We admit it. Our on the ground team at E3 this year were not flight sim experts. Combat Flight Simulator 3 took up some serious real estate on Microsoft's PC stand and we spent a lot of time having the game demonstrated to us. Some of the finer points of 'flightsimology' went right over our heads but we can relay to you what Microsoft told us and report on some of the more cosmetic aspects of the game.

First of all the game is looking pretty amazing already. The level of detail has been increased considerably from Combat Flight Simulator 2. All the aircraft featured in the game have been lovingly modelled to look as close to the real thing as possible and stylish new effects like volumetric clouds have also been added. The flight sim market is hardly overcrowded but it doesn't seem as if Microsoft have used this as an excuse to slack off and rush a product to market. In the visual stakes CFS 3 manages to compete with the very best of PC gaming in all genres.

One of the big points that the Microsoft staff kept on making was that CFS 3 is all about low-level flying. This means that rather than fluffing around at high altitude you can down and dirty on bombing and strafing runs. This focus on low level flying has lead to a drastic upgrade in the level of detail on the ground. We had a session where we managed to fly in so low you could see a forest of very detailed individual trees and even telephone poles and wires. We crashed shortly after that of course.

The line-up of aircraft in the game was interesting. Microsoft told us that the usual array of well known aircraft will of course feature but on top of this some experimental and not as well known craft will also feature. Apparently some of the experimental aircraft that will feature were prototypes or designs that never actually made it to the factory. This should spark a bit of interest with the 'what if' gang.

The other feature that impressed us was the fact that the in-game pilots are no longer robots controlled by the player. An almost RPGish element has entered the game and you'll need to watch the different attributes of your character. Things like vision, health and tolerance of g-force will all affect your ability to control your aircraft. It will be interesting to see how this idea sits with the flight sim mafia but we think it's a great innovation for a genre which tends to rely on graphical upgrades rather than changes to gameplay.

The multiplayer side of CFS 3 is likely to make flight fans very happy. Online play was a major focus according to Microsoft and they even mentioned to us that they plan to allow players to host dedicated servers! If this is the case it could give the local flight sim community a real boost. A permanent server that allowed players to jump on for a bit of dogfighting whenever it suited would surely be popular. The game also allows for players to customise their aircraft with unique nose art.

If you want to know about the intricate mechanics of steering your Spitfire you might need to check out www.pedanticflightsimfan.com but hopefully this quick look at CFS 3 will be helpful for casual gamers who have always wanted to give a combat flight simulator a blast. The game is due for release this October.