Monday, October 24, 2011

Air Conflicts - Secret Wars Review

Air Conflicts - Secret Wars, developed by 3DIVISION and Games Farm and published by bitComposer Games and Kalypso Media.
The Good: Accessible controls, robust multiplayer modes
The Not So Good: Brief missions with repetitive mission objectives, subpar AI, lacks realistic simulation options, no dynamic campaign
What say you? This thoroughly arcade flight simulation has a disappointing campaign but decent multiplayer: 5/8

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Once a hallmark of PC development, the flight simulation has seen better days. Since Microsoft shut down their development house, few notable titles have been released, and those that have (such as Cliffs of Dover) have failed to live up to expectations. Enter Air Conflicts - Secret Wars from developers 3DIVISION and Games Farm, the former being the author of arcade flight simulation Attack on Pearl Harbor (a game that, not surprisingly, Air Conflicts - Secret Wars has a lot of similarities to). The game is primarily set during World War II, but introduces some planes from The Great War, jet aircraft, and rockets, so that you know for sure it’s not trying to be totally authentic. Will Air Conflicts - Secret Wars soar like the majestic eagle, or stay grounded like the stinky ostrich?

The graphics of Air Conflicts - Secret Wars are mixed. This game will inevitable gain comparisons to IL-2 Sturmovik, a game that’s (can you believe it?) ten years old. Sadly, Air Conflicts - Secret Wars pales in comparison to that historic, ancient title on the graphics front. The plane models are detailed and authentic, as expected in any flight simulation, though damage is less precise: smoke and little bits flying off the body when shot, but nothing too meticulous. Machine gun fire have pleasing tracers that fill the sky, though the explosions are only passable. The biggest area that needs improvement is the terrain: bland desert, forest, and snowy environments have poor textures with cookie-cutter urban environments dotting the landscape. Weather effects are underwhelming, and flying into the sun causes a really annoying red tint to fill the screen. On the sound front, the weapon effects are appropriate and dramatic music fills the air as you aim your sights at the enemy. Air Conflicts - Secret Wars lacks radio chatter and the voice acting is forced. Overall, the presentation of Air Conflicts - Secret Wars is below the $30 asking price.

You are a mercenary pilot, daughter of a famous flying ace, soaring through World War II for fun and/or profit. Flashbacks to your father’s Word War I escapades makes things slightly more varied as you traverse through the game’s seven locations, each containing seven missions each. This might sound like a lengthy campaign, but each mission typically takes less than ten minutes to complete and your objectives are repeated over and over again: fly here, kill these units, find this place, escort him for a while. Some of the missions in the campaign are stealth-based, where you must avoid white circles indicated on your radar display; these are more annoying than challenging. I quickly lost interest in finding out where the campaign went next. The missions are very easy on any difficulty setting, even when you are commonly outnumbered. In addition, you unlock the next mission in a set order: Air Conflicts - Secret Wars lacks a dynamic campaign that would make it feel like you were contributing to a larger conflict. You cannot save your progress mid-mission (although there are occasional checkpoints if you die), but since the missions are never very long, it’s not really that big of an issue. If you encounter an especially annoying mission, you can skip two scenarios during the campaign.

In addition to the repetitive campaign, Air Conflicts - Secret Wars features a skirmish dogfighting mode where you can take on the enemy AI by yourself, attaining a specific number of kills or surviving for a period of time. Far more interesting is multiplayer, which is the most complete feature of Air Conflicts - Secret Wars. There are four games modes (deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture the flag, and a mode where you try to destroy ten enemy tanks while protecting your own) in twenty-four locations, all of which are fairly entertaining. The game host can set a time limit, types of permitted aircraft, and weather conditions. You can only have up to eight pilots at a time, which is probably why I found multiplayer to be almost entirely lag-free, if you can connect to the player-hosted servers. You can also join a game in progress, a welcome feature that means less waiting for online flight combat. However, the pervasive high plane health that plagues the campaign also impacts multiplayer: getting one or two kills in a five-minute session is usually the best score.

Several control methods are available for piloting your winged craft of doom. I prefer using the mouse for more precise aiming, but you can also use the keyboard (yuck), a gamepad, or a joystick. Controls are what you would expect for an arcade flight simulator: a non-complicated method with no dials to fiddle with, just movement and speed options. Your weapons include traditional machine guns and bombs with more exotic rockets (an important part of World War II?). The machine guns do overheat, but do so slowly: unless you continually hold down the “fire” button for thirty seconds, you’ll never have to worry about it. You are also given adrenaline, which slows down time so that you can aim more carefully, and a radio-based location thing that pulses faster when you get closer to an objective. The heads-up display (which you can disable) gives you a lead indicator for enemy planes to make engaging the opposition easier, and lower difficulty levels actually include automatic aiming: get anywhere near the lead indicator with your reticule and your guns snap to the correct position. Air Conflicts - Secret Wars is clearly aimed at a novice crowd, at least until you amp up the difficult and disable the visual help.

Air Conflicts - Secret Wars features sixteen planes from World War I, World War II, and beyond. The fighters, bombers, fighter-bombers, and jets are differentiated according to firepower, speed, agility, and endurance (health, I think). The arcade flight model makes any of the planes very easy to fly: while you can see differences in turning radius and speed, I never found any a challenge to operate, and it’s impossible to stall unless you decrease the throttle significantly or fly straight up in the air. There is a small amount of red-out when pulling G’s, but nothing to significantly obscure your view. While Air Conflicts - Secret Wars does offer a “simulation” mode, I’d be hard-pressed to say what, exactly, it does, other than making you stall more. In either case, your plane takes an incredible amount of damage, even on the toughest setting. This might be a good thing, however, as the enemy anti-air guns are insanely accurate. The AI is poor on any difficulty setting: while they will engage you on occasion, they fly slowly and rarely perform evasive maneuvers as you fill them with led. The allied units aren’t any better and provide little assistance; for example, escorted units simply fly in circles (instead of fleeing towards base, as the objectives clearly state), waiting for you to destroy all of the enemy aircraft yourself.

Air Conflicts - Secret Wars is an average arcade combat flight title, and that's all it is. Those whom crave more accuracy in their flight sims will be very disappointed that no options exist to tailor to their specific desires. I would rather have the game appeal to both crowds by offering accessible controls, or more realistic handling if desired. There is a “simulation” control option, but the only thing I think it does is make you stall more. As it stands, you get planes that can withstand a tremendous amount of damage, simplified flight physics, and unintelligent AI opponents that love to fly slowly so you can destroy them easily. This is independent of the difficulty setting: even on ace, the game never makes things even close to being challenging. Artistic freedom is also employed in the weapons: World War II planes are outfitted with rockets and jet engines, plus adrenaline that slows time down so you can pinpoint your attacks. Despite consisting of almost 50 missions, the campaign features short, repetitive missions that get tiresome very quickly. However, I was pleasantly surprised at the comprehensive multiplayer features: there are multiple game modes on twenty-four maps, and you can join a match in progress at any time. While Air Conflicts - Secret Wars will definitely not appeal to the simulation crowd, the relaxed aeronautics finds a niche in the arcade realm of flight simulations if you love online action.