat to date.
IL-2: Great Battles Series (Battle of Stalingrad/Battle of Moscow/Battle of Kuban/Battle of Bodenplatte
IL-2: Battle of Stalingrad revitalized the IL-2 series after the end of the original development team.
The series was picked up by 1C Game Studios and built around the team and technology that delivered Rise of Flight. IL-2: Battle of Stalingrad initially shipped with just one winter map and 10 aircraft (8 regular and 2 premium), however, follow up content added summer and autumn maps.
Since initial release IL-2: Battle of Moscow (2015) and IL-2: Battle of Kuban (2018) have added content and expanded the series to include multiple eastern front battles. In late 2017, the developers announced three new titles to be added to the IL-2: Great Battles Series: IL-2: Battle of Bodenplatte, Tank Crew: Battle of Prokhorovka, and Flying Circus Vol 1.
Battle of Bodenplatte focuses on late 1944 and early 1945 Western Front aircraft expanding the series into the Western front with fan favourite aircraft like the P-51 Mustang. Tank Crew focuses on the famous tank battles at Kursk and adds a collection of multi-crew armored vehicles to the series and the promise of combined arms warfare. Flying Circus revitalizes older Rise of Flight content and updates it in the new Digital Warfare Engine that powers the IL-2: Great Battles Series.
In 2017 the series added VR support.
IL-2: Cliffs of Dover
Originally released in 2011, the original title was the last to be worked on by the then famed Maddox Games team responsible for the original IL-2 series success. Cliffs of Dover, later given the IL-2 name, was an initial failure at launch thanks to a premature launch and numerous unresolved gameplay bugs and performance issues.
After years of unofficial mod team support, 1C Game Studios signed an official agreement reopening development of the title by a group of dedicated modders under the banner of Team Fusion. Newly minted Team Fusion Simulations released IL-2: Cliffs of Dover BLITZ on Steam in late 2017 with a revitalized title, fixed performance issues, and a promise of future development under the IL-2: Dover Series banner.
Team Fusion intends to follow up the re-release of the title with a paid DLC featuring the North Africa theatre along with future DX11 and VR support.
Falcon 4.0/BMS 4.33
Remember Falcon 4.0? It arrived on the PC flight simulator scene in 1998 and was hailed as one of the most complex and realistic simulators on the market. A leak of the source code by the original developers (after they were laid off) sparked a community driven effort to continually update and improve the original product.
BMS 4.33 is an impressive list of improvements to the original that brings it to the modern day and include multiple versions of the titular F-16 Fighting Falcon as well as other flyable aircraft. You still need to get started with Falcon 4.0 which is available via GOG.com.
Gaijin Entertainment’s successful War Thunder free to play game is more casual than the DCS and IL-2 series, however, it very successfully blends WWII air and tank combat into a mix of historical recreations and casual fun to play gameplay. With a record breaking number of playable aircraft and tank types, War Thunder has diversity of content that few other titles can boast.
Recently the series has expanded its scope by adding the Italian and French air forces and tank forces in addition to the American, German, Japanese, British and Russian collections already available.
From The History Bin
Some sims we no longer play and some we still play nostalgically despite their age. Their contributions to thousands of hours of flight sim enjoyment will go fondly remembered.
IL-2 Sturmovik/IL-2 Forgotten Battles/IL-2 1946
First released in 2001, IL-2 Sturmovik is the granddady of the modern WWII air combat simulator. Initially intended to be a product focused purely on the famous IL-2 Sturmovik attack aircraft, IL-2 Sturmovik grew into a series featuring over 150 historically accurate aircraft.
The series enjoyed an exceedingly long period of popularity which grew slowly in the early IL-2 Sturmovik days and grew much more dramatically during the releases of IL-2: Forgotten Battles, IL-2 Ace Expansion Pack, Pacific Fighters, and ultimately IL-2: 1946 which was a master package of everything released in the east and west and included flyable what-if aircraft as well as a collection of historical types that hadn’t been added.
Thanks to mod teams and a semi-official fan team called Team Daidalos, IL-2 1946 still lives on to this day.
IL-2 rekindled my interest in World War II aviation after a long time spent away from it. It is a superb simulator although it is now showing its age.
F-15 Strike Eagle III
Released in 1992, Strike Eagle III was the follow up sequel to the earlier Strike Eagle and Strike Eagle II products released in 1985 and 1989 respectively.
Strike Eagle III was, for the time, relatively high fidelity with a focus on accurate weapons packages and a portrayal of the F-15E Strike Eagle’s front and back seat operations.
Putting you in relatively high intensity conflicts over Iraq and North Korea, the series challenged pilots to fly to target, drop munitions and then get away unscathed. SAMS, AAA fire and enemy jets (usually a mix of MiG-29, MiG-23 and even a few MiG-25s) forced you to use everything that the F-15E offered.
Terrain was a big upgrade for the series with realistic landmarks and locations modeled. This was a big deal for a combat simulator in 1992!
Aces of the Pacific
In 1992, Dynamix released Aces of the Pacific. At the time, Aces of the Pacific had impressive graphics and sound (it was capable of using a MIDI soundboard) and boasted the most detailed and realistic aircraft you could get on an 386 processor.
Aces of the Pacific came with a detailed manual with colour profiles of numerous WWII warbirds and the game itself let you fly nearly every fighter from WWII. Some of the carrier borne bombers were available too, however, you couldn’t fly some of the larger more complex bombers.
The game’s campaign spanned the entire war from Pearl Harbor to Okinawa and Japan. It had historical missions that made you feel like you were a part of the Midway battle, the Marianas Turkey Shoot or escorting B-29s over Japan.
Aces Over Europe
On the heels of the success of Aces of the Pacific, Aces Over Europe brought with it slightly improved graphics and a large selection of WWII fighters from the European theater. Setting its sights slightly smaller, Aces Over Europe starts in 1943 and features aircraft from the U.S. Army Air Force, the Royal Air Force and the Luftwaffe.
The game spans from the 1943 daylight bomber raids over Germany through to the end of the war and came with diverse mission types including attack raids on V-1 launch sites, fighter sweeps, bomber intercepts, and more.
A-10 Tank Killer
A-10 Tank Killer was, for 1988 standards, an impressive game both visually and technically. It simulated the A-10 Warthog, the USAF’s premier tank killer, in several missions fought against an aggressor force using Russian armor, helicopters and aircraft.
A-10 let you customize your weapon loadouts its short but tight missions were often tense with key enemy forces needing to be eliminated in a short amount of time.
I have a soft spot for A-10 Tank Killer as it was my first combat flight simulator.