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  • Writer's pictureAaron "Ribbon-Blue" Mendoza

Scramble: Battle of Britain (Steam Next Fest June 2024 Demo)

A Working Example of an Improbable Concept


Steam Next Fest June 2024 is here! These are always interesting events to sort through the dozens if not hundreds of game demos to get a look at upcoming flight games and simulators that will eventually be available on Steam. We have found a few pretty interesting ones over the years. This time around, my personal highlight for this event is one of the most unlikely combat flight games I have heard of in at least a decade. Let's talk about a few points from the demo.


Does The Concept Work?

Air combat is one of the most complex forms of warfare that humanity has ever experienced. Aviators are hard-pressed to process a high volume of information in the blink of an eye. Rapid decisions that could lead to life or death within seconds. This is exactly why something like Scramble: Battle of Britain by Slitherine Games would initially be looked at with a critical eye. This World War II era title focuses on the 1940 Battle of Britain and presents air combat as a turn-based tactical dogfighting game. How do "dogfights" that could conclude in less than 60 seconds possibly work in a turn-by-turn gameplay style, where players can take as long as they would like to decide their next move? That is just not how air combat works, right?


Scramble: Battle of Britain diving attack on enemy planes.
Supermarine Spitfire diving and breaking through an element of Me-109s.

Well, let's think this out. Formalized training in air combat has a history extending back to as early as June 1916 with the creation of the Dicta Boelcke by World War I German flying ace Oswald Boelcke. Even back then, it had been somewhat distilled down to a list of fundamentals. A basic guide of proven tactics, maneuvers and rules to follow to gain the advantage in combat. Today air combat has been analyzed to the point that it is a science. There are 3D modeled simulations that air forces around the world use to debrief the actions of pilots step by step, second by second. Thinking of it this way, isn't an air battle just a series of calculated maneuvers taking place in a short period of time? Isn't the goal to train pilots to calculate everything in the time span of a single breath?


Examining the concept with this mindset, something like a turn-by-turn air combat game does not sound crazy.



Demo Overview

The demo focuses on the distinctive gameplay that Scramble stakes itself on. Anything related to the proposed Channel Defense Campaign where a player manages a squadron throughout that Battle of Britain is not present. Not a bad thing, but just stating that for the record.


Aircraft seen in the demo are comprised of the Supermarine Spitfire, Messerschmitt 109 and Junkers 87. Players will only be flying the Spitfire.


The three gameplay modes available in the demo are:


Missions: There are 14 pre-made missions that put players in specific situations, challenging them to gain victory. These missions are split between Training Missions that introduce the player to basic but important concepts, Dogfights focused on fighter vs fighter combat varying from 1 to 6 aircraft, Stuka Intercepts that involve shooting down attacker aircraft and Extra Hard Dogfights that are higher difficult versions of the original dogfights missions.

Instant Action: Automatically selects the number of aircraft on the blue side and the red side and the orientation these aircraft start at. It could be a neutral 2 vs 2, a high-low advantage or just about anything else. Players will not know until the mission starts.


Random Match: Similar to Instant Action, but players are able to select the exact numbers of aircraft on each side.



Grounded In Reality

Scramble: Battle of Britain benefits heavily from adhering to realsim. To the level that it can be considered a true simulation level experience.


Aircraft wise, they are simulated all the way down to the subcomponent level. The flight models of these aircraft do not arbitrarily have flight model changes because a certain damage level was reached. Damage caused to specific parts of the aircraft from being stuck by bullets or cannon shells or performing high G maneuvers while the aircraft is overspeeding causes realistic changes to an aircraft. I have both scored a lucky, quick victory by having a single round incapacitate an opposing pilot and had a well-placed cannon shell snap the wing off of my Spitfire within the first seconds (or turns) of combat.


Scramble: Battle of Britain.
A battle lost in a single pass!

This level of simulated damage extends from major structural damage like losing the tail of an aircraft, down to fires started by fuel leaks or engines losing power because of perforated radiators. Because of this, achieving a mission kill by causing a fuel leak and waiting for the enemy to run out of gas or knocking out an aileron to take advantage of that aircraft's inability to effectively maneuver in one direction are valid and valuable tactics. The developers of the game also award this type of approach with mission completion ratings, including a statistic for 'Bombers Diverted; hinting at future scenarios where damaging a bomber and forcing it to return to base is just as valuable as shooting it down in the flow of combat.


I found myself winning and losing air battles more because of energy management, rather than overwhelming numbers of enemies or aircraft being superior in their on-paper statistics. Personally, I had an experience where I won a 2 vs 1 engagement purely through maintaining an ideal turn rate with only brief high G turns to take snapshots when advantageous to me. In the end I won that battle by causing a fuel leak on the remaining aircraft which forced it to eventually leave the combat area while I simply maintained my turn radius. A great example of this was shown in a long video from Slitherine Games developer Jon Coughlin which showed him winning a 1 vs 6 engagement.


Scramble: Battle of Britain status display.
Status Display

The aircraft and pilot status icon that appears in the bottom left and right of the screen not only show aircraft speed and altitude, but also how the G-forces are impacting the pilot's stamina, which areas of the aircraft are damaged and the positive or negative benefits of maneuvers players are considering to input.


With things like pilot stamina and G-load to consider, knowing when to occasionally fly straight and unload the aircraft to give pilots a few moments to rest can be the key to ultimately winning an extended engagement. Something I would only consider when flying in a highly detailed flight simulator.


If nothing else, take this as an example of the level of detail that is available in Scramble: Battle of Britain at this time.


Scramble: Battle of Britain pre-mission screen.
Pre-mission screen showing the scenario.

Thoughts on Gameplay

The gameplay of Scramble: Battle of Britain is very interesting. It really does look like a type of replay viewer you would find in a flight arcade game, or something like Tacview. But rather than exclusively being an after action report, the blue and red colored flight path ribbons are projecting the next movements of the aircraft in the mission. It is best to keep that firmly in mind. Especially when it comes to the opposing aircraft. The flight paths shown are not absolutes, since this is not a replay of events that the enemy aircraft have already done. This is a projection of maneuvers


Scramble: Battle of Britain flight 3 vs 1 merge.
Even at this risky merge, none of the flight paths are guaranteed.

This maintains the unpredictability in combat. Just because the enemy you are attempting to shoot down has a projected flight path that looks like a diving turn does not mean that during the next turn it will not start with that dive, but suddenly begin reversing its direction to force an over shoot. Players will need to use their knowledge of how aircraft maneuver and which potential maneuvers their adversary could perform from their current position.


When it comes to gaining a firing solution, this means pilots can not only rely on firing solution indicators represented by golden ribbons which highlight the proposed flight path players are planning, but also be using a more traditional aiming reticle to manually input lead. Below is a screenshot of an ideal firing solution on an enemy aircraft:


Scramble: Battle of Britain firing solution.
Example of an ideal firing solution.

Months ago when I heard about this game being in development, I had worried that combat may be too predictable because flight paths are openly displayed on screen. It is great to be proven wrong.


Photo Mode, Replays and Re-plays

Scramble: Battle of Britain includes fantastic multiple fantastic camera control settings for players to examine their next moves carefully. This doubles as a good tactical tool and makes the photo mode or Cinematic mode even better for capturing highlights in combat. The ability to save replays is useful in the traditional way of letting players review their performance in past engagements and find ways to improve, but it also lets them jump into specific segments of the replay track to let them try different maneuvers at that moment they did not try when it was happening 'in real time'.




Easy-to Access Manual

Some would consider this a minor addition, but an easy-to-access game manual can be quite important for the user's experience and long-term player retention. Rather than have to refer to a separate .PDF or a manual only available in a buried sub-menu, the entire manual can be accessed at any time from even the pause menu mid-mission.


Scramble: Battle of Britain

The entire game can be explained in 13 sections with between three and nine sentences, accompanied by short videos demonstrating the topic that is selected.


Closing Thoughts

Scramble: Battle of Britain was a bit of a foreign concept to me at first, but after unexpectedly finding myself playing it late into the night a few times this week, it is safe to say that I am sold on the concept. At some level, it feels like it fulfills a missing element of air combat I would have wanted from a real time strategy game, but at its core it is in fact a combat flight simulator presenting itself in a way few have dared to try in the past. I am ready for more!


Scramble: Battle of Britain Supermarine Spitfires
Supermarine Spitfires diving to engage aircraft above friendly transport ships.

 

About the Writer

Co-founder of Skyward Flight Media. After founding Electrosphere.info, the first English Ace Combat database, he has been involved in creating flight game-related websites, communities, and events since 2005. He explores past and present flight games and simulators with his extensive collection of game consoles and computers. Read Staff Profile.

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