Does World of Warplanes reach the dizzying heights of its predecessor or is it a case of crashing and burning?
World of Warplanes is aiming to do exactly what War of Tanks did, but swapping grounded action for that of the aerial variety. With its forbearer attracting 60 million users, it's got a lot to live up to, and Wargaming will be hoping its blend of historically accurate vehicles and arcade action will once again appeal to the widest audience possible. It's an MMO in the loosest sense of the meaning; there's no real consistent world, only a hub where you can trade and upgrade your planes before going into an online match with other users.
From the outside, it looks like you might be offered a deep flight simulation, but the action is purely of the arcade variety. The plane starts in the air and moves automatically, meaning you're in charge of controlling flight direction, shooting, and consumables. It only takes a short tutorial to get the gist, before you're thrown into online battles against other players and left to dogfight your way to victory. Your first few battles will likely end very quickly; planes are easy enough to control that you'll never crash straight into the ground, but it takes time to master evasive manoeuvres when there's an enemy on your tail.
It looks like this pilot is in real trouble, but on the plus side they're probably having barrels of laughs!
Because of the simple combat nature, there are some standout flaws. In order to accurately shoot enemy planes, you're offered a visual reticule to aim at; if you shoot at a moving plane it obviously won't be there by the time the bullets reach, so this reticule usually sits somewhere in front of them. However, due to the fact the mouse controls both your movement and your target, it's often quite niggly to line up your target, and oftentimes it feels like you're missing the enemy plane when really you should be hitting it. While this slightly clunky movement and aiming wouldn't be a problem in a simulation, it feels slightly at odds with the arcade feel of the rest of the game.
Once you've got a grasp of how to stay out of trouble and track enemy planes, you'll find the game hitting its stride. The best moments come when there's a number of planes in a condensed area, weaving and bobbing around each other, each one jockeying to get the upper hand. These fights sometimes end in a mix of frustration and comedy, with you crashing head on into another plane, but often you'll come out of them with a few cuts and bruises, and this is where things feel the most tense. Damaged wings and injured pilots will diminish your control, and there's something about smoke billowing out of your own engine that really sells the dogfight nature, and captures that Dam Busters spirit.
Unfortunately, having only one battle mode outside of training - basic team deathmatch - makes content feel very limited, despite the solid-yet-uncomplicated action that takes place within this single mode. Given that the nature of the game means battles are isolated incidents that end as soon as your plane is destroyed, your involvement is a constant cycle of leaving and joining matches. Different map types don't really influence how you play - it all takes place in the open sky after all and ground bases don't seem to have much real impact on proceedings - meaning it's hard to feel as though there's any variety, and when you do get bored of the deathmatch format, there's nothing else to turn to.
A variety of planes from five different nations have been fondly recreated
What keeps you wanting to play these individual matches - the thread tying each airbourne scrape together - is the RPG-like system going on behind the scenes. You get experience points from every match you play, and these can be used to buy new planes, upgrade your existing ones, or purchase new crew and hangar slots. For those into their history, there's a Catch Em All element to it , and some will lose hours trying to get every plane. I was happy enough once I had the Bristol Bulldog - I'm not exactly a plane buff - and simply used my experience points to upgrade and customise it.
WORLD OF WARPLANES VERDICT
The thing that stops World of Warplanes from fully taking off may be that it falls into a middle ground that fails to adequately cater to the two groups that will play it. Those who fully appreciate the fast-paced, arcade action may not be fully appreciative of the attention to detail paid to the planes on show. Likewise, those who fully appreciate the attention to detail, may be disappointed to not be given a deeper flight simulation with which to fly their historical birds. However, even if you don’t fully appreciate each side of the game, you’ll likely still find some fun in the skies. World of Warplanes doesn’t quite soar to the highest heights, but it’s worth taking for a spin.
TOP GAME MOMENT
A faulty engine, an injured pilot and a broken wing; Kamikaze-ing into the last enemy plane was the only sensible option.