Developer: City Interactive
Publisher: City Interactive
I'm sick and tired of writing about how "there aren't enough flight sims these days," so when one comes along I tend to sit up and take notice. Especially when it leapfrogs the PC in order to cater for on the malnourished console scene. Hailing from City Interactive, the developers behind the deeply average Sniper: Ghost Warrior, Dogfight 1942 promised to deliver an accessible yet authentic arcade flight sim, throwing players into the most famous aerial battles of the European and Pacific theatres. The pitch was very exciting indeed: an extensive range of real-world planes, detailed environments and furious action designed to be visceral and engaging as possible.
Dogfight 1942 then started ringing a few alarm bells following the revelation that it was originally supposed to be a full retail game (often a harbinger of doom), but after impressing us at E3 2012, concern was replaced by cautious optimism.
Optimism that was fully justified in the end. Chocks away!
Dogfight 1942 makes no bones about being an arcade flight sim, with arcade being the operative word. Throughout a lengthy campaign following both the European (think Dover defence and sorties over London) and Pacific (Midway, basically) campaigns, you'll hurtle through the sky in a selection of contemporary warplanes such as Hurricanes, Supermarine Spitfires and P45 Mustangs. Though there's little story to speak of - the weighty campaign closely follows the major aerial battles of the period - you'll accomplish a range of varied objectives such as defending key installations, bombing runs, torpedoing enemy naval task forces and, most often, massive furballs against enormous swarms of enemy fighters. There's a satisfying amount of raw content in terms of both planes and missions, which are intensely replayable thanks to a medal system and simple scoring mechanics.
Yes, scoring mechanics. Dogfight 1942 is an arcade flight sim, not a true simulator, and the focus is very much on delivering a cinematic experience. Locking onto a target allows you to activate a limited 'Ace Mode' that automatically puts you on their tail by holding the trigger, the camera automatically pulls in when following an enemy fighter and killcam shots frequently show your foe bursting into flames under your withering firepower. Your weapons - even rockets and bombs - have infinite ammo (balanced by a small cooldown period if they overheat). Health and damage regenerates over time. Purists may balk at these changes, but they serve to make the genre much more accessible and exciting on consoles, and provide an appropriately visceral and as you scream over enemy installations, bombs raining down, netting massive score multiplier chains before racing to thin out the fighter cover. Think Ace Combat, not Sturmovik.
The balance between authentic World War II missions and balls-out fun is an interesting balance, but occasionally an uneasy one. I can't help but feel that it occupies a slightly uncomfortable middle ground; not quite an authentic WW2 experience, neither a full-fat score attack game built around pure thrills. Some missions and dialogue are sometimes a little too grey or too serious for its own good, or too aggressively focused on points and explosions to be taken seriously. You're best off approaching each campaign mission without paying attention to the scoreline, then going for all-out leaderboard attacks on your next run. As mentioned, though, you'll have plenty of missions to get stuck into, and the whole thing ultimately gels.
The default control scheme takes a little getting used to, especially if you're used to playing console flight sims. Shooter fans may feel more at home here, since the left stick controls your plane's motion while the right stick deals with velocity. I personally feel that the triggers are much better suited for the throttle (a la Ace Combat), leaving the accessible face buttons to deal with weaponry, but you'll soon get used to it. A hardcore control scheme is also on hand, granting you direct control over roll, yaw and pitch. It feels much weightier and more immersive than the simplified setup, but doesn't quite match the hectic arcade action. If you've got an Xbox 360-compatible flight stick, you might feel more comfortable using that instead.
At this point, most developers would pat themselves on the back after finishing their solid singleplayer campaign... and then immediately crack on with implementing an online multiplayer suite. Because as we all know, every game absolutely must have an online component. For some reason. However, City Interactive realised that only a rare few XBLA games ever manage to attract anything resembling a thriving online community, and therefore looked to local multiplayer instead. Not only can the entire campaign be played with a mate in split-screen, but a range of survival arenas and head-to-head dogfights are also available. Two-player shenanigans are great fun and immediately accessible, though the dogfight mode does get boring fairly quickly.
Pro tip: for reasons beyond my mortal comprehension, you can heal your partner by shooting them.
Graphically, Dogfight 1942 resembles a very early boxed Xbox 360 game - which is to say that it looks reasonably good in the main considering that it's an XBLA download. Many of the levels look fantastic, usually thanks to some impressive water rendering, but others fail to impress due to some fuzzy terrain textures and blocky buildings. I also encountered some screen tearing from time to time.
Dogfight 1942 is big on content and mechanically fit for task, but its biggest problem is that pilots suffer from chronic over-communication. Their constant chatter betrays a fair few repeated lines, not to mention some inconsistent voice acting. You'll also come across a number of contemporary 1940s racial slurs (notably in the American side of the campaign; Jappo this, Jappo that), which can be difficult to get used to despite being appropriate for the World War II setting.
The action can lose its edge after extended play, too. Though Dogfight 1942's missions are nicely varied, one dogfight against a swarm of identical planes can feel much the same as any other. Weak and predictable enemy AI, even for "aces," means that the only challenge comes from raw numbers (see also: Galaxy On Fire II Full HD). Some aircraft customisation beyond decals - or even using points and medals to unlock new fighters and weapons - might have lent the proceedings some extra longevity.
All niggles that would have rankled in a £30-40 retail product, but are broadly excusable for 1200 Microsoft Points.
City Interactive have a somewhat chequered reputation in the critical community (Sniper: Ghost Warrior only sold particularly well on the strength of its name), but if Alien Fear looks as good as its retouched screenshots, Enemy Front allows Stuart Black to shine and Ghost Warrior 2 can deliver on its promises, Dogfight 1942 may mark a true renaissance for the company. We can't wait to find out.
- Solid and hectic arcade action
- Bucketloads of missions and planes
- Enjoyable local co-op
- Predictable AI can make furballs repetitive
- Inconsistent voice acting, pilots far too talkative
- Doesn't quite nail the balance between authenticity and full-on fun
The Short Version: Dogfight 1942 provides a healthy dollop of arcade flight action for an attractive price. Though perhaps not as polished as it could have been, City Interactive have arguably delivered their finest game to date, and one that absolutely gives aviation fans the thrills they've been sorely craving.
Dogfight 1942 is available now on Xbox Live Arcade for 1200 Microsoft Points. PS3 and PC versions are in the works.