Air Conflicts: Secret Wars hands-on preview

Aside from the sharp IL-2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey, the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 don’t really boast a long and proud legacy of historical combat flight simulations – and it’s been a couple of years since the last notable release. Games like Heroes of Europe and the Blazing Angels entries have surely provided some entertainment to genre fans, plus the Battlestations series includes solid flight segments, but it’s otherwise been very slim pickings of late compared to the richer PC flight scene.

Though aerial enthusiasts who prefer the couch and controller have a fresh option due out in late August in the form of Air Conflicts: Secret Wars,. Set amidst the events of World War II, Secret Wars centers on the fictional tale of pilot Dorothy Derbec, the daughter of a World War I fighter ace who was brought up by one of his compatriots following his fiery demise. Now she performs a series of flight errands and odd jobs for various factions in the war, attempting to survive while weighing moral dilemmas against the interests of her disparate employers.

We played well into the third chapter (of seven total) of the Xbox 360 version, and while the sparsely detailed environments and consistently goofy voice acting fall a bit short of modern ideals, the prospect of tackling a mess of quick-hit missions certainly has a solid appeal to it. Each chapter we tackled included six standard missions and one flashback stage – with a total of 49 missions confirmed for the entire campaign – and many were over and done within five minutes, with ultimately all of them falling below the 10-minute mark. Along the way, we zipped through a variety of objectives, including the standard routine of sniping scads of enemies out of the sky, as well as bombing ground reinforcements, protecting allies, and seeking hidden bases and tanks.

Admittedly, we didn’t get wrapped up very tightly in Derbec’s tale, as the flat, single-image cutscenes and piecemeal story details failed to make much of an impression through the initial chunk of the campaign. And the straightforward mission tasks are unlikely to surprise any serious genre veterans, though it’s nice to be able to knock out missions without a serious time investment. But Secret Wars played solidly throughout, with simplified and more sim-like control schemes available, plus the separate Dogfight mode lets you set up some potentially thrilling scenarios – like battling 20 enemy planes over Berlin as your plane disintegrates with each passing shot.

We didn’t have a chance to try out the online multiplayer combat, which supports eight players on each platform and includes Capture the Flag and Destroy & Protect variations on the standard dogfighting approach. The PlayStation 3 version includes optional Move controls for a more fluid and animated flight experience, as well as 3D support. The PC version is due out at a slightly lower price point ($29.99 versus $39.99 on consoles), but if it’s similar to what we played on Xbox 360, we’d be surprised if flight aficionados used to more robust PC experiences will bother giving it a second look.

Air Conflicts: Secret Wars arrives at an ideal time on both 360 and PS3, where a lull in the action for console-based combat flight sims might give it a better shot to stand out before the holiday release rush. Based on our initial time with the game, Secret Wars seems like a solid and accessible option for console flight fans – but even at the reduced price, the no-frills approach and banal aesthetics may be a tough sell to all but the most hardened genre gurus.

Jul 29, 2011

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