If I strung the words "study" and "simulation" together in a sentence, one after the other, you'd probably ask why I'm fond of tautologies.
You haven't played Digital Combat Simulator's A-10C Warthog.
Nor have I, to be fair, because "play" isn't the word for it. It's a flight simulation, but not like any flight simulation you've probably heard of (well, unless you've encountered DCS Black Shark). It's a "study sim" in the sense that just getting it off the ground takes a solid five minutes of prep, and that's after you've memorized its gloriously byzantine startup procedures. The beta manual alone runs to 663 pages. I printed it out last night landscape style, two pages per side duplexed, and it still ate 166 pieces of paper.
I know, I need an iPad.
The A-10C Warthog is basically the old 1970s Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II overhauled and modernized from 2005 under a "precision engagement" program. It's a close air support tool designed to stay up in the air for extended periods of time at slower speeds and, since that makes it a more vulnerable target, to withstand more damage than the average aircraft. If you remember Kim Campbell, the Hog pilot shot up over Baghdad back in April 2003, well, the picture speaks for itself. Campbell flew that thing back to base and landed it.
The A-10C is also notorious for its absence from the flight sim community. A few games based on the original A-10 surfaced during PC gaming's halcyon days in the early 1990s, but--though grandly conceived for their time--would by today's standards seem crude and decidedly un-sim-like. Rumors swirled of an A-10 followup from Origin's legendary Skunkworks team in the late 1990s (remember Andy Hollis and the Longbow games?) but the project was cancelled as Ultima Online's unanticipated success fed multiplayer mania and flight sims were spurned by corporate bean counters. In 2004, Aerosoft released a version of the A-10 for Microsoft Flight Simulator, but as more of a vanity sim than a means to put the A-10 through its paces in a serious war theater.
And so we come to DCS A-10C Warthog, a nearly photorealistic recreation of the A-10C based on data shared through developer Eagle Dynamics' military contract to replicate the A-10 for high-end military simulators. Let's put some numbers around that claim: A six degrees of freedom cockpit, all panels, switches, dials and buttons present and animated in full 3D, some 100,000 polygons employed to craft the plane frame, an integrated damage model that divides the plane into fractional physics-related pieces, a multi-function color display, tactical awareness display, digital store management system, targeting pod, embedded GPS with 2,077 waypoints, and...oh, just go look at it yourself because I'm out of space. And check out the following video. The guy who produced it for DCS added a few transitional special effects, but everything else is 100% in-engine.
I'm just delving into the sim now and don't expect to master it, well, maybe ever. That's kind of the point. You want to fly the most exacting simulation of the world's most dependable close air support vehicle without collateralizing your life's income or joining up, this is how you do it. Don't expect to master it as quickly as you might World of Warcraft or StarCraft II (and I mean by comparison with players who put hundreds of hours into those games). There's an arcade mode if you'd rather just sightsee and pew-pew-pew with the trigger, but that's kind of like driving a high-end ATV around a parking lot. (You can of course scale the difficulty incrementally by fiddling a huge list of realism settings if you'd rather ease into things.)
If you want to test-fly the A-10C for yourself, DCS's
game simulation just hit beta 3 (the final version's due sometime in December, last I heard). I rarely say this about PC games, but at just $60 (you can pre-purchase it here) it's probably a bona fide steal.
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