Combat Wings: The Great Battles of WWII preview

By Jeff Mattas, Aug 17, 2011 12:00pm PDT

City Interactive's upcoming Combat Wings: The Great Battles of WWII is aiming to make aerial combat up close and personal when it's released this fall. Last week, creative director Jakub Majewski stopped by the Shacknews offices to show off a few missions from the PC version of the game, and I even got to check out a mission on the PlayStation 3, using the PlayStation Move controller. Decidedly more arcade-shooter than simulation, the latest entry into the Combat Wings series is all about dispatching enemies at close range using a huge variety of historical planes in battles inspired by the second World War.

"One title I keep coming back to here is Wing Commander," Majewski said, referring to where he drew his inspiration. "It's something I'm very much trying to channel in this game. I've always been a big fan of the Wing Commander series, and other games of that kind." After playing a bit of Combat Wings myself, I can certainly see the correlations, especially in the minute-to-minute dogfighting. Deft use of the throttle and evasive handling is necessary to survive, and enemies are engaged at a much closer range than other aerial combat games where you're ostensibly shooting at little more than dots on the horizon.

The dogfights in Combat Wings: The Great Battles of WWII are fast-paced, and arcade-like. Being tasked with dispatching a ton of enemies is manageable, thanks to clear markers that denote both mandatory and optional targets. "Ace Mode," which slows time for a few seconds, proves helpful in perforating rival aircraft, and a cinematic kill camera will periodically zoom in close on an enemy plane during a killing shot. It's a nice visual reward for players in the heat of combat, bolstered by a cool location-based damage system. It's satisfying to blow off an enemy's wing and see the rest of the plane's carcass spiral--smoking and flaming--towards the ground.

Damage to a player's aircraft is visually represented, and while players can heal a bit of damage by staying out of the line of fire for a bit, the overall damage is reflected on a sliding scale. Once injured, your airplane won't recharge to 100% effectiveness.

But it's not just other airplanes players will have to battle. One of the missions I played had me taking out ground-based targets using a bombing reticule, another tasked me with sinking an escaping warship. Most surprising was an event where I had to defend a fleet of friendly ships against incoming Kamikaze pilots. Another mission took place over a German airfield. By shooting the planes on the ground, I could reduce the amount of subsequent dogfighting required for victory.

Structurally, Combat Wings: The Great Battles of WWII is broken up into four different campaigns: The Battle of Britain, North Africa, Russia, and the Pacific theater. "Probably about half" of those missions are based on actual historical battles, and a portion of the missions were described as "fictional situations created by melding together various historical events into one mission." Each campaign is comprised of around seven to nine missions, with a grand total of 30 missions, overall.

Majewski told me that there are fifty planes in the game that go well "beyond just the ones that everybody recognizes from other games." Playable aircraft from some of WWII's smaller players like France and Poland are included, as well as lesser-known aircraft from countries like Romania and Italy. He assured me that the differences between aircraft were far more than cosmetic, and that handling (and armaments, of course) would be noticeably different from plane to plane.

He even teased a level set in London, in which he piloted one of the first ever jet-powered aircraft. Zooming past recognizable locations like St. Paul's Cathedral and the House of Commons at high speed looked like a lot of fun, at least until Majewski tried to fly underneath an especially low-hanging section of what I think was London Bridge. BOOM!

My time with Combat Wings: The Great Battles of WWII concluded with a hands-on playthrough of one of the levels on the PlayStation 3, using the Move controller. Though the frame-rate was still far from smooth--it's still being polished--I was surprised at how natural it felt to fly the plane that way. Majewski even told me that they're looking into the possibility of an advanced control scheme for the Move, which would allow players to hold the Move controller upright, like a flight stick.

I enjoyed my brief time with Combat Wings: The Great Battles of WWII, in-part because the combat really does feel spiritually-linked to arcade flight-combat games of yesteryear, and partly due to its slick presentation that does a good job of scaling the large aerial battlefields. Folks will be able to get their hands on the game when it comes out for PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Wii this fall.

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