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Combat Wings: Battle of Britain is an arcade flight combat game set during the Battle of Britain, a World War II aerial campaign where Germany attempted to gain air superiority against the United Kingdom. The singleplayer campaign follows a pilot from final training through patrols in the English Channel near Dover, the defence of London, and eventually to offensive attacks against occupied France and even Berlin. The game also includes a free-for-all multiplayer mode.

Gameplay

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Singleplayer missions involve attacking various aerial, naval and ground targets while avoiding AI attacks and collisions. Weapons are not hitscan, and it is necessary to aim ahead of moving targets - the game helpfully includes an aiming reticle when the cursor is near a target in range.

In later singleplayer missions, the player is able to give a small range of commands to wingmen - attack the player's target, protect the player, follow the player, and disengage. AI companions will also attack targets by themselves

Planes are fitted with forward-facing machine guns, and usually carry unguided rockets and bombs or torpedoes. Ammunition is limited except for the machine guns, which have infinite supplies but 'overheat' if fired continuously. Payloads are unalterable, with only a smaller number of rockets provided in multiplayer games. Like the aiming reticle, the game also displays an aiming marker when a bomb is selected. Firing any payload shows a picture-in-picture camera view of its position, allowing the player to follow its progress to impact, complete with a old-film-style filter on the window. With the exception of enemy aircraft and specific ground targets during missions, objects on maps are indestructible. It is possible for the player to hit themselves with their own rockets and bombs if released inappropriately.

The game has three preset difficulty levels, which cannot be customized.

DifficultyEasyNormalHard
Aiming Support (autoaim)MaxMediumLow
Opponent SkillLowMediumMax
Airplane Shield
(damage reduction)
MaxMediumLow

Flight Model

A moderately damaged Hurricane at low altitude in the Central England map.
A moderately damaged Hurricane at low altitude in the Central England map.

The game has an extremely unrealistic flight model. Without input, aircraft will fly in perfectly straight lines at the same speed. Direction, payload and orientation have no effect on performance. The major differentiating factors between aircraft are their turning rates, top speeds, and machine gun damage. Each model of plane has a permanent maximum and minimum speed, and all but one have a slowly-recharging 'boost'. Maximum altitude (and sometimes minimum altitude) is artificially limited with planes automatically leveling out instead of passing it, and similarly aircraft will flip to reverse direction upon approaching the edge of a map area. The damage model is divided into four sections - fore, aft, and each wing - and planes are destroyed if any one of these is sufficiently damaged, with lower levels of destruction represented both cosmetically with smoke and decals as well as an increasing 'wobble' in the plane's flight. Player-controlled aircraft can be damaged by weapon fire or impacts - with the ground, structures or other aircraft; AI-controlled aircraft will attempt to avoid ground or water, but are not apparently damaged by them and will 'bounce' off land instead of crashing. Smaller decorations such as trees and animals, as well as debris from exploded planes, are intangible. Pilots will occasionally parachute out when planes are destroyed, with larger planes 'dropping' more people; these are also intangible and cannot be collided with or shot down.

The player can land and take off freely, and can move the plane on the ground, but this is almost never required.

Control Scheme

The game is primarily designed for mouse and keyboard; other controllers are only partially supported (for example, turret sequences in singleplayer missions can only be controlled with the mouse). There are two control schemes, Arcade and Advanced, with relatively small differences between them:

  • Aircraft weapons always fire directly forward in Advanced, but fire towards the cursor in Arcade
  • Advanced allows/requires the player to control flaps and gears, which raise and lower automatically at appropriate altitudes in Arcade
Chasing a Stuka in first-person view.
Chasing a Stuka in first-person view.

In both modes, planes automatically turn towards the cursor's direction of movement, and the player has no direct control of flight surfaces (while roll can be controlled with the keyboard, planes will level out automatically). A 'freelook' mode allows rotation half-way round (i.e. players can't see behind them), but can't be used simultaneously while controlling the plane itself.

Aircraft can be flown from a 'chase cam', 'bumper cam' (where the aircraft itself is not visible) or from within the cockpit, with each aircraft having a unique interior, HUD elements displayed on the plane's dashboard and the legs of the player character visible, albeit immobile. Two other cameras are available - one which continually orbits the plane, and a flyby camera - but the game is not designed to be played from these views.

Singleplayer Campaign

The campaign follows a single pilot in a largely-fictional version of No. 43 Squadron RAF throughout the Battle of Britain, beginning with their final training flight and ultimately ending with their promotion to Squadron Leader after an attack on an airfield in occupied France. The player belongs to 'Tiger Wing', a group of three aircraft which are the pilot's most common companions, with some missions including up to a dozen friendly aircraft from the squadron. Although never named (the player profile name is used in subtitles), all dialogue is voiced acted including the player character, and people speak throughout missions both in scripted conversations and kill taunts. This includes German pilots, who speak in German but are subtitled in the appropriate language; they would in reality not be able to transmit to the player at all.

Individual missions sometimes but not always provide a limited selection of aircraft for the player to choose. In several cases the AI companions will comment on the choice of aircraft, though this only has a material effect on one occasion.

Individual missions are unlocked in order, but can be replayed freely. There are two bonus missions which have unlisted requirements in the previous mission. Missions have no checkpoints, but it is possible to save at any time, including three quicksave slots. Most missions include an optional return and landing at the base airport, but this can usually be skipped. (If the player lands before this at any location, they will be warned to return to the air, but except for becoming an easier target there is no specific penalty.)

The main menu of the game reflects the player's progress in the campaign, changing to show particular locations or the player's last-used aircraft.

Missions

Training. August 3rd - Final Exam

Hurricane; Dover coast

The pilot is asked to take off, use their various weapons on ground targets, shoot down a moving aerial target (being pulled by a friendly 'tug'), and finally land again. He receives a promotion to Pilot Officer.

This is an optional mission. The player receives the Training Completion Ribbon afterward. (The game includes four awards, which cannot be avoided during the completion of the campaign.)

01. August 12th - The Battle Begins

Hurricane; Dover coast

The pilot is assigned the position of Tiger 3 and takes off with Tiger Wing on a routine patrol. They intercept several planes and then defend the Dover Chain Home Station from a bombing raid. The more experienced pilots complain about being given such new recruits.

02. August 12th - Radar Strike

No Caption Provided

Hurricane; Dover coast

Later in the day another bombing raid attacks Dover Station again. Only Tiger Wing is ready to fly again, and although some damage is inflicted they manage to save the station.

03. August 15th - Convoy Hunters

Hurricane; English Channel

No Caption Provided

The pilot is promoted to Flying Officer, more due to their potential than proven success. Tiger Wing is sent to defend a cargo convoy in the English Channel, first from bombers and escorts and then from S-boots (schnell-boots, fast attack boats), managing to sink the latter despite not being given torpedoes.

The convoy is listed as LM-15, with the individual ships given names: SS Aberlady Day, SS Sprightly, SS Radbury, SS Majestic, SS Bonnie Heather, and SS Milford Haven.

04. August 18th - Heinkels and Hurricanes

Hurricane; Dover coast

Radar picks up a strike group heading towards Swingate storage depot, and Tiger Wing is sent to defend it. They come across a small group of enemy fighters but don't have time to intercept them. After defending the depot from heavy bombers, they return to RAF Dover, but come across yet more fighters - now able to divert and fight them. Tiger Wing is recommended for the Distinguished Flying Cross, although Tiger 1 reminds the others the medal is pointless if they don't survive.

There is no effect on the mission if the player chooses to attack the first fighter group, even if they succeed.

05. August 19th - Out of Action

Turret sequence; RAF Dover

The airfield is attacked by a raid, wrecking the runway and killing many of the soldiers in the barracks, so the pilot is sent to an AA gun. They shoot down several waves of bombers. Eventually the raid ends, and the squadron is transferred to RAF Northolt.

The AA gun is quite unlike the aircraft machine guns. It is stationary, but can be freely rotated. It must be aimed directly at the aircraft rather than ahead of them, and is capable of destroying the enemy aircraft in only a few shots. The aim is to limit damage to the airfield from dropped ordinance; the gun itself is indestructible and cannot damage the airfield.

06. August 21st - Scramble!

Hurricane; Central England

A bombing raid is detected inbound on RAF Northolt, and planes are scrambled to defend it. They then travel to RAF Odiham to help defend from a similar attack.

The map is heavily abbreviated, as the two airfields are separated by more than 50 km in reality.

07. August 23rd - Factory Defence

Hurricane; Central England

Tiger Wing is sent on combat air patrol and receive word of an attack on Hayes Synthetics Factory. They travel there and defend it from two attacks in quick succession.

08. August 26th - Airfield Defense

No Caption Provided

Hurricane/Spitfire; Central England

The pilot and companions defend the base from several groups of enemy bombers.

This is the first mission with a choice of aircraft, and the first appearance of the Supermarine Spitfire.

09. August 30th - Free Hunt

Hurricane/Spitfire; Dover coast

Tiger Wing patrols the coastline. They find several planes returning from bombing raids over England, low on fuel and ammunition, and attack them. Tiger 2 runs out of ammunition early, and the wing returns to RAF Dover, but come across several more fighters which Tiger 1 and the pilot intercept before landing.

The mission has variable dialogue, with the other pilots either teasing the player for staying with the Hurricane or admiring the performance of the Spitfire.

Bonus 1. August 30th - Channel Hunt

Spitfire; English Channel

With Tiger 2 landed at RAF Dover, the pilot and Tiger 1 head over into the Channel looking for more returning planes. They find and attack several now-underpowered bomber groups. If no planes escape, Tiger 1 mentions his optimism of the squadron being assigned a prototype Hawker Tornado.

This mission is unlocked if the player flies mission 9 with the Spitfire.

10. September 3rd - Helping Friends

Hurricane/Spitfire; Central England

A German strike force is detected heading towards RAF Odiham, which is unable to defend itself due to recent damage. Tiger Wing takes down a bomber group on its way there, and then assists with the defense.

11. September 5th - The Whirlwind

Whirlwind; Central England

The squadron receives several new heavy fighters, and Tiger Wing is sent to take a pair for a test flight. They are soon told of incoming hostiles on Hayes Synthetics, and make good use of the new aircraft to defend it. Continuing on their patrol, more hostiles are detected on radar; the pilot searches for them, soon finding them hiding at low altitude, and those too are defeated. The patrol is halted and the pair return to RAF Northolt.

Despite the objectives and dialogue, the enemy planes never actually attack the factory in this mission.

12. September 6th - Bomber Interception

Hurricane/Spitfire; Central England

The Luftwaffe changes strategy and begins bombing civilian targets, sending a large formation of heavy bombers to London. The pilot and others intercept them before they reach it. Tiger 1 reveals he is being sent to Scotland to lead a training squadron, and is promoting the pilot to Flight Lieutenant and head of Tiger Wing, and Tiger 2 to the head of Lion Wing. Both receive a day's leave to celebrate.

13. September 7th - A Day Off

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Turret Sequence; London

The pilot visits London during his leave, but a bombing raid occurs and after the original gunner is injured he assists in the defense, manning an AA gun in Parliament Square (across from the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben).

14. September 7th - Flying Wounded

Hurricane/Spitfire; Central England

Tiger Wing is scrambled to defend the airfield from a raid, but one wing of the pilot's plane is damaged before he can even take off. Despite this they successfully defend the base and then intercept several more en route to London. The player is recommended for another medal, the Distinguished Service Order.

This is the first mission that the player can give commands to their wingmen. The damage to the pilot's plane is scripted but otherwise 'real'.

15. September 13th - Skies Over London

Tornado over London, from mission 16.
Tornado over London, from mission 16.

Hurricane/Spitfire; London

The squadron is sent to intercept the bombing raids directly over London, with a dozen friendly planes assisting the pilot with several waves of bombers. If the player does well, Flight Control offers them a chance to test a prototype Tornado, which the pilot gratefully accepts.

The London map used in these missions is unique. Rather than varied terrain covered in vegetation and structures, it consists of a single flat texture. Further, it is not possible for the player to move around the map; while movement works relative to other aircraft, the player's aircraft always appears to be positioned at the same altitude, and roughly above the arbitrary position of Mossbury Road, Battersea. The texture itself is also of current-day London, and not historical scenery. Continually descending eventually causes the plane to level out much like it does at the more common maximum altitude, and it is thus impossible to land, and rockets, bombs and debris vanish before impacting.

Bonus 2. September 13th - The Tornado

Tornado; English Channel

The pilot takes the Tornado out to the Channel at night time, assisted by Tiger 2 in a Spitfire, 'putting it through its paces' while shooting down returning raids.

16. September 14th - London in Flames

Hurricane/Spitfire/Tornado; London

Tiger Wing intercepts a bombing group over London. Once done, they head north to assist Lion Wing with another.

17. September 15th - The Battle of Britain

Hurricane/Spitfire/Tornado; London

The pilot's squadron fights off several waves of enemy aircraft over London, in what Flight Control describes as 'maybe the most intense battle you ever see'.

This mission corresponds with the actual 'Battle of Britain', albeit at a much smaller scale (both in number of aircraft involved and area covered). It again includes dialogue relevant to the player's choice of aircraft.

18. September 20th - Cruiser Chase

Dropping a torpedo towards the cruiser from a Westland Whirlwind.
Dropping a torpedo towards the cruiser from a Westland Whirlwind.

Whirlwind; English Channel

After a patrol spots a German heavy cruiser, the 'Admiral Hipper', passing through the Channel, Tiger Wing is sent out to sink it, with a Whirlwind fitted with torpedoes instead of bombs (but no in-game training on how to use them). They find nothing at the last known position, and while Tiger 2 argues it would have gone east toward Germany, Tiger 3 suggests it would have sailed south towards the safety of the French coast. Flying south they find only torpedo bombers, quickly dispatched; trying the other option they eventually find the cruiser, escorted by more aircraft. Tiger Wing first shoots down the escorts and then sinks the cruiser.

The cruiser is always located to the east, and if the player flies that direction first they skip the 'south' encounter. Additionally, the real Admiral Hipper was near Norway in September 1940 and remained operational until its decommissioning in February 1943. It is possible, though tedious, to destroy it solely with the Whirlwind's machine gun.

19. September 21st - Naval Action

Whirlwind; English Channel

The Luftwaffe has changed tactics and eased off on the bombing of London, while the RAF begins to move to offensive strikes. Tiger Wing is sent out to help clear the channel, attacking both torpedo bombers and S-boots. They are then sent to assist Halifax bombers, returning to England, under attack by fighters.

Unlike most mission objectives that wait indefinitely for the player or AI pilots to complete them, the player may be sent to protect the Halifax bombers before the S-boots have been destroyed. There is no consequence for failure, however.

20. September 23rd - A Voyage to Berlin, part 1

Turret sequence; 'air'

The pilot accompanies a Halifax bombing raid on Berlin, this time as a rear-gunner rather than escort due to crew shortages. Accompanied by the other members of Tiger Wing, he helps defend from several fighter groups. Tiger Wing departs at the end of the mission due to lack of fuel.

The AA gun is a different design to that of the previous turret sequences, but functions similarly. It is able to rotate below the 'horizon' to shoot aircraft underneath. It takes several dozen shots, but it is also capable of destroying other Halifax bombers flying in the group - the game only recognizes that the plane was destroyed, with no particular consequence for the player. (The sole exception is the plane that the turret is part of, which is intangible to the player's fire.) The mission takes place at dusk with only clouds and darkness visible below, with the bomber blocking most of the view.

21. September 23rd - A Voyage to Berlin, part 2

No Caption Provided

Turret sequence; Berlin

The bombers arrive over Berlin at night. The pilot helps shoot down fighters defending the city while the Halifaxes drop their ordinance. The pilot's bomber is hit, and its pilot is forced to break formation, entering a steep dive before recovering. A few last planes attempt to attack, but the bombers make their escape successfully.

While the Berlin map is a flat featureless texture like the earlier London map, it visibly moves in relation to the bomber.

22. September 29th - Rhubarb Action

Tornado/Whirlwind; French coast

The pilot and Tiger 2 fly across the channel, searching for targets of opportunity. They find and strafe several bunkers, avoiding flak fire. After coming under attack from German fighters, they search for the nearby airfield that launched them. They locate it and depart, but several more fighters take off and chase them, needing to be dispatched for a successful escape.

A 'rhubarb action' is a low-level ground attack mission by small numbers of fighters. The French coast map has a number of other potential targets during the singleplayer missions, including trucks, tanks, troop carriers and AA guns; all of these are stationary and of little or no threat to the player, and their destruction or survival has no consequence. It is also possible to defeat all the fighters at the discovered airfield and then destroy the airfield, but this also goes unrecognised and has no impact on the following mission.

23. September 30th - Operation Payback

Tornado/Whirlwind; French coast

Tiger Wing returns to the airfield, discussing on the way that the destruction of a single base will have little individual impact but shows that 'the battle of Britain is over, and the battle of Germany is beginning'. Reaching the airfield, it is initially undefended, but soon fighters arrive from the south. Once all the enemies and base facilities are destroyed, Tiger Wing returns home.

The airfield has over a dozen components, including bunkers, parked planes, hangars, tents, vehicles and aerials. At the conclusion, the player is promoted to Squadron Leader, though this has no effect in-game.

Multiplayer

A German plane firing rockets over France in an empty multiplayer server.
A German plane firing rockets over France in an empty multiplayer server.

Multiplayer is limited to Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch modes, for 2 to 10 players. Games must be limited by time (5/10/20 minutes) or kills (5/10/20 frags). The game never included a central server or matchmaking service, requiring players to know the IP address of a hosted server to play. Multiplayer games can be played at the various difficulty levels and Arcade/Advanced control modes, but this is set by the player profile who created the server and not configurable separately.

With the exception of London and Berlin, all the campaign maps are available:

  • I - "The cliffs of Dover"
  • II - Central England
  • III - Northern France
  • IV to IX - Open Sea variations (sunshine, sunrise, overcast, storm, evening, night)

Aircraft always spawn in the air, and are only provided with rockets. Accessing in-game menus during a multiplayer game causes the plane to continue flight in a straight line. A greater number of aircraft than in singleplayer are available, including several German models which are not otherwise playable.

Aircraft

The Stuka interior has a unique feature - a photograph of an unknown soldier.
The Stuka interior has a unique feature - a photograph of an unknown soldier.

The game includes a variety of aircraft largely appropriate to the time period. Planes can be customized cosmetically with decals, either from those included in-game or by saving new image files to a particular folder. Some aircraft are only available to the player in multiplayer, if at all.

Several German planes have rear-gunners; it is unclear if they are functional in multiplayer.

NameDateTypeTop SpeedAgilityArmorGunsPayloadPlayable
Hawker Hurricane Mk.I1937Fighter520 km/hGoodAverage8x 7.7mm8x rocket;
2x 250kg bomb
Yes
Supermarine Spitfire Mk.I1938Fighter570 km/hExcellentLight8x 7.7mm8x rocket;
2x 250kg bomb
Yes
Hawker Tornado1939Fighter660 km/hAverageVery Light12x 7.7mm12x rocket;
4x 250kg bomb
Yes
Westland Whirlwind1940Heavy Fighter580 km/hLowHeavy4x 20mm12x rocket;
6x 250kg bomb OR 3x 500kg torpedo
Yes
Handley Page Halifax1939Heavy Bomber420 km/hVery LowVery Heavy4+4+1x 7.7mm6000kg of bombsNo
Messerschmitt Bf-109E1938Fighter560 km/hGoodLight2x 20mm;
2x 7.92mm
8x rocketMP only
Messerschmitt Bf-110C1937Heavy Fighter520 km/hPoorHeavy2x 20mm;
4+1x 7.92mm
12x rocket;
6x 250kg bomb
MP only
Junkers Ju-87B 'Stuka'1936Dive Bomber350 km/hPoorAverage2+1x 7.92mm12x rocket;
6x 250kg bomb OR 2x 500kg torpedo
MP only
Heinkel He-111H1936Bomber430 km/hPoorVery Heavy6+1x 7.92mm;
1x 20mm;
1x 13mm
8 x rocket;
2000kg of bombs
No
Junkers Ju-88A1936Bomber475 km/hPoorVery Heavy1+1+1x 7.92mm8x rocket;
2500kg of bombs OR 4x 500kg torpedo
No
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