Today’s jet fighter pilots have it easy. That’s the conclusion I came to after learning the ropes in the latest add-on for the Digital Combat Simulator World platform, the Mig-21 Bis. Forget glass cockpits, automated targeting systems and forgiving flight control; this bad boy seems designed to send you plummeting into Terra Firma at every opportunity.
Considering this aircraft is made by a team of novice developers, the attention to detail is staggering. Nearly every switch, dial and lever in the cockpit of the Mig-21 Bis works, and there are lots of them. It’s one of the benefits of building an older aircraft, as all of the technology is no longer classified, allowing the devs to perfectly recreate it. Thank god for the detailed tutorial missions which show wannabe pilots the basics of operating the aircraft. The community has also created several brilliant YouTube tutorials that flesh out the in-game tutes, while the 200 page manual is excellent background reading material.
You’ll need to use all of these resources to figure out this jet engine with stubby delta wings, as simply starting the aircraft will take hours of practice. Once you have managed to get the jet fuel burning at the back end of the plane, it’s time to take to the skies. This graceful bird is able to fling itself around majestically with a flick of the joystick, turning and twisting like a rocket-fuelled ballerina… who am I kidding? This thing handles like a friggin’ brick. Even getting its overweight, underpowered fuselage into the air takes the concentration of a monk, and don’t even think about getting into a sustained knife fight. This thing bleeds airspeed in high-G turns like a freshly shot duck.
The Mig-21 Bis debuted in the early 70s, and it’s an interesting history lesson in just how rubbish older radars were. Whether or not you’ll lock an incoming target seems to be a 30/70 mix of technique and mysticism, and in over a dozen hours of flying I’ve still only managed to lock up a handful of bogeys. While this might sound frustrating, it makes those rare moments when everything comes together incredibly satisfying, one of the key reasons simmers play these games.
The DCS World engine might be showing its age in terms of environments, but it’s still wonderful at showing off high-detailed aircraft models. The Mig-21 Bis is easily up there with the best of them, with extremely high-resolution texture work that barely blurs even when the camera is zoomed right in. Unfortunately the game is limited to the same terrain we’ve been flying over for nearly a decade, and it’s getting rather tiring. (How’s that new graphics engine coming along, guys?)
As one of the most beautifully modelled add-ons for the DCS World platform, Mig-21 Bis is a no brainer for fans of older jet aircraft. It might seem rather expensive until the dollar per hour cost is calculated, with hundreds of hours of flying necessary to simply master the aircraft, let alone turn it into a flying death dealer.