Both WWII games and console-based flight simulations seem to be genres whose best days are behind them. Aside from the new Call of Duty, which is coming out later this year, there aren’t many games on the horizon that match either of the two descriptions. Iron Wings, however, falls into both categories, delivering an experience that puts you in the pilot seat in the middle of the Second World War, tasked with a number of different objectives that serve to make sure the Allies emerge victorious.
In Iron Wings, you play as both Jack Carter and Amelia Petti, though the story focuses more on Carter than it does Petti. This is partly because the story is told in a similar way to last year’s Mafia III, where the action is framed with current-day reminiscences, delivered here by an elderly Jack Carter. Carter will give brief expositions before each mission, regarding what stage of the war this level will take place in, and whereabouts in the world he was at the time. Iron Wings takes you from performing public affection winning flybys in New York City and putting out fires in American farmland, right through the European Theatre of war, and considering that most of your time is spent above the clouds, the context that these interludes provide is crucial in having some understanding of why you’re doing what you’re doing.
Another game that Iron Wings heavily reminded me of was Deadly Premonition, and this is a comparison that will prove more important to whether or not players will get much enjoyment out of Iron Wings. The way that Iron Wings is presented can best be described as shoddy, with ugly character models, horribly delivered dialogue, and writing that feels like it came out of a translation app. However, like Deadly Premonition, I found that this added to the charm of the experience, and I soon began to enjoy the way that Iron Wings developed, in much the same way as you would with a cheap B-movie or a poorly dubbed martial arts film. Visually, the game itself is nothing to write home about, and looks a little like a mid-range last-gen title, but it’s always clear enough to see what you’re doing and who you’re supposed to be shooting, even if the models are a little basic.
What Iron Wings does well is delivering an experience that is unlike many of the other combat flight-sims that I have played before. You play as both Carter and Petti simultaneously, taking control of one plane, and having the other act as your wingman. You’re able to switch between the two at will, or give instructions to the AI-controlled pilot, such as ordering them to attack a particular target. This ability comes in useful during some of the missions that have a tight time limit, as you’re able to direct your wingman across the map, reducing the number of objectives that you have to hit yourself. Each pilot has different strengths, too, as Carter is better at direct combat, and Petti is able to take aerial photographs or engage in bombing runs.
Combat in Iron Wings is interesting, in that it doesn’t play out in typical dogfighting fashion. When you find a target that you’re tasked with destroying, be it on the ground or in the air, you’ll fire off some exploratory rounds to find your range, before entering into what seems like a light-gun inspired shooting gallery. Here, you assume a first-person view, and targets are circled with a health bar that whittles down as you fire on them. You still have to be aware of your speed and range in these instances, as it’s still possible to crash, but it makes firing at otherwise small targets a lot easier to manage.
The other addition that Iron Wings brings to the table is the inclusion of optional side-missions, which can be carried out through the various levels. In between major objectives, you’re given the choice of flying straight to the next meeting point, or searching out radio signals that can give you extra tasks to perform. By locking in on a signal, and using the right analogue stick to tune to the correct frequency, you can pick-up extra missions, such as taking reconnaissance photos, or helping out a ground unit that has found itself pinned down. Completing these missions rewards you with money, which can be used to buy new planes, upgrade the planes already in your collection, or buy new weapons.
Iron Wings is a strange game, existing as a strange juxtaposition between interesting design decisions, poorly executed aesthetics, and a healthy dollop of weirdness, which can best be summed up by one of the pilots occasionally singing Britney Spears when she takes out a target. You almost have to enter this experience expecting a little eccentricity, as if you’re looking for a straight-edged WWII experience, or even a traditional flight-simulator, you’re likely going to be disappointed. This is a strange game, but not necessarily a bad one, even if it does feel like a budget experience. I had a fair deal of fun with Iron Wings once I figured out what was going on, and if you can look past a few blemishes, I think most gamers will find something to enjoy here, too.