By Tim Stone on April 10th, 2011 at 1:00 pm.
Eagle Dynamics, I doff my hat-switch to you. DCS: A-10C is remarkable. My hard drive has never hangared a more thoroughly modelled facsimile of a modern fixed-wing combat aircraft. I’ve never clambered into a virtual cockpit and seen fewer places in which a pilot might safely prop a beverage container or stick a satsuma sticker. I’ve certainly never encountered a sim that pleased so many of my peers yet left me so ratty and conflicted.
I wasn’t intending to pen this piece until I could do things like perform a cold start and deliver laser-guided bomb without reference to notes. In the last week or two I’ve arrived at the sad realisation that this level of competence may never happen. Why the defeatism?
Unfortunately I’m one of the DCS: A-10C users that makes regular fact-finding trips to the Crash Forum. Despite recent patches and lots of experimentation, my sorties are still almost as likely to end with an error message as a gratifying taxi to a bomb-proof hog sty. That’s assuming they begin in the first place. Whether I’m endeavouring to explore one of the three campaign sortie sequences, messing around in Instant Action mode, or attempting to concoct my own training missions with the mission builder, freezes, CTDs and interminable load times are rarely far away.
In isolation, technical gremlins like this might be just about endurable. In combination with exhausting complexity, they’re an invitation to slink away sulkily. Maybe I’m getting old and lazy, but A-10C really does seem like Awfully Hard Work. Put aside arcade mode (which itself manages to be slightly confusing thanks to poor coverage in the Quick Start Guide) and you’ve got weeks of hard slog ahead of you before the star of the sim feels like a friend rather than a foe. As with Black Shark, ED cater for incorrigible loafers and eager swots but not the vast number of Sunday simmers somewhere in-between.
If you’re about to dash off a comment along the lines of “Grow a backbone Stone. Serious sims require serious study!” please hold fire for a moment. I understand that a creation as unflinching as this one, is going to involve some mental application. My problem is that training environment ED provide, is nowhere near as realistic as their combat environment. There has to be something amiss when, during his first week of play, a bright(ish) sim reviewer finds himself forced to make pages of hand-written procedural notes, and scour forums for step-by-step guides. There has to be room for improvement when time and time again trips to the test range end in confusion, hung munitions, and unscathed targets.
It’s not that ED aren’t making an effort – the highlighted instrumentation during training jaunts, and always-available ‘active pause’ facility are very helpful. The trouble is they’re tinkering when they should be revolutionising. [Appeal mode on] Serious flight sim fabricators, there are thousands of curious Silent Hunters, ARMAphiles and Wings of Prey-ers, out there ripe for assimilation. One of the things you need to do to turn a neck-craning tourist into a dedicated fan is make training fun, comprehensive and fully integrated. There really is no excuse for not offering truly interactive instruction these days, no reason why all cockpit confusion shouldn’t be banishable with a few clicks in a ‘How Do I? … menu.
My unwillingness to endure A-10C’s lengthy initiation process and muddle through its mechanical teething troubles might also have a little to do with over-familiarity. The Hog is a fascinating creature no doubt, but by sending it to the Caucasus and involving it in a characteristically skeletal canned campaign, the devs don’t display it in a particularly fresh or alluring light. If you’ve flown Lock On, Flaming Cliffs, and DCS: Black Shark, the action and the venue may all seem rather familiar. I realise this is the work of a small team but would it really have taken that much effort to shift the stage to somewhere sandier, junglier or archpelagoier? Your faithful fans might be content to fly over Tbilisi for the thousandth time. Me and that chap over there in the MiG Alley t-shirt really fancied East Africa or the Caribbean this year.
Am I done griping? Yes, pretty much. In between my bouts of frustration I’ve seen enough of the superlative flight, damage, and weather modelling, to recognise that a fellow could have a lot of fun coping with their confluences. I’m sure if the predictably friendly/powerful mission builder was a little less temperamental, I could happily wile away an evening or twelve devising quirky combat challenges. DCS: A-10C also deserves a hearty slap on the back for reuniting simmers with a weapon Beelzebub himself described as “indecent”. When you’re chewing up convoys with a nineteen foot long Gatling gun talk of bugs and avionic overload does seem rather petty.
A quick scan of forums like this one and this one reveals many happy Hog fliers. If you’re one of these then feel free to cluster-bomb the following comments section with breathtaking battle anecdotes and glowing testimonials. While the sim has gone out of its way to furrow my brow and squander my time, I recognise that things could have been quite different. Somewhere in a parallel universe, a T. Stone with a different combination of hardware, better peripherals (I suspect ownership of this beauty make the learning process far more tolerable), more stoicism and a greater inclination towards gaming monogamy, is having a whale of a time with DCS: A-10C.
His Wot I Think would include passages like this: “I’m now at a point when I never need to open the pdf manual. I reach for switches instinctively. I don’t so much operate the Hog as wear it” and this: “One of gaming’s most rewarding experiences is the feeling of power and accomplishment that comes from mastering a rigorously modelled war machine. When the machine is as rigorously modelled as ED’s Warthog then that feeling verges on the intoxicating.”
It would likely conclude with a video like this: