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Deadstick is what happens when flight sims catch the survival game bug

You’re not the plane, you’re the pilot

Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

Deadstick Bush Flight Simulator was unveiled last year at the Royal Air Force Museum at RAF Cosford. That’s an unusual place to show off a video game, and the presentation clearly showed a product in the very earliest stages of development. But the concept — blending the survival genre with flight simulation — pinned the title to my radar.

Today, the team at REMEX Software released the game’s first trailer on Steam. Suddenly, Deadstick looks better than I could have possibly imagined.

In most flight simulators, you’re not playing as the pilot, you’re playing as the plane. Yes, you’re the one actually flying the plane, but your avatar simply doesn’t exist outside the cockpit. The team at REMEX wants to change that, and for inspiration, it looked to the backcountry of places like Siberia and Alaska. That’s where so-called bush pilots make a living by bringing in men and material to remote locations in aging, single-engine airplanes.

“There’s a saying in aviation that there are old pilots and there are bold pilots,” said one of the game’s developers during the 2017 presentation. “But there are no old and bold pilots. So which one are you?”

Deadstick will center around a kind of career mode, with players taking on jobs and building up their business over time. But nothing will be handed to them. Each time they take to the skies, they’ll have to battle against harrowing real-world phenomena like brutal wind shear, a sudden sideways gust that can dash a tiny plane into the ground on final approach, and high-altitude icing that can bring that same plane down like a stone.

To that end, Deadstick will focus on the micro scale. Individual aircraft will be simulated down to their electrical systems, with realistically modeled circuits that can only handle so much load at one time. If you ask your plane to do too much, it will fail, and that’s where the fun begins. The game will also include first-person preflight checks and maintenance.

Flight simulators have been around since the beginning of PC gaming. There are several current titles that are capable of approaching this level of realism, among them the DCS World platform from Eagle Dynamics SA, the same developer and publisher behind the legendary A-10 Warthog modules. Where Deadstick has the chance to differentiate itself is with its gameplay loop. The only question that remains in my mind is what that loop will ultimately feel like.

There are flight simulator fans out there who enjoy the equivalent of the Truck Simulator series, with pastoral settings and rote milk runs. I’m not one of them. My greatest flight sim achievement to date is landing a P-38 under fire with most of the tail section and nearly all of the hydraulics laying in a puddle three kilometers away in War Thunder. Reliving the opening scene from Gary Paulson’s Hatchet sounds like a great way to spend a summer afternoon. But how do you recover from a fatal crash? And is it any fun when you do?

Deadstick is expected to arrive for Windows PC in 2018. No word yet on if there will be support for virtual reality, although judging from its website, REMEX clearly has experience in that area.

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