Although game developers have gone to the World War II watering hole often, titles drawing inspiration from last century's mega-conflict have largely favored first-person shooters over other potential genres, including flying games. Kalypso Media has cleverly taken notice and released Air Conflicts: Secret Wars, a somewhat extensive dogfighting game that hopes to give very patient fans of the genre a much-needed fix.
Kalypso takes the bold route of foregoing historical accuracy in favor of telling a fictional story. You play as DeeDee, a smuggler who gets hired to run secret missions for the Allied Powers. Throughout the game, you get to know various characters that assist you along the way, but don't try and keep up with much else. The actual specifics of the story are hard to understand due to the dialogue being incredibly poorly written. For example, one journal entry literally contains the sentence "Tommy's not at all happy -- he is frowning a lot."
Down to the menus, most every aspect of Air Conflicts screams of having a meager budget. Instead of live action cutscenes, we are "treated" to hand drawn pictures of the characters with voice-overs. This wouldn't be that bad if not for the fact that there is literally just one picture shown during cutscenes (some of which last upwards of two minutes). In a failed attempt to make things more exciting, the camera pans over the picture, sometimes even cutting to black, only to fade back to the same image. The atrocious voice acting doesn't help matters either. It honestly seems like all the male characters are voiced by the same person weakly attempting different accents. The developers must have been aware of this, because most of the chatter is conveniently muffled through a terrible radio effect.
To make matters worse, the visuals are serviceable at best. Environments consist of rudimentary terrain predominately made up of trees that don't fully render until you pass over them. Planes and ground units are blocky and don't look very convincing. Things tend to get even worse in motion, with the frame rate dropping whenever you make a turn.
With so much inherently wrong with Air Conflicts, it might come as a complete shock that the game is actually fun. Instead of full scale battles in the air, most of the 49 missions simply involve completing various objectives such as destroying radar towers, protecting convoys or taking out enemy leaders. There are even stealth missions where you must avoid engaging enemy aircrafts to successfully sneak to your objective point. These could have seriously bogged down the game if not implemented correctly, but instead play smoothly and become a refreshing break from all the pitter-patter of combat.
Objectives are clearly laid out and updated throughout missions, assuring it's always easy to find what to do next. Missions typically last under ten minutes and generally include some amount of dogfighting. There's nothing especially unique about the campaign and a few levels get a little repetitive, but the game flows smooth enough to forget most of its shortcomings.
Even though there's an option for simulation controls, fans of the genre will come away disappointed, as this is clearly meant to be played as an arcade-style flying game. Air Conflicts doesn't come close to the realism of games like IL-2 Sturmovik, but sometimes it's nice to just fly around without stressing over the intricacies of piloting. The planes control very steadily, allowing you to aim shots and dodge enemies with precision. Ground attacks are carried out by either launching missiles or swooping in and dropping bombs.
Besides the campaign, there's also a dogfighting mode that simply lets you take to the skies with your choice of aircraft and no real goal. Options include setting the amount of enemies, time limits and respawn rates. If you want to shoot down planes without worrying about story or objectives, this is the mode for you. Rounding out the game is an entertaining multiplayer mode featuring Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag and Destroy & Protect. Games are easy to set up and can get really intense and competitive. In Capture the Flag, trying to evade multiple pilots that are trying to shoot you down is a blast.
©2011-11-15, IGN Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved