Warbirds - Flight Sim that's free offline and lots of fun online

Posted on Tue 12 December 2006 in Warbirds

Well, I said some time ago I'd write some more about that flying game "Warbirds" that I enjoy so much. Here we are at last. Warbirds is an online multiplayer game from a company called "iEntertainment Network" and can be downloaded for free (yes, FREE!) from http://www.totalsims.com/. You can play offline for free, but to play online against human players you have to pay a subscription fee (about 7 per month).

The aim of the game is very simple, "shoot the other players down before they shoot you down". However, the game also allows you to drive ground vehicles and capture fields. It's not all spitfires and ME109's, over a hundred different vehicles are available from C47 Paratrooper transports to Panzer tanks. You can capture your opponents fields, take off and land from aircraft carriers, drive tanks, destroy buildings and more. The simple aims can become a big challenge and that's where the fun is. Unlike real life, when you die you can take another airplane and try to get revenge. The game is played in different "arenas" that you can choose to log into. The key arenas are

  • "Main" which has World War 2 Aircraft
  • "Dawn of Aces" which has World War 1 Aircraft
  • "Armoured Assault" which is all ground vehicles with targets much closer together for those who like tanks.
  • "World War 2" which is also World War 2 Aircraft but with slightly more realistic, less arcade like settings (eg you can't see other players on radar when you are flying, so you have to keep looking around).

There are other special arenas, more on those later.

The game is being continually developed, in the last year I recall at least 3 updates that added aircraft into the game or other new features. Every aircraft has it's advantages and disadvantages and becomes a challenge in it's own right. How about some screenshots:

Click on the images to see the full screen image, resolution is 1280x1024 so if your screen is smaller your browser may try to resize it to fit. If that happens, you can normally click the image again to see the full image but you will need to use the scroll bars to see everything.

This flight was a low level bombing raid using the famous RAF fighter, the Hurricane.

All of these images are actual screenshots from my PC, captured during the game. The detail is stunning!

Now flying for the other side, our flight is taking ME109's to defend against an RAF bombing raid.

All the players with "white" names are my members of the "parrots" squadron and they are the players I regularly fly with.

There are a lots of different aircraft you can fly, this picture was taken when we flew a low level B24 heavy bomber raid (low level to stay below radar). En route we flew over this carrier and it's destroyer screen. This carrier is friendly, otherwise it's anti-aircraft guns would have destroyed our bombers being this close. Some aircraft can take off and land from carriers

Speaking of destruction, this is what happens when your engines get hit. Daffy (a member of the "Greenwings" squadron) was shot by a fighter. Fortunately he has 3 spare engines in a B17. If your engine is on fire you can dive to put the fire out. Go too fast and your aircraft starts to break up, piece by piece. I can't recall the full list of parts that can be lost in the aircraft, but Elevators, Ailerons, Flaps, Rudder, Landing Gear, Engines can all be destroyed. Engines can be destroyed completely, set on fire (worse than having it destroyed completely as the fire will damage other parts of the aircraft if left) or start leaking oil. You can also hit fuel tanks leaving a white cloud behind you as your fuel drains away.

Bommel has just been shot down. Fortunately, when you die you can jump in a new aircraft and carry on the fight.

As you play the game, you earn points for a number of different things. So many points for killing another player, so many for helping to kill another player, so many for destroying a building, so many for capturing a field, and so on. If you get enough points, you get a promotion. The ranks follow the American Air Force system, and getting promoted does nothing to affect the game play, but does mean that when you kill someone everyone get's to see your Rank. Of course, the higher your rank,the more the other players enjoy shooting you down. Everyone dies in the game, some more frequently than others.

There is also a strong community spirit in the game. As well as a couple of active forums run by players, within the game you can create and join "squads". I fly with squad called the Parrots. Squads can talk to each other on a special radio channel in text, although most also use a system called Teamspeak which allows you to speak to the other players. That's very handy when you want to tell someone to "check 6" and you are busy trying to survive yourself.

Check 6 is the call you give to tell someone to "check their 6 o'clock position", so they can (hopefully) take avoiding action before they get shot down. One of the German players called Bommel created a "sound pack", replacing the standard "check 6" call sound effect (an American saying "check 6!" with versions suitable for each aircraft. In a Japanese aircraft your hear a Japanese Check 6 Call in Japanese, in a German aircraft you hear a German voice and in a British aircraft you hear, me! Using my best British RAF type accent to say "Sir! Enemy Inbound". The sound pack is optional, so fear not you won't need to listen to my voice in the game.

The Parrots squad is made up of people from many different countries, using Teamspeak to communicate. I'm the only Brit in the squad at the moment and I am continually amazed by the high standard of English that all the other players have. There are a lot of Germans, Dutch, a Spaniard, Argentinian, Americans and recently two Italians. We haven't officially worked out the average age for the squad, but it varies from Late teen's to past retirement, so probably 40. Thinking of a group of middle age men playing Internet computer games makes it sound very sad. It probably is, but I enjoy it. Our real life roles vary from student to retired. Not everyone has flown in real life, and some have thousands of flight hours (retired German Airforce pilot - I gather he was taught to fly by German WW2 Fighter Aces!)

Recently I volunteered to help organise the EMC events. EMC is the player organised European Micro Campaign, where a group of players organise historic based events in a special arena. Other players volunteer to be the Commanding Officers, and we all meet up on a Sunday evening for 2 hours and fly a limited life event to achieve particular goals. The first event I organised was the retreat from Dunkirk and doing the research into the creating the event taught me a lot I never knew about Dunkirk. I also had to learn a lot more about the game settings and how to set up the special events arena and run the Event from start to finish (turning on computer controlled drones, giving lives to players that died, generally helping the event run smoothly). EMC has been as much fun as the game, and for the last month or so I've flown less while I work on a system to analyse the event logs so virtual medals can be issued to players who perform well. There's also a lot of satisfaction knowing that 80 people around the world came online to fly an event I'd designed.

There are other ways players develop with the game. Several players have volunteered as "trainers", giving their time to help new players learn how to fly and improve their technique. Others have got involved in the graphics side of the game, creating new aircraft 'skins', so you can make your standard issue hurricane look just like one from 602 Squadron RAF.

If you download the game and go for a fly, say hello to "Kanga-" - that's my callsign in the game.