Iron Wings Review – PC

I am a huge fan of the air-combat genre, so I was admittedly a bit surprised that I hadn’t even heard of Iron Wings until the day before it launched – such is the curse of being an indie developer on Steam. For a genre that seems to be all played out, Naps Team managed to put a unique twist on the concept, story, and even the arcade-style gameplay, creating something that is ultimately pretty cool.

You’ll be playing as two pilots, which immediately begs the question, “where is the co-op mode?” While that would have been a nice addition, the way our pilot duo is implemented in the story mode is still highly inventive. So you play as Jack and Amelia, each with their own backstory that plays out through stylized cutscenes and in-game interactions that do a great job of establishing the timeline and the general mood of the game.

The first few missions are mostly tutorial in nature where you will learn how to fly, lock targets, scan radio frequencies, and use weapons and gadgets like machine guns, bombs, and an aerial camera. Once Jack and Amelia joins forces you will be able to switch between them to best utilize the special abilities of each of their planes. A good example is in one of the earlier missions where you are trying to take out a pair of aircraft carriers. Only Amelia can drop the bombs required to destroy them, but you must first go in as Jack and precision-target all the anti-air guns on each ship before the bomb icon is revealed.

The single-player co-op nature of the game design is interesting but not wholly implemented. The ability to pick air and ground targets and tell your partner to attack is about the extent of what the AI can do without you behind the stick. There were times when I was on a bombing run getting shot up that I wished I could order Jack to cover my tail.   But you will need to utilize both pilots efficiently, as some missions are on timers and can only be finished within the time limit if you are both working together.

There is some excellent use of historical war sites and situations that will have you trotting the globe engaging in all sorts of missions against impossible odds. The missions are actually quite massive; the first lasting nearly two hours. Of course, that also included me going after all the side missions. Between the multiple primary objectives of each mission you are free to fly around and scan radio towers to find secondary missions that will reward you with bonus money you can use between missions to purchase new planes and customize them with various paint schemes and weapons.

The game hints that picking the right camouflage for each mission will make you “less detectable”, but I have yet to see if that is true; perhaps because you don’t know what the terrain is before the mission, so it’s hard to pick a matching paint job. I ultimately ended up picking what looked coolest. You can also spend your money on various weapons and then upgrade those weapons for more range and damage, which is all crucial to winning the later missions.

Despite the seemingly realistic controls during the pre-flight inspection, Iron Wings is an arcade flight game designed for a gamepad. While you can limp around the skies with the recently patched-in keyboard support, those playing with a controller will find a highly responsive and incredibly fun combat game waiting for you. The left stick controls all your directional surfaces while the bumpers roll the plane. Tapping the Y button selects a target while holding Y locks it, keeping it in view no matter where you fly. This camera lock is highly useful, especially when you are scanning radio frequencies or trying to slip in behind an enemy plane.

Aerial combat is exciting whether you are shooting down planes or destroying ground targets. You have a primary targeting circle that, when properly aligned, will start to fill up then you’ll go into this slow-motion zoomed-in view where you can precision-target the individual circles that make up the overall target. There are numerous sub-targets inside each main target including a special target indicated with an exclamation mark. As you are blasting away at these targets the game will often cut away to these exciting clips of men getting shredded will bullets or artillery and vehicles exploding into scrap metal. The biggest challenge is not to let your guns overheat and to make sure you pull up before you smack into the ground, as it is all too easy to lose your position to the ground in these action moments.

Some targets indicated with bomb icons can only be taken out by switching to Amelia, forcing you into this overhead view where you need to maintain speed, altitude, and direction purely from instruments as you scan the terrain from a top-down view. Once the twin red circles are over the target it’s “bombs away”, complete with follow-through cutscenes of the resulting carnage.

Iron Wings has a few issues; nothing that probably can’t be patched over time. The voice volume in the movies is very soft, and if you turn it up to hear the movies you are blown away when the game starts. The com chatter is often drowned out in engine noise and gunfire, so you may want to tweak the sound levels in the options. I loved the stylized graphics of the cutscenes, but there are some weird modeling issues with a few up-close characters including the guy telling the story, who looks like Claymation but the clay is melting. The lip-syncing is horrible, but I’ll let that slide due to multi-language support.

Once you’re in the game all the graphics are outstanding with full 4K resolution support at a silky smooth 60fps. The camera views are excellent and you can play the game from the cockpit or a chase cam. The right stick allows you to pan around the cockpit or around the exterior of your plane if you want to admire the realistic textures and fantastic lighting effects including reflections and virtual dirt on the camera lens. The opening mission over NYC was simply breathtaking in its level of detail, and you’ll just want to fly around and admire the scenery.

The story mode is a respectable length coming in right around 10-12 hours if you are doing all the side missions as well. There is also an Arcade mode for those who just want to sharpen their combat skills and rise up the leaderboards, so there is plenty to keep you coming back when the war has been won. Iron Wings is very close to AAA quality and is only $20, so there is no reason that anyone who enjoys a good air-combat game should skip this.

Arguably, there have been dozens of games that are similar to Iron Wings, and while this game does borrow on a few of the concepts from those other titles the unique story setting, documentary-style presentation, cool single-player co-op concept, and the thrilling combat mechanics makes this an easy recommendation and some of the best air-combat I’ve experienced in nearly a year.

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