Variety is generally a good thing in games. Despite popular jokes about MMOS, people generally don’t enjoy doing the same thing over and over again. However, there are also cases where you have a variety of things to do – and none of them, except one, are actually fun. Air Conflicts: Secret Wars is such a case.
The game follows the exploits of freelance flier, booze smuggler, and stereotypical girl pilot Dorothy “Deedee” Derbec, as she flies the skies of Europe during the last few years of the Second World War. That’s really all there is to say about the story; there’s political intrigue, spunky resistance fighters, stereotypical British men with moustaches, and none of it really feels like it matters. Deedee’s voice acting is downright atrocious, with a lame French accent (how she kept this despite being raised by a very-accented Englishman, I’m not sure) and all the emotional expression of a propeller. The rest of the cast are better, but inconsistent art and the annoying tendency for dialogue to temporarily remove your displays makes it less enjoyable.
The air combat, on its own, is decently fun. Shooting down planes is satisfying, and dogfights can get intense when there’s dozens of planes around. Bombs help with taking out ground targets, though they require a lot of precision to use properly, and you can generally strafe targets as well. Rockets are so difficult to use that the game provides a how-to guide on a loading screen; still, the only tactic that the I found effective was the one the enemies use, which is charging head-on in a game of aerial chicken, letting loose a rocket at the last minute. This is actually quite satisfying when you hit. There are unlockable planes, which give you better craft with more ammo for bombs and rockets, and a stat upgrade system during the campaign which seems only minimally effective, (it will be all but one star from maxed by the end, anyway).
An adrenaline meter gives you a bullet-time effect, which can be used to line up shots better. Personally, I found it wasn’t necessary most times; it often didn’t help me hit my target. Lining up shots is always a bit of a problem at higher difficulties, where you do not automatically lock onto targets; this coupled with that you seemingly need to play with tougher enemies to get manual aiming might leave some players in freefall. Bomber tail guns are entirely useless.
And Stealth. God, the stealth sections.
Imagine being told you had to fly a plane, unseen, past enemy patrols and ground targets, to deliver documents/whisky/love interests, and then fly out. Now imagine being forced to do this in large, unwieldy bombers, which are never once recommended by the game elsewhere because they are entirely terrible for anything that does not involve sky missions. Now imagine there being absolutely nothing to bomb at all, making your primary arsenal useless, and in fact being unable to shoot anything; now imagine that you need to do all this and avoid white perception circles on your radar, while a little red, pulsating bar shows you how close you are to detection. Now imagine that you instantly fail the mission in half the cases, and have to start again, and the other half have to outrun several planes using a useless tail-gun and foul language for defence.
You can skip missions. Despite several such stealth missions, I never did.
There are other aspects of the game, like the detection missions, but these are either boring as you wait for something to happen, or tedious as you get used to manually finding targets when you’re used to objectives being marked. The WW1 “flashback” missions are little more than glorified cutscenes, impossible to fail regardless of how many times you die.
Checkpoints save progress within missions, so dying isn’t too bad, except that they’re largely random as to where they happen, resulting in some missions with none at all that require you do everything again if you fail. Difficulty is inconsistent within missions; some defense objectives are nearly impossible, while some missions seem like the Luftwaffe aren’t even trying.
All of this is made even more trying by Air Conflicts’ bugs. Dialogue cuts off, although I’m not certain of that since it seems that snippets from previous cutscenes seep into later ones. Voiceovers restart randomly at the end of scenes just as the level opens. Wingmen fly through buildings that would turn you into fire and soot. Typos litter some mission briefings and in-level prompts like bullet holes in a fuselage. And yet I have no hate for these bugs, since they saved me from the most tedious levels ever. . Due to an inflight dialogue that could not be skipped, I was able to drop off a parachute-crate at the first drop when I should not have, saving me from having to drop all of them at the next and getting me out of the mission with my fat, burning bomber.
The graphics are the last thing I’ll mention, because they’re not particularly noteworthy. Planes look nice, and you can see pieces of your wings taken off as you take damage (and blood-splatters). The darkening effect caused by staring into the sun makes it hard to see your surroundings, which I’d think is intentional – I found it added a tactical quality to the game. The trees look almost 2D in battle, even though they aren’t; I watched the trailer with bloody soldiers flying everywhere after a bomb hit, something I never could see in the game because you couldn’t get a clear look at the ground.
Due to a lack of polish and slew of bugs, Air Conflicts doesn’t quite take off. Had they focused more on the dogfights and less on elaborately tedious potpourri, this might have been a fun arcade-shooter.