Reviewed: April 23, 2009
Released: April 7, 2009
As the resident sports editor I’m probably the last person you’d expect to be reviewing a flight combat game, especially when my boss is a big fan of the genre, but I was asked to review Air Conflicts: Aces of World War II when Mark told me he was unable to read the menus or figure out what was going on. I figured he just needed a new pair of glasses so I took the job. My mistake…
First off, it’s been awhile since I even played with my PSP, so I was eager to have a new game to try out, but it only took about ten minutes to regret my magnanimous decision to help a boss in need. Turns out Mark was right and Air Conflicts is totally unreadable on each and every screen. Using a mix of dark gray text on light gray background you already have a contrast issue, and then you combine that with a font that is so microscopic even Superman would need to borrow Clark Kent’s glasses to read it, and then somebody is going to see Superman wearing those glasses and the whole disguise thing is blown and he has to leave the planet and…well, I digress.
Bottom line is Superman should stay away from this game and so should you. We start off with some insufferable load times between each and every significant part of the game – load times approaching the one minute mark, and all the while your poor UMD drive is grinding away like a belt sander and your battery is visible losing power. I have the extended-life battery in my PSP and just one hour of gameplay drained it nearly in half. Even worse is that some of the missions, like the patrol missions that have you fly to four or five waypoints only last 30-50 seconds, so you spend more time loading than playing.
When I received the game I was told “it flies pretty well; I just don’t know what I’m supposed to do”. Well, the not knowing what to do is definitely an issue since you can’t read anything in the menus or missions briefings. The actual gameplay is functional but hardly revolutionary. The analog pad maneuvers the plane around well enough, even if it is a bit jerky, while the right and left triggers control the throttle. The face buttons handle machine gun, bombs, and rockets and the D-pad offers several camera choices like bomb view, rearview, and side views.
Unlike many of the more recent air combat games you have no target lock for any of your weapons. Sure, I know they didn’t have this technology during the real war but this is a game and without any type of locking it can be nearly impossible to target or hit anything. Sometimes this is because the planes are as hard to see as the text in the menus, but most of the time you are simply attacking a flat target from the rear with no surface area to hit. After unloading a few hundred rounds the enemy might start to smoke but you’ll never see any explosion. The plane will simply fade from existence, hopefully before you smash into the wreckage. The only time you’ll see a plane explode is when you die.
Even before jumping into the main game I took my shot at the tutorial…and failed. First you fly to a few waypoints then you have to bomb a barn and then some jeeps. You only have three bombs and no reloading system that I am aware of, so after spending all three bombs on the barn I had nothing left for the convoy. So I start making strafing runs and managed to blow up two or three of them before I smacked the ground, but rather than getting to play the tutorial over (not that I wanted to) I was dumped into the next mission. And even more surprising, when I started failing those missions I would continue on. In fact, in over an hour of gameplay, the only missions I won were those 40-second patrol missions. Anything with combat or defending the fleet were over almost a fast, only ending in failure.
As for the campaign, I can only go by what the manual and their website discuss as I had no better luck reading any of the screens than the original reviewer. You can apparently join forces with the RAF, Luftwaffe, U.S. Air Force, and even the Russia. There are 13 non-linear campaigns that encompass 240 missions and include 17 actual planes from the war.
Air Conflicts also supports ad hoc multiplayer for up to 8 fighter pilots, but that means you have to find 8 people who own this game and get them within wireless range. Not likely. Air Conflicts also supports GameSharing so others can get a taste of the game without spending the $30. Personally, I’d have a hard time recommending this game if it were to drop to $10.
Visually, the only compliment I can offer is that the instruments look pretty good, even if they are occupying a major portion of the lower part of the screen I could really be using for identifying ground targets. The planes are okay looking with unique designs for each model, but there isn’t much detail and no cockpit or front view. You are forced to play from the awkward chase camera. Environments are barren with a smattering of trees and buildings when necessary, but not enough detail to convey a sense of speeds. Even the fastest planes appear to be flying as fast as a hang glider. In some of the more complex moments, like when several enemy planes are dive-bombing the fleet you are supposed to be defending, the framerate chugs down to unplayable levels.
Sadly, the sound is the best part of Air Conflicts, but who really cares about sound when the game looks below average and is virtually unplayable. To their credit, the music is spot-on for the genre and tries to create some drama and there is a descent amount of sound effects that are just as good including engine noise, weapons fire, and even that whine when you are diving toward the ground.
Extrapolating on my limited but sufficient time with this game, anyone who has the stamina and the superior vision capabilities to play this game should probably get 8+ hours of gameplay from the 240 missions. Keep in mind some are very short (less than a minute) and it appears that even if you fail you keep on going. I found no way to replay a failed mission or even go back through the previous assignments, but then again, the only thing I could read were the instrument clusters.
As it stands, I cannot recommend Air Conflicts: Aces of World War II to anyone. If this were a pre-release build there might be hope; they could change some colors and enlarge the font and tweak the combat system, but this is final retail and a $30 game going up against much better titles that are debuting at $20. The only good thing to come from this review is that now my boss owes me a huge favor and I will be collecting…oh yes…I will be collecting…