Air Conflicts: Secret Wars Hands-on Preview

Dogfighting has long been one of the most romanticized forms of combat. Thank Snoopy if you want, but there’s something about the mano-a-mano elegance of it — nothing is more exciting or evocative than two highly skilled warriors dueling to death. The designers of Air Conflicts: Secret Wars understand this principle, as you can tell from the screenshot above. The possibilities for epic backdrops and pictureseque sunsets are built right into the game engine.

Designed as a more casual alternative to hardcore flight sims like IL-2 Sturmovik, the game also acts as a fun, arcade-y antidote to big-budget duds like HAWX 2 and Ace Combat: Assault Horizon. Set during World War II, the story follows a female covert ops pilot who flies a variety of cloak-and-dagger missions all around the European theater. Narrative is delivered via an array of stylish, graphic-novel-style cutscenes, which do a great job setting the mood — in contrast to the terrible voice acting. There are also flashbacks to her father’s career in World War I, which bodes well for fans of Sopwith Camel vs. Fokker Triplane action.

Playing the game is easy to get used to. You can pick your camera angle (hardcore fans can select a cockpit view) and dive right into the action. Arcade-friendly touches like a leading crosshair (the game helps you aim where your target is about to be) and an Adrenaline meter (stay alive and do damage, and you can trigger bullet time) make blasting enemies out the sky a cinch. There are also stealth missions, which require you to fly low and slow to avoid detection — these also help you out by showing the detection radius of enemy planes on your minimap. The better you do in missions, the more you can upgrade your pilot, boosting her ability to dish out critical hits, which kill enemy pilots immediately.

There are 16 unlockable planes to choose from, and the models all look great — WWI planes even sport holes in the wing canvas when they get shot up. The same can be said for the level draw distance — a key feature of any flight sim — and the optional 3D, which avoids many of its usual drawbacks, and is mostly unobtrusive. Except when a plane is flying right at the screen! Also in the bells and whistles department is the Playstation Move support — players will manipulate the controller like a flight stick.

Despite the polish of the singleplayer campaign (and forgiving nature — you get three “mission skips” to use if you get frustrated) its clear that Air Conflicts’ designers were mostly interested in the multiplayer dogfighting. There are 26 different territories to choose from, and the promise of 8v8 battles to look forward to in a variety of classic modes — think King of the Hill and Team Deathmatch. Dogfight fans more interested in a good time than in the fuel tank capacity of obscure German fighter prototypes would be wise to snag this game when it comes out September 27th.

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