May 4th, 2010
PC Review - Airstrike: Eagles of World War II
Right off the bat I should make it clear what this game isn't. It's not a simulation. It doesn't offer a bunch of meticulously modeled airplane flight models, bullet and bomb physics, or the polish of the classic big budget combat flight simulations of the late 1990s. Fact is, the flight/combat simulation market died out about a decade ago now, and there hasn't been much in the way of new noteworthy flight/combat games ever since.
So I was excited at first to see the release of Airstrike: Eagles of World War II, because it claimed to be an arcade game set in WWII. Quite frankly, while I've enjoyed my share of the ultra-realism simulations like Falcon 4.0, Jane's F-15, WarBirds and the like, I've always enjoyed myself equally as much with the "light" combat simulation/games out there. I just like to blow stuff up sometimes, without the need of a 300+ page manual, and a 100+ key quick reference card.
I can't stress enough how this is not a simulation too. It's a game, utilizing WWII planes and scenarios set in Europe, nothing more. The modeling of the planes are no deeper than... the fighter handles better than a bomber, and a bomber handles slower than a fighter. That's it. Movement is limited. You can bank, but not roll, and while you can pull up and dive, you can't flip over to go inverted either. Even the worst games featuring airplanes of the past featured 3D movement.
Sure if you drop a bomb while you're too close to the ground, you'll kill yourself, and you can run your plane into the smoke stack of a factory and end up dead. Those are what I'd call some common-sense realism elements in the game, but again, it's a game not a simulation.
Aside from the differences between a fighter and bomber, there's no huge advantage, or disadvantage to what plane you select to take from what you have in your hangar to choose from at any given time. Granted the P-51 seams to handle faster than the P-47, and the P-47 seams a little faster in response time over the P-38, and so on. I found myself shooting down the enemy fighters in the B-17 bomber, and while it was harder due to how it handled, it could be done nonetheless. The bomber does carry about 70 bombs, so it's more ideal for the bombing missions requiring a high number of targets. Yet since all of the planes are capable of completing any mission with, that's really the only time in the game you even need to use the bomber. New planes are unlocked as you progress through the campaigns, and there's only five different planes to choose from, the B-17, P-51, P-47, P-38 and P-80.
Arcade-like doesn't mean full on unlimited ammo, and ordnance either, but a few thousand rounds of ammo, and a reasonable number of bombs and rockets ensures you're not running out all too soon for most encounters. Nice touch. Aside from the 3rd person view, there is a bombsight view, which does a good job of helping aim where you drop the bombs. It also looks neat to fly from this view when bombing, so you can try and see some of the damage you're doing.
Visually speaking, Airstrike isn't going to turn any heads. It's not a terrible looking game, but it's not breaking any new ground either. Explosions look adequate, the planes look like planes, but it totally lacks the polish and visual pizzazz of even titles from the late 1990s. There is a plus side to this, the system requirements are quite low, calling for only a Pentium III 1.2Ghz, 512mb of RAM, 128mb DirectX video card and Windows XP/Vista for the minimum specs.
So most laptops should get by nicely with this game, and lower end PCs will probably have no problems with it either with those requirements. I have also been running via Windows Vista 64-bit, which is usually really flaky with some games, and I have had no issues at all running Airstrike.
What I do like visually is the abundance of things on the ground to blow up. The rail yards, train stations, factories, AAA and even little V1s littering the landscape gives would be bomber pilot lots of stuff to blow up, and the ground detail doesn't look bad for being a fun arcade-style game depicting WWII aerial combat.
The combat takes place over ground and sea both, so there are naval ships to decimate as well. Rain, snow, clear skies, and day, night, dusk and dawn is also depicted as you make your way through the missions, offering up some environmental variety. Audibly the interface music has to go, but the in-game sound-FX are ok. I don't know what that music is, but if you want to create a WWII setting with music, big band is totally the way to go, not what ever that is they used.
The combat at times can get hairy. You'll find yourself in quite a few jams from time to time. What I did find interesting is how the game is played out. There's a Campaign mode and Multiplayer, that's it. There are three non-linear campaigns included, equaling about 45 missions total. As you complete a campaign, the next one is presented, setting you further along into the timeline.
If you get stuck and loose a mission, that's ok. The campaign moves on. I blew through the first campaign in about 60 minutes, and aside from a few failures, I didn't encounter the same exact mission twice. While it's not a simulation, that felt simulation-like to me, and I liked that. It kept me interested and sitting down too play it.
Most arcade-like games of the past that included military planes didn't try this hard to keep you interested. The missions themselves are very fast paced, and action packed. Types of missions include bombing raids, surgical strikes, patrols, escort, interdictions and air support. As simple as the gameplay really is, I found that I was really enjoying myself, and had a hard time putting it down. After all, even if I failed, the next mission was right in front of me begging me to continue on.
While joysticks are supported, and it's what I used 90% of the time with the game, using the mouse and keyboard was equally as simple. The controls are quite simplistic, and there's not a lot that you need to remember. Most of what you need to know is memorized during the first few simplistic training missions that they offer. I didn't see a big difference at all between using a mouse and keyboard versus the joystick, so Airstrike is definitely very accessible, and a joystick isn't required at all.
As a bonus, the developers claim to be offering some more free downloadable campaigns in the coming months for the RAF, Luftwaffe and Red Air Force. We were informed that the first campaign should be ready for release in about six weeks, but they haven't decided yet which one it will be.
This won't be one to go down in history as one of the best of the best arcade-style WWII flight games ever, but it's not a bad game overall. There is one thing in it that is however simulation-like, namely the campaign system. The fact of how it's implemented keeps the game flowing, and keeps you interested too. There's no time to lick your wounds, because even if you fail, you're thrown right back into the action. This is the games' biggest strength. This feature is what kept me interested. I wanted to get to the next mission to see what was next.
The missions are also fun, and unique. One mission had me dropping paratroopers at a few different spots, then I had to make my way back across the channel without getting killed. A few of the other missions even depicted the late war experimental Ho 229 (Luftwaffe flying wing), which I thought was a really nice touch. While this isn't even close to a historically accurate simulation, it was nice to see some historical reference at least.
It's sad that there's such a short list of titles to ever have succeed in this category. The fact is, it's hard to make a game with planes in it, that appeals to people who want a game with planes in it, as that would really only appeal to a simulation enthusiast, because those are usually the only people who want games with planes in them, only in a historical setting. Can you see how nuts that sounds? Sounds crazy I know, but it's just how it is.
So it's sort of a paradox, and it has cursed almost every PC game to depict a military airplane in it since the mid 1990s. It's a big mindset too, one that most PC enthusiasts can't break out from. Having made that clear, I even had a hard time not being too judgemental, because they clearly state this isn't a simulation, but it's a game that has everything most any simulation would, minus the simulating of any true realism. lol This is a tough title to review, no doubt about it. Had they called it a simulation, I would of tore them a new one, but since they didn't I must tell it like it is...
As it stands I think Airstrike: Eagles of WWII is a slightly above average arcade-style game depicting WWII combat, and IF you can look at it for what it is, and not what it was never meant to be... I think you'll find that it can be a lot of fun. The amazingly low system requirements, combined with very accessible controls, also make it a game most anyone can run, likely even gamers running a PC that's 5+ years old.
At $29.99 USD it's also a decent value, because on average most new PC games are still in the $39.99/$49.99+ range, some even more. The promise of new free downloadable campaigns is also a plus, and adds to the value.
Airstrike: Eagles of World War II is available at present direct from the Slitherine website via direct download. Slitherine is also responsible for the PC version of the ever so popular historical tabletop wargame Field of Glory.
Publisher: Slitherine Ltd