The current console space has its fair share of World War II flight combat games. Early on, there was the arcade action of both Blazing Angels games followed by Heroes Over Europe and the simulation title, IL-2 Sturmovik. All four games had both good and bad qualities, but ever since, developers have preferred the comfort of modern flight combat. Air Conflicts: Secret Wars revisitsthat heroic era, and although it's a budget title, there is some fun tucked away here.
You play the role of DeeDee Derbac, daughter of a World War I pilot who died a combat hero. Raised by a family friend, Tommy, who also fought in the war, you use your plane to do smuggling jobs. Unfortunately, the Nazi forces are closing in, and while you have no interest in either side of the war effort, you lament that it has been hurting your business. With little choice, you find yourself hopping from country to country, fighting against the Nazis and hoping for the war to end so you can get back to some semblance of normalcy.
For a genre that doesn't rely too much on story (Ace Combat series notwithstanding), the tale in Air Conflicts: Secret Wars is quite bleak. DeeDee starts off as any smuggler would, always chasing the money regardless of the source. However, as she travels through the theater of war as a civilian fighter, you see how much the conflict has affected her. Although she ends up fighting for the good guys, her losses and betrayals make her quite aloof by the end of the game. It is unexpected, and considering how other, similar games usually play out, the plotline here is pretty fascinating.
Every mission starts out with you picking out a plane for the job, though there are a few missions where some planes aren't available. Once the plane has been chosen, you're sent off on missions of varying objectives. Some are as simple as delivering cargo from one spot to another or destroying spy vehicles before the enemy escapes. Others have you trying to find installations of enemy forces without getting caught. Some tasks are a little more creative, such as one mission that has you bombing a Russian base so it'll send planes after you. You have to lead those planes to a hidden Nazi camp so that the Russian forces can fend off German forces. All in all, the game has DeeDee flying through seven different chapters of the campaign and, as a bonus at the end of each chapter, you'll also relive some of Tommy's famous World War I missions with DeeDee's father.
Some players might appreciate the length of most of the game's missions. Comparatively speaking, the missions are short enough that you can complete several in the same time that it takes to complete a single mission in other flight games. With that said, some of the missions could have been better. The early missions feel too simple, with the only objective being to land the plane in one piece. Stealth missions end immediately if you are caught in the enemy plane's radius. Unlike the first stealth mission, you're not allowed to fight back, and that difference makes it frustrating. Finally, while your radar lets you keep track of enemy planes, the only ground forces it marks for you are ones that are mission objectives. You'll often be peppered by antiaircraft fire, but without an indication of where it's coming from, you have to go down and investigate — something that's not usually done in an arcade-style flight combat game.
The flight mechanics and physics are a problem to most players, but those who hope that the title would err on the side of simulation will be the most disappointed. Certain plane behavior is missing. You can make your plane stall if you lower your speed and try to climb, but if you try to dive, you don't seem to go faster during the descent. Hitting foliage damages your plane, but trying to crash into an enemy plane only results in you going right through said aircraft. All that is required of you during a landing is to pass through four rings; there's no need to worry about the finer points of your approach. The only solace for simulation fans is that there is a secondary control scheme that lets you control the rudder along with your horizontal and vertical axes.
The grievances with the planes also extend to the weapons. The standard machine gun turns out to be the best weapon because of an unlimited ammo cache and the game automatically directing fire to enemy planes when you're in range. It smartly aims ahead of the plane instead of directly at it. You won't be as lucky with the other weapons, though. Rockets don't have the benefit of autoaim but always fly in a straight path, making them better weapons against ground forces instead of planes. There is actually an Achievement for hitting a plane with a rocket. They still fare much better than bombs, which, despite having an aiming reticle, never seem to hit their target unless you fly in low and try to predict the bomb path. On certain planes, you have access to the tail gun, but because it never feels like you hit anything with that, either, you're better off pointing it in one direction and letting it automatically fire.
Beyond the campaign, you have Dogfight mode, which break down into three game types. Time Attack has you shooting down as many planes as possible within a time limit while Kill Limit reverses the roles and has you trying to reach the kill quota before time expires. Fly & Die is a basic survival mode, where you try to rack up as many kills as possible on one life. Though you are limited to the planes you've already unlocked in campaign mode, you can play these three modes against any of the game's backdrops. The only issue is that none of this really counts for anything. The scores from these modes aren't posted on a global leaderboard, and there are no Achievements, Trophies or unlocks tied to any accomplishments. It serves as a nice distraction, but you won't find yourself going back here more than a few times.
Multiplayer features the standard assortment of game modes from deathmatch (both solo and team varieties) to capture the flag. There's also Destroy & Protect, where you have to eliminate the enemy ground forces before the opposing team does the same to your army. There are plenty of options here, including the restriction of plane faction and type as well as time of day and weather changes. I cannot comment on the quality of the online performance because there doesn't seem to be anyone playing the game online. Fortunately, the game features system link for up to eight other players, but unless you know seven others who will play the title locally, don't expect to engage in too many multiplayer matches.
For a budget title, the graphics aren't too bad. The environments look decent, even though they vary wildly in the details. Foliage, for example, has the tendency to pop in unexpectedly, but you'll be able to see both ground vehicles and infantry quite well. Particle effects look fine, and while the smoke coming from downed planes isn't exactly mind-blowing, it still looks fine. The lighting is also good, especially when the camera points to the sun during a sunrise or sunset, darkening everything in the process just like a real camera would. The planes, while not sporting the best of details, are instantly recognizable and don't look too bad when damaged. The level of detail is reduced dramatically, though, when you look from the cockpit and start to see things go missing. The biggest offender, however, are the cut scenes. The use of comic panels to convey the scenes isn't bad, but the same panel is simply paned over and re-shot from different spots in the scene. With the number of scenes in the game, one has to wonder why more comic panels weren't created.
For the most part, the sound is better than expected. The music is bombastic enough to fit with the war theme, but it never feels too grandiose. The effects are as good as you would expect, though there are a few inconsistencies. Hitting stone buildings produce a metal ping when hit by machine gun fire, while any effect played right before a cut scene loops until the scene is over. The voice work is also a hit-and-miss affair. The dialogue isn't so bad on its own, but when accompanied by subtitles, it's obvious that some lines were skipped during recording. The accents don't sound authentic, but they are more of a problem when you hear multiple people speak, and they all sound like the same actor playing multiple roles. When you realize that the same actor plays multiple roles in the same scene, you'll wonder why someone thought it was a good idea.
As stated before, if you were expecting Air Conflicts: Secret Wars to play out like a World War II flight simulator, you'd be severely disappointed. Aside from the fact that you can blow up when hitting the ground, the game presents no real flight physics, making the advanced control scheme the only real attempt at making the title appealing to simulation fans. For arcade fans, the flight combat and strafing runs are well done despite the ineffectiveness of the secondary weapons and lack of plane-to-plane collisions. Aside from the voices and cutscenes, the graphics and sound aren't too bad, especially when you factor in the initial cost of the game and see some of the details that don't appear in other titles. While the short missions benefit the title, the lack of multiplayer also limits its longevity unless you plan to make this part of your next LAN party. This is exactly the best choice for fans of arcade style flight combat games, but if you've played them all, it wouldn't hurt to give this one a shot.
More articles about Air Conflicts: Secret Wars