Wings of War


posted 9/16/2004 by Dave Gamble
other articles by Dave Gamble
Platforms: PC
It's 1914. Sophisticated, peace-loving Europe is embroiled in another continent wide war. But this war is different. There is a new front, one having no tangible boundaries: the air. The new Knights of the Sky ride in frail wooden kites, and battle with each other over the trenches of France. By edict of the Kaiser, all laws of aerodynamics and physics have been repealed for the duration. While normally delicate, slow, and diffcult to manuever, aircraft of the era suddenly benefit from the new, laxer rules as evidenced by abilities that won't be seen again until much later in the century when jets rule the sky.

Ok, that last part is more demonstrably false that a 60 Minutes expose. The point is, anyone looking at Wings of War to be the latest, greatest WWI flight sim, ala Red Baron, will be sorely disappointed. Wings of War is a console game ported to the PC. There's nothing at all wrong with that. It's actually quite fun. You just need to know right up front that there is far more arcade than simulation here. In fact, if you have any real-world flying experience at all, you would be well served to just check that at the door. It will take you awhile to learn that your airplane can make moves that would blanch even the most daring air show performer. Once you realize that, it will become much easier to compete with the AI pilots.

Early evidence of the arcade/console aspect is the points system. You score points for shooting down planes, completing objectives, destroying ground targets, and for accomplishing bonus missions. I remain unclear as to the motivation for gathering points, though. They're just like the points in the Drew Carey show: they don't count for anything. Me, I just ignore them. Doing that doesn't detract from the enjoyment of the game at all.

I would categorize Wings of War as Crimson Skies with more realistic looking airplanes. The planes themselves are beautiful, as is the underlying ground scenery. They are also really cool to shoot down. Depending one where you hit them, you may cause them to start trailing smoke in a very believable manner, knock pieces of wing or landing gear off, or blow them completely to pieces. As you shoot one down, the pilot will jump out and try to parachute to safety. They don't always make it, though. It's not uncommon to hear them scream in fear as their parachute is torn by your wing, or destroyed by what I assure you was accidental shooting. It's somewhat macabre to be flying along and hear a downed pilot go screaming by as he plunges towards the unforgiving ground.

One of the coolest things is how many airplanes there are flailing around in huge dog fights. At any time there could be 10 or more planes swirling around shooting at each other, and if you don't keep an eye out, at you. Fortunately, each plane is clearly marked to show friend vs. foe, and whether destroying a particular plane will count towards finishing your objective. In the early missions it can be pretty difficult to shoot them down since you are limited to a single machine gun and the hit area on the enemy planes is fairly small. In later missions you receive rockets and it becomes much easier to knock them down in droves.

The missions themselves are comprised of a collection of single objectives. This is good, because the mission briefings are very complex. They often have 8, 10, or more specific objectives. You can really ignore all of that, though, because the game will walk you through each objective in the mission. There are a few save points within each mission so you don't have to start completely over in the event of crashing or getting shot down. This is good, because you will soon learn that you are the only pilot in the sky that wants to avoid mid-air collisions. I was "killed" in far more mid-airs that I was by being shot down. If fact, it's pretty hard to get shot down. Being arcadey in nature, there are shields and health bonuses available. I found that when attacking ground targets that you can pretty safely simply ignore airborne threats. Just concentrate on the current objective and shoot down the enemy planes later when that becomes the objective.
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