Reviewed: August 25, 2000
Released: August 8, 2000
When the Dreamcast made its debut back on 9/9/99 if you wanted to play a "flying game" you had two choices; Konami's Air Force Delta or Crave Games' Aerowings. Each offered something the other didn't. Aerowings offered a detailed physics model and true-life aerodynamics for some realistic simulation while Air Force Delta offered combat and explosions all at Mach 2. Neither game did that well in sales although now that they are in the bargain bins many more people are starting to enjoy these titles.
The biggest complaint about the original Aerowings was that there wasn't any combat. Aerowings was about learning to fly and flying in formation and doing fancy air-stunts, etc. For those craving the adrenalin rush of combat at the speed of sound you were out of luck if you chose this game, and people let Crave hear about it. So it was no great surprise that when the new Aerowings 2 was recently released it came with the subtitle "Airstrike". Finally gamers could have an accurate flight sim and all the glorious combat we could handle...or could we?
The theory of Aerowings 2 is flawless but it just falls apart when you start to explore the limited scope of this title. While the game does deliver much that it promises; realistic controls, accurate flight physics, nice selection of planes, and the much-hyped combat, it fails to deliver FUN. This game takes itself way too seriously and plays more like an educational CDROM than a game.
There isn't much to Aerowings 2. You're presented with three main selections which I will detail here:
Fighter Pilot Training Missions: Consists of 30 missions that take you from the basics of takeoff and landing to formation flying and dogfight tactics. As you advance through the training you will earn additional aircraft that you can fly in other areas of the game. This is the bulk of the game and the entire thing is done under the guise of "training" so all weapons and ammo are "simulated" meaning no explosions, etc.
Tactical Challenges: There are 15 challenges which span several locations and include various modern aircraft. You are now using live ammo so your targets will now explode, although most of the time you are only shooting down balloons. There are no ground targets so your fighting is always kept in the friendly skies.
Free Flight Mode: Strangely enough this was the most fun I had with this game. Basically you pick a plane, place, time of day, and any enemy fighters you want and then fly around and have a good time. This is where you will get to fly all those planes you unlocked in the other modes. It is also a great place to practice your takeoffs and landings and really explore the beautiful scenery. I've wasted at least 3 hours of my life trying to land on an aircraft carrier.
Sadly missing are any type of campaign or mission structure and the before mentioned lack of ground targets. The game is called Airstrike so Crave can justify keeping this a dog fighting simulation but it really takes away from the overall fun-factor of this title. Novice players will certainly enjoy the NORMAL difficulty setting where many of the smaller details are handled for you automatically. True sim-jockeys will want to use the ADVANCED mode so you can adjust trim, flaps, landing gear, etc.
The flight control system is pretty standard stuff and makes good use of the controller. I did find it extremely irritating that you cannot choose missiles vs. guns. The computer decides that based on your distance to the target. I think the real reason is that they only mapped one button to fire weapons and nothing was left for you to select weapons with.
Aerowings 2 is stunning to watch. The opening movie looks just like...well, a movie! The intro pays tribute to Top Gun complete with thumping action music as you watch fighters dance around the clouds engaged in combat that unfortunately you will very rarely engage in.
Once in the game the graphics are still rock solid at 60fps with exquisite detail. The bulk of the landscape is digitized satellite photography, which looks good at 10,000 feet (which is where this game was meant to be played), but if you dip down to skim the surface things start to get a bit blurry. The occasional cluster of 3D skyscrapers popping off the photo realistic surface helps to break up the monotony and makes for a great game of "Skyscraper Slalom".
Replays are exciting to watch and you have several camera angles at your disposal to relive the previous flight. You can save your best flight in the replay theater if you have the memory blocks to spare. It takes 10 blocks per minute of replay with a maximum of 6 minutes (60 blocks) per VMU.
The opening music is great and the music during the game stays in the background where it should. It never gets too annoying and sometimes during free flight mode it can almost enhance the experience of flying through the clouds with some techno-rock playing in the background. With only a half-dozen songs on the CD the music will start to repeat after awhile, but you can always turn it off.
The sound effects range from incredible (like the afterburner) to totally lame (like the machine gun). Seriously, what's up with that machine gun? Come on Crave; I mean I know this is your first flight sim with guns but have you ever even HEARD a real machine gun before? Believe me, it doesn't sound like someone throwing rocks at Coke cans which is what I hear when I press the trigger.
It took me about 4 hours to get through the 30 training missions and another 4 hours to successfully complete the 15 challenges. I've logged another 4-6 hours in the free flight mode and I can safely say I am sick of this game. There is nothing left to do and I have no real desire to bump the difficulty and replay it all again. Making this game harder isn't going to make it any more fun.
One good thing that came out of my doing this review is that I remembered how much I loved Air Force Delta and I am happily fighting my way through those 20 missions where I can bomb buildings, ships, and shoot planes out of the sky in some sort of organized campaign.
Aerowings 2: Airstrike offers 2-player gaming via a split-screen VS Mode. You can pick your starting locations and direction you are facing then it's just a matter of flying around trying to see who can get the first missile lock. As with most split-screen games you lose so much of your viewing angle that it becomes difficult to control the plane, judge distance, or locate your enemy. You'll end up flying around in circles watching your radar and waiting for a tone.
I'm not sure what Crave was trying to accomplish with this title. They alienated many gamers with their first aerobatic simulator, and now with a "dog fighting only" simulation they seem to have done it again. Maybe Aerowings 3 can be subtitled, "Ground Assault" and feature only bombing missions.
I get worried when a game has more training missions than game missions, and even when you do get to the actual "game" there just isn't that much action going on. The gorgeous graphics and realistic flight controls and physics are a great start to a game that lost its direction before it shipped. Perhaps they were rushing to release this before the Playstation 2 arrives. Regardless, this title is a rental at best. If you are hardcore enough to even like this game you should easily be able to exhaust any and all fun from it in a 3-5 day period.