I couldn’t have picked a better week to take a few days off of work. The weather has been great, and when the sun gets to be too much for me, I have a new air combat game to play with. While it isn’t scheduled for release until the end of August, I have been given the opportunity to take an early look at Kalypso Media’s Air Conflicts: Secret Wars and I have found it to be quite a bit of fun. My tastes normally turn towards the more sophisticated simulations, but a well crafted casual game can be just as enjoyable.
Secret Wars tells the story of DeeDee Derbec, an orphan girl who was raised by one of her deceased father’s fellow pilots from WWI. She was taught to fly by her guardian and took to it like a fish to water; she feels more comfortable in the air than on the ground. Playing the role of DeeDee, and at times her father, the player becomes enmeshed in the turbulent air wars of WWII in the European and North African theatres. DeeDee’s story is told through fixed-image cut scenes voiced over with her incredibly sexy accent. Through these short scenes, we see how DeeDee becomes more and more embroiled in the violence in the skies, despite her qualms about becoming too involved with any of the battling sects. Having been tricked into committing what she considers to be murder, she shares her angst and guilt through well written and performed narration.
The missions start innocently enough with the delivery of a few cases of bootleg whiskey, but before long the difficulty and magnitude of the missions grows to the point of dropping bombs on factories, shooting down enemy airplanes, and performing stealthy delivery operations of ordnance and high value envoys. After every few missions, enough experience points are awarded to unlock a new airplane. All told, there are sixteen airplanes to be unlocked ranging from WWI biplanes like the Sopwith Camel to late WWII jet fighters like the Messerschmitt ME-262, each having its own set of strengths and weaknesses.
The flight model is tilted heavily towards the arcade side of the equation and as such will offer great accessibility to novices but will leave veterans chuckling at some of the inaccuracies. That said, the simplified flight model meshes well with the style of the game play; a low-altitude dogfight with the odds stacked heavily in favor of the dozen or so enemy planes that DeeDee has to take on single-handedly is no time to be concentrating on energy management or complex aerodynamics. This is purely a bank and yank kind of game. Even so, it would be nice if the animators had gotten a simple thing like which way the ailerons move correct.
The terrain is great to look at with plenty of sky and ground detail, yet still maintains a buttery smooth frame rate. Even my aging PC was able to handle large dogfights with a couple of dozen airplanes in close proximity without any lagging at all. There is no TrackIR support, at least in the build that I was playing, which is somewhat unfortunate. While there are plenty of visual clues to help the pilot to maintain situational awareness with whatever it is he’s trying to kill, the ability to keep an eye directly on the target would be a big help.
The missions are of just the right length to allow a few quick play sessions throughout the day. Some last longer than others, of course, but few take more than fifteen or twenty minutes to play through. There is also a multiplayer component, but there were no servers available to host a dogfight at the time of this writing. When there are more players available to connect with, the multiplayer will offer four-player dogfights, Team Dogfight, Capture-the-Flag, and Destroy & Protect modes.
Like a summer action movie, Air Conflicts: Secret Wars provides a fantastic excuse to while away a hot afternoon in the comfort of your favorite chair.
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