Reviewed: September 15, 2004
Released: September 1, 2004
Wings of War is a nostalgic look at aerial combat in its infancy. Taking place in a WWI era, these rickety bi and tri-planes are lucky to fly let alone fight, but Silver Wish Games has wisely chosen to avoid the sim nature of the genre and keep things light with a definite arcade feel.
If you were hoping for something like the amazing Dynamix sim, Red Baron you might be disappointed to learn that Wings of War plays more like LucasArts, Secret Weapons Over Normandy. The controls and physics are firmly rooted in arcade action, and with features like rockets and bombs in unrealistic numbers, power-ups, and jumping between planes in mid-air to man a gun or camera turret, realism takes a definite backseat to fun for this romp through the unfriendly skies.
After creating your profile you can select from a full page of options to tweak the gameplay and the controls of your plane. Then itís off to either Instant Action or a lengthy Campaign mode that spans 13 stages and 70 missions. The missions in Wings of War are massively complex with numerous objectives in each. The training mission alone took me nearly 45 minutes.
To ease the potential for pain, the game saves between each mission but it also checkpoints after each major objective. If you ever die you will restart at your last saved checkpoint with full health and ammo. Not only does this remove all the danger from the game, it actually provides a strategic advantage to crashing if you are low on health or ammo.
Along with the lengthy missions comes a high bogey count. At the end of my first mission I had taken down 82 planes and 118 ground targets. Thatís more than an entire squadron of pilots would take down in two wars. Yes, Wings of War is definitely an arcade action fighter.
There is no real story to tie the missions together. You get a briefing before each mission that outlines your objectives and new objectives might spring up during the mission. There are bonus objectives marked in orange on the radar (yes, radar Ė I told you this is fictional) that will reward you will bonuses and power-ups if you complete them.
The flight model is definitely arcade, somewhere between SWON and Crimson Skies. The planes are light and the engines are that powerful so everything seems a bit slow and sluggish. The only time you get any sensation of speed is during a dive when the engine starts to whine and the scenery starts to whip by.
Itís nearly impossible to stall your plane and even though you can crash into buildings, trees, and the ground, you have to make a fairly direct hit to totally blow up. Most of the time you will rip off your landing gear or tear off a portion of the wing. I was amused when I skimmed a convoy and struck a jeep with my fixed landing gear. With only one wheel my pilot muses about the inevitable crash landing. Of course after dying my gear is magically repaired along with the rest of my plane.
Oddly enough, collision detection is much more severe in the air and any contact with another plane, or flying wreckage from a plane will do massive damage assuming it doesnít kill you. I did enjoy the damage model that had planes breaking apart piece by piece then bursting into fiery explosions with thick black smoke that trailed the wreckage to the ground.
Normally you associate these old planes with close-range combat. You are supposed to work with a wingman, develop strategies to bait and fall in behind an enemy then tear them to shreds. In Wings of War you play pretty much like a traditional shooter. You can play ďchickenĒ with oncoming planes and usually win. Often you are fighting small square target indicators rather than models of planes. By the time you are close enough to see the plane itís a fireball or in the process of breaking apart.
Machine gun ammo is virtually unlimited. Your only restriction is a heat variable that will overheat your guns if used continuously and this option can be toggled off. Frankly, even if you have it on it takes forever to heat up the guns and they cool down in seconds, so itís not much of a problem. Rockets and bombs are plentiful. There are some objectives like convoys where I expect the designers were thinking you would make multiple strafing runs, but with two or three precise bomb drops the objective was complete within seconds.
For a budget game I was really impressed with the visuals in Wings of War. On many levels I would stack the graphics up against SWON. The levels are a nice mix of landscape populated with trees, buildings, and other environmental objects. The cities are fairly complex, the trucks are moderately detailed and there are some really interesting challenges that include low-level barnstorming.
You can go from colorful farmlands to bleak snowy mountains within a few hours. Itís a very eclectic mix of scenery that is enhanced with wonderful skies, clouds, lighting, lens flares, and some really good weather effects including drops on the screen.
My only complaint is actually having to shoot from so far away and never really getting to see my targets. You can use the binoculars but itís rather awkward during combat. I did enjoy the bombing run camera used for bombing and reconnaissance photos.
There is some traditional military-style music that sets up the mood during the menus. It fills in the background during the game and actually drowns out the few spoken lines of instructions during training and the in-flight mission updates.
Sound effects range from the rat-a-tat-tat of the machine guns to the chinkÖchinkÖchink of bullets striking planes. The engines in these planes chug laboriously when you take off or climb then whine to a fever pitch when you are dive-bombing a target.
There are 70 missions waiting for you in the campaign mode and while the first few are nearly an hour in length they do get shorter but they are all at least 30 minutes. Expect about 25-30 hours to finish the campaign mode. The fact that you are reborn with full health and ammo at your last checkpoint eliminates any potential for frustration but also takes away a bit of the challenge.
While the PC version offers online multiplayer, the Xbox version has no support for Xbox Live multiplayer. I can forgive this omission since the game is only $19, but it still would have added tremendously to the overall value if there had been some kind of online dog fighting.
As long as you donít expect a riveting simulation or some epic WWI tale, Wings of War is an entertaining, albeit arcade, flight combat game with lots of action spread across a massive campaign with plenty of unique missions, both ground and air. Itís not going to compete with the AAA titles out there but at $19, it wasnít meant to.