Hands on with 303 Squadron: Battle of Britain

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There has been no shortage of tales from The Battle of Britain during WWII. This much is certain. However, as the passage of time continues on, first-hand accounts of those acts of valor, bravery and perseverance dwindle.

Not long ago, the idea of a video game as a ‘historical education’ may have been snickered at. But as time continued to tick on, attitudes have begun to change as well. As technology has improved, so has the ability to not only tell tales, but recreate them in a way that lets people experience them like never before. Historical recreations of missions have long been a staple of flight sims and their communities, but in recent times they seldom take the form of a true campaign to fly through. What we have here is the story of 303 Squadron during The Battle of Britain.

What is 303 Squadron?

No. 303 Polish Fighter Squadron was the highest-scoring squadron of The Battle of Britain, equipped with Hawker Hurricanes. During The Battle of Britain, the Royal Air Force consisted of a mix of pilots from many nations — of the nearly three thousand pilots honored as being part of ‘The Few’, some 574 were non-British personnel. Fifteen other countries had pilots flying for the RAF and FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) during this time. Polish pilots formed the largest number of these non-British personnel and 303 Squadron was one of sixteen different Polish squadrons. This is their story.

To the air!

Now, the demo I played was a bit light on total features available at the time, but it does give a glimpse of what could be plenty to come. Players can explore 303 Squadron’s home station (RAF Northholt) on foot. Unfortunately, there’s no bicycle propped up against the hangar yet — that would have saved some time. That leaves two options to take, besides the walking tour of the station: the hangar and a combat mission. The hangar lets players take a peek at what is potentially a rather deep system for customizing their plane — either to their liking or to fit a particular mission. While there was certainly standard equipment, many modifications were made over time. It is a neat interactive feature, but there isn’t much there at the moment to draw too many conclusions.

That leaves us with the mission. Players can choose from one of two play styles: arcade or realistic. Arcade offers third-person views, mouse aim controls, relaxed flight models and other general features you’d expect from an arcade mode. Realistic puts you in the cockpit itself; the only current trouble is that you have to install and use third-party software to set up a joystick. While there will of course be native joystick support in future, this means either using the other software or flying with a keyboard. Since keyboard flying doesn’t click with me, I simply opted to take a look at the arcade style. Besides, it wouldn’t really be fair to assess the ‘realistic’ qualities of the flight models at such an early stage anyway.

It’s hard not to compare any mouse-controlled flight to War Thunder, but the comparison here is pretty apt. 303 Squadron isn’t a multiplayer affair, but the controls and basics are still the same and more of a mix between this and some of their more single-player–centric earlier titles like Birds of Prey. One especially endearing feature of combat is its slow-mo ‘kill cam’. The very first shot I fired, I was treated to that slow-mo clip of my round penetrating the wing of a Bf-109, hitting the ammunition stored within and the subsequent detonation blowing its wing off. Why put all that effort into such cool effects if players can’t see them up close, right?

I completed the mission several times over and I can certainly see the potential here even with the limited content available. I don’t want to speculate too much given how little is there, but it does seem as those this could really fill the void for some historical single-player content. If this is an itch you’ve been waiting to scratch, you’ll have to wait a bit longer, but it is coming. It’s definitely one to keep on your watchlist and before you know it, it may be your turn to re-live the tales of 303 Squadron.

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