Despite the game industry largely shunning World War II as a setting for first-person shooters, it remains the backdrop of choice for arcade-style flight combat titles. The allure of classic fighters and the lack of dependence on modern technology make this an appealing time for those who want a good aerial combat sortie. While there have been some classics on the console space, all of them have been disc-based games save for the top-down shooting of 1942: Joint Strike. Looking to put a 3-D airplane fighter into the downloadable space, City Interactive recently pushed out Dogfight 1942 to the major download services.
If you're expecting some kind of plot, don't bother. The title plays out like one of the older Call of Duty games, with you simply going through missions flying as the British against the Germans or the Americans versus the Japanese. While the missions are patterned after real-life skirmishes, don't expect much background to each fight or to see missions woven into a deep narrative. A few characters try — and fail — to give you the illusion of kind of camaraderie.
The campaign is fairly straightforward. Whether you're over Europe or the Pacific Ocean, you'll select from a variety of planes and take off after the enemy. While a few missions ask you to bomb certain targets or escort or protect others, you'll mostly engage in aerial dogfights against foes, using machine-gun fire as your primary means of attack while hoping to get lucky with a rocket or two.
Despite the inclusion of a sim mode in the controls, Dogfight 1942 sticks to arcade mechanics and mentality. The sim control mode seems misnamed because the only thing that changes is the ability to control your rudder. Everything else is built around simple flying and shooting mechanics from other arcade flight games. Your machine gun ammo is unlimited, though you still have to worry about overheating the guns. There's no fuel gauge to worry about, and things like stalling or blacking out aren't present. About the only thing you have to worry about is landing, and while it isn't the most difficult thing to do, the inability to fine-tune the mechanics means that you'll likely crash a few times before you get the hang of it.
The pursuit of arcade mechanics is taken a step further. Unlimited ammo isn't just applied to your machine gun bullets but also to your missiles and bombs. Though your accuracy on the leaderboards takes a hit, this means you can fill the sky with your own weapons for as long as you're alive without a penalty. There are also crosshairs you can use to target when you're pursuing a plane; they're placed ahead of the targeted craft, which is a common practice. The levels are short, so at least you can tackle a few in short playing bursts.
The arcade simplicity comes at a price that makes the experience less than pleasant. Namely, the game feels too easy. The unlimited ammo on all types of weaponry makes it easy to accidentally clear out the skies because it'll be difficult for anyone to escape the hail of ordnance. Even if you were to aim normally, the game's tendency to auto-aim on any plane makes it difficult for you to miss. The lack of intelligence for your AI companions means that you can't depend on them to take out other enemies, but since those foes don't make much effort to avoid your fire, having non-responsive teammates doesn't increase the challenge level.
The game also seems to be more expensive than originally thought. The title is currently priced at $15, a price point that is the norm for a many downloadable titles nowadays. What makes it interesting is that it only took a week for the first DLC pack of missions to hit at $10 and another week for the second $10 DLC mission pack to hit. The short amount of time hints to the consumer that the initial download isn't a complete experience since it only takes a few hours to complete the title. It makes you feel that the game had to be split up due to system restrictions (the game clocks in a hair under 2.0 GB on the Xbox 360) or to drum up additional revenue.
One thing you'd expect out of a game like this is multiplayer, and there's a decent amount of it dedicated to two-player, split-screen multiplayer. The campaign mode doesn't let you take on the single-player campaign with a friend, but it lets you go through most of it, so you can share a significant chunk of the game experience with someone. Quick match can be played either solo or with a friend, as you either team up or play against each other in a race to get 25 kills. Then there are survival matches, where you and a buddy have to stay alive for as long as possible before being shot down. The last two modes are nothing more than a little diversion, and while you can eke out some excitement, the same issues from the single-player game — simple AI and mechanics, lack of differences between planes — means you'll want to play through the campaign missions in co-op mode instead of trying anything else. If there is one odd thing in all three co-op modes, it is that you can heal your partner by shooting at him. While helpful, it is a very odd mechanic since it can't be done in the single-player mode, where your other allies tell you to check your fire when you spray them with bullets.
The only problem with multiplayer is that it is offline only. While this means that you won't have to worry about there being a deserted online community a few months from now, it also means that there's no opportunity for one to flourish. With just about every arcade flight combat game includes online functionality beyond leaderboards, so its absence here is perplexing, especially when you consider that it was released late in the console life cycle.
The sound is simultaneously nice and painful to hear. The music is fitting, bombastic when it needs to be without being overwhelming against the rest of the sounds. The effects are acceptable, with explosions providing just enough boom to a good speaker system while the gunfire is as clear as expected. The vocal performances aren't bad, and none of the voices are annoying. The dialogue, however, can strike a nerve for those used to political correctness. More often than not, you'll hear the enemies be referred to as "Japs," and your wingmen will often wonder if rice powers their planes. There's historical accuracy to this, but the number of times it occurs is enough to make even thick-skinned people feel uneasy.
The graphics do their job well enough. Though they aren't pushing any graphical boundaries, the planes and boats look fine in flight. The planes might not splinter apart as elegantly as they do in something like Ace Combat: Assault Horizon, but seeing a wing or a tail come apart is still nice. The ground and the sea don't look as detailed as the vehicles, but they are much better than the standard, muddy ground textures in other budget flight games. The frame rate holds steady at 30 fps and while it doesn't try to go any higher, it doesn't seem to dip below that mark even during split-screen play, when there are lots of explosions on-screen.
As an arcade flight combat game, Dogfight 1942 is decidedly average. The flight mechanics are tailored heavily to pick-up-and-play sessions and doesn't attempt to appeal to the sim crowd. Despite the flaws and questionable choices in dialogue, the presentation isn't too bad. The lack of difficulty and mission variety, however, as well as the local-only multiplayer, brings this a notch lower than its competition while the presence of rather pricey DLC so soon after the game's release makes the initial game feel incomplete. The simplicity makes the game fun, and if you've gone through a number of other arcade flight combat games, it wouldn't hurt to try this one.
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