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Air Conflicts: Aces of World War II (PSP) artwork

Air Conflicts: Aces of World War II (PSP) review

"Similar to the setup of a racing game, each individual mission belongs to a series of missions. This seems like an interesting presentation until you discover that the consequence of losing is also similar to that of a racing game. When you die, the mission is over…for now. Rather than being given the opportunity to try it again, you’re automatically taken back to the main menu, at which point you can now select the campaign mode and start again."

In the fictional world, wars are fun. They entice us, enthrall us and drag us to the edges of our seats, taking players to a world of intense death and survival. For many years now, World War II has been the centerpiece of that setting. Developers often ignore the warfare of modern combat – most recently those involved in a controversy or two – and run straight for the rustic, albeit classic battlegrounds of a war fought several decades ago.

Air Conflicts: Aces of World War II is another one of those games. Taking place entirely in the not-so-friendly skies, Air Conflicts features 13 different aircraft, including the De Havilland Mosquito Mk IV from the Royal Air Force, the IL DB3 from the Soviet Air Force, and the Ju-87B-2 Stuka (a personal favorite) from the German Luftwaffe. Excluding the U.S. Army Air Force, which offers four distinct planes (the P-28J Lightning, P-47D Thunderbolt, P-51D Mustang and B-17F Flying Fortress), each country is limited to just three bomb-dropping, machinegun-shooting aircraft.

If only some of those planes sound familiar, you’re going to be disappointed with everything else Air Conflicts has to offer. If none of those planes sound familiar, you’re going to be extremely disappointed. All things likely, the average gamer will not come to Air Conflicts solely for its virtual interpretation of classic warplanes, which is respectable but far from perfect. Instead, gamers will notice this lonely UMD sitting on store shelves, wonder if it provides the flight/combat action they’ve been craving, and take home a copy with the hope that it does.

Though the visuals beg to be mentioned first, let’s skip ahead to the most important aspect: the gameplay. Air Conflicts’ gameplay consists of many different missions. Unfortunately, they all feel exactly the same. The objectives are predictable (blow up an emerging submarine before it launches an attack), laughable (fly toward, not through, a series of rings) and boring.

Similar to the setup of a racing game, each individual mission belongs to a series of missions. This seems like an interesting presentation until you discover that the consequence of losing is also similar to that of a racing game. When you die, the mission is over…for now. Rather than being given the opportunity to try it again, you’re automatically taken back to the main menu, at which point you can now select the campaign mode and start again.

At first it appears the game is starting over, but it is really taking you to the next mission. But don’t cheer at the prospect of being able to bypass the mission you lost just yet. If you lose the next few missions, you’ll have to play through this series all over again. Actually, it is never quite clear how many of the missions have to be completed before you can move on. And when you do finally advance, it’s almost impossible to tell because the next series of missions includes the same set of objectives (shoot the enemy, destroy a structure or fly toward some rings).

Air Conflicts attempts to spruce up the experience – and differentiate between missions – by applying a few graphic changes, such as the addition of snow or the arrival of night. While these are perfectly justifiable changes, they are far from the monumental adjustments this game needed. First of all, every background is made up of the same flat or slightly mountainous field. Backgrounds differ in color (green grass, white snow, etc.) and color alone. Trees are generously dispersed across each area of land, but their square, unrealistic designs – and gameplay-damaging effects – are truly disturbing. Despite being semi-transparent and frequently out of reach, trees are much too easy to hit while cruising through the air. Even a mild hit guarantees that your plane will go down, promptly ending a mission that will surely resurface – just not yet.

Trees aren’t the only thing to worry about (though they are, as it turns out, more dangerous than the enemies you’ll be fighting). Water is another danger to your success. If you graze the ocean’s surface – and like the tips of many trees, you most certainly will – the mission is over. Air Conflicts is not at all forgiving in this regard, which is somewhat hilarious when you consider that the controls are based on awkward arcade-style flying (simple to learn but too clunky to enjoy). At the same time, the 3D graphics are somehow worse than Flash animation. When your plane hits the water, it’s as if the game took a piece of blue paper and slammed a toy plane into it. Background textures are all but nonexistent, and fog – the dreadful detail-covering fixture of many N64 games – is used to drown out what the developers didn’t want us to see.

Air Conflicts could have survived the ugly visuals if the rest of the game had delivered a memorable experience. But in addition to boring mission objectives, the game is also damaged by lackluster controls. Most of the planes fly exactly the same. You’ll notice that the size of the plane affects its speed; smaller aircraft move a bit faster than larger aircraft. That, however, is the least of your problems. Controlling an aircraft – any aircraft – is always a battle between your left thumb, which must suffer through stiff maneuvers, and your eyes, which are forced to judge the distance between your aircraft and the object and/or surface below. Without being able to change direction or ascend quickly, unnecessary deaths are destined to occur.

It would be great if, underneath the mess that is Air Conflicts, there was something beautiful to uncover – like an old, dirty rug hiding a spotless floor that has never been walked on. Air Conflicts’ multiplayer mode, which supports eight players for local Ad Hoc gaming (including game-sharing for those who don’t have their own copy), could have been that feature – that spotless floor, if you will. But like the single-player campaign, these battles are mindless and cumbersome, eliminating the need to “share” the game with your friends.

At best, Air Conflicts is well-suited for a collector that wants every bit of World War II merchandise he can get his hands on. Anything beyond that and you’ve got a game that is practically unplayable. The clunky controls, uninviting (and ultra-repetitive) mission objectives and ugly level designs produce a game that will only be remembered for its depressing existence.

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Freelance review by Louis Bedigian (May 03, 2009)

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