I haven’t been this excited by a game in a while. I was a big WW2 flight sim fan on PC from the moments I first loaded up SWOTL in 1992 and subsequently sunk hundreds of hours into it over the next few years. I was similarly impressed by Aces of the Pacific a year or two later. This game is pretty much an updated and improved version of both. I never got into the more modern aircraft flight sims – I’ve always preferred the old fashioned “see the whites of your enemies’ eyes” balls-to-the-wall dogfighting over the “missile lock” style of play.
There’s around 100 planes to unlock and fly, and they span every theatre of war – you start with the funky little US Wildcat and progress through other USN fighters and bombers in the Pacific theatre. You can fly German fighters and bombers over Europe, Russian planes over the Eastern Front, Japanese torpedo bombers at Pearl Harbor and Midway, even (to my absolute delight) an Australian Air Force bomber.
Every plane is lovingly rendered and there’s an extraordinary attention to detail in everything – from the white caps of the waves crashing on the shores of Wake Island, to skimming over treetops and villages in France. Each aircraft’s cockpit is also insanely detailed – in the in cockpit view you can even see your virtual pilot cranking the throttle lever forward as you accelerate down the runway for takeoff. Very satisfying.
The learning curve is also nicely done – you can get a great feel for the game by having it set to Simplified (arcade) difficulty to begin with, and progress to Simulation difficulty (which I discovered I am in no way ready for yet when my first attempt at a carrier takeoff saw me execute a barrel-roll off the end of the aircraft carrier and plunge straight into the ocean...though somewhat bizarrely, the words “Mission objective completed” flashed up on the screen as I watched my aircraft’s wings tear off and the fuselage crash into the choppy sea – this actually happened again during a botched airfield landing because I touched down – thus completing the mission objective of “land at airfield” even though I then accidentally pushed the throttle up instead of the brake down, and overshot the runway, careening down an embankment and again, plunging into the ocean – the training instructor congratulated me on a fine landing as I watched my plane tear in half and slowly sink into the sea – nice!).
There’s also the very cool option to simply fly around after you’ve completed the main mission objectives – your final objective is almost always “land at airfield” but you can take your sweet time – I find this kind of freedom in flight sims very welcome and enormously satisfying. I set the fuel and ammo to “unlimited” and used this freedom to hone my flight skills and practice things like dive bombing.
Length of play: in addition to the Historical Campaign (which takes you through flight school, and story missions flying for both the USN and Japan in the Pacific theatre, you can then play historical battles in the Pacific, over Europe, the Mediterranean, and the Russian fronts. Then there’s a Mission Editor where you can create your own missions. All that stuff alone would be enough, but then you have all the online multiplayer stuff as well. In terms of value for money this game certainly ticks all the boxes.
So little it’s barely worth mentioning, but in the interests of balanced reviewing, a couple of minor things annoyed me: during missions, the game will take control away from you to show short cutscenes. This is especially jarring right after takeoff, but happens again after you complete each mission objective. The cutscenes are beautifully rendered, but it rips you right out of the reality of the game, and there’s always that split second of “where was I?” panic when control is given back to you, because your plane is in a completely different position and altitude etc, and sometimes you are given control back right as you are seconds away from engaging the enemy. I want time to line up a nice flight path to my target, I don’t want to be simply dumped into combat.
Normally I opt for in cockpit view in flight sims – I like the realism. But in this game a lot of the cockpits are incredibly hard to see out of – which forced me most of the time to opt for the third person view or the “virtual HUD view” while dogfighting. This is not as much of a problem given that the graphics are so damned awesome and every plane just looks absolutely beautiful in the third person view.
Only other (really minor) gripe is the radio chatter – it’s quite often completely irrelevant to the mission you’re playing, and is jarringly repetitive. But yeah, minor gripe.
If you’re a flight sim fan, and especially a WW2 flight sim fan – you simply have to play this game. I paid 75 bucks for it, but I would have paid twice that. It’s simply awesome.