City-Interactive’s Combat Wings Battle of Britain is something a little different for me: an unapologetic arcade-style flight combat game. My normal tastes run to the more realistic sims like the Ubisoft IL-2 Strurmovik and Pacific Fighters style of game. The problem with those, however, is that they present a pretty steep learning curve and the missions can take up to an hour to complete. Sometimes you just want to jump in and start shooting and not have to worry about the plethora of factors that go into a successful air-to-air engagement. Things like stall speed, G-force limitations, limited ammo, and a realistic damage model can be very deflating to the ego of the wannabe aerial ace.
Combat Wings eschews all of that complexity in the interest of easily approachable, dog-eat-dog dog fighting. Physics, aerodynamics, and airplane limitations do not enter into the equation at all. In fact, even the advanced flight model is as simplistic as possible while still retaining some semblance of reality. The easy mode is even more simplistic and is suitable for children aged 3 to, oh, about 5. Honestly, your hamster could fly this thing in the easy mode, although the absence of small rodent sized game controllers might be a limiting factor.
In exchange for giving up even a modicum of realism, you get an attractive, exciting, graphically intense aerial arena in which you can prove your mettle against the best airplanes and pilots the German Luftwaffe has to offer. You will participate in massive dogfights with airplanes swarming around you like caffeine addicts at a Starbucks Half-Price sale. Most of whom (the German pilots, not the coffee drinkers) are shooting at you.
The menu structure and game play make it patently obvious that Combat Wings is a console game masquerading as a PC game. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course. Just be aware that if nothing else, you will struggle with controllability. I first attempted to play using the mouse and keyboard, but quickly found that to be untenable. There’s a reason that WWII fighters weren’t flown with a mouse, and it’s not that mice hadn’t been invented yet. It’s because they are simply not suited to the job. I next tried an Xbox-style USB controller and found it to be far superior. The problem was that the short throw of the analogue sticks led to massive over controlling, which in turn led to a massive inability to hit a target. Still, if a console style controller is what you have, it will be adequate.
The best controller turned out to be my Saitek Av8tr, but it too introduced a couple of problems. While it became far easier to control my airplane, it also became too easy to shoot down enemies. The first problem was that I found it to be fairly simple to single-handedly wipe out a dozen enemy planes all by myself. Between the conservative damage model that allowed me to ignore enemy airplanes on my six pumping hundreds of rounds into my airframe and the never-ending supply of ammunition, I made short work of entire squadrons. The second problem was that the superior control that I had with the joy stick made the idiot-proof automatic wing leveler built into the flight model to be highly irritating. I found that I would often position myself in a killing position behind a German plane at the top of a loop where I would be flying inverted. Just as I was ready to pull the trigger, the flight model would attempt to return my airplane to upright flight. This naturally ruined my shot and the chase would commence anew, only to have the same thing happen when I arrived at a firing solution.
As mentioned, the sounds of battle were nice, but I eventually had to turn down the voices of the German pilots. Absent the fact that the idea of an enemy pilot trash-talking me while in his own death dive is simply ludicrous, it became a distraction because they would speak German and I couldn’t resist averting my eyes to read the subtitles. The graphics were also nice, albeit a bit cartoonish.
At the end of the day, Combat Wings cannot compete with the more sophisticated games on the market, but it is not intended to. It is designed to be an easy-to-learn, fun-to-play aerial combat diversion, and in that mission it is successful.
The hard core flight sim folks will rightly give Combat Wings - Battle of Britain a wide berth, but anyone looking for an arcade-like treatment of aerial combat will enjoy it.
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