Channel your inner Biggles in this Arcade World War 1 Shooter
- Developer: All In! Games SA
- Publisher: All In! Games SA
- Release date: 13th October 2020
- Genre: Flying, Arcade Shooter
- Platforms: PS4, PS5, Switch, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Windows PC
Tally Bally Ho! Chocks away, up diddly up up, down diddly down down. Time to get in your kite and go give the enemy a darn good thrashing, six of the best, then back in time for tea and medals. Yes, you can live out your Biggles or Blackadder flying fantasies, care of a small Polish developer, All In! Games’ new arcade aircraft World War 1 Shooter, Red Wings: Aces of the Sky.
As excited as I was to channel all I had learnt from the fictional Biggles stories I have read (I collect Biggles books), there are a few bumps in the night with Red Wings: Aces of the Sky.
Initially, spirits were high, as the striking artwork grabs your attention from the word go. Bright and bold cell-shaded colours alongside a cartoony clear as day art style beg the intrepid pilot to explore what other delights there are to see. The aircraft stand out in vivid contrast to the gorgeous background settings and clouds, so it’s eminently easy to see what you are doing and where the threats are arriving from.
The game has many modes but disappointingly lacks online support. Story mode and Survival can be played either solo or co-op, alongside couch co-op versus battles, however, the meat of the game’s content is to be found in the story mode.
The story is played out from both the allies and axis points of view, and although different for both, they both feature the same main theme, that of the German Fighter Ace Baron von Richthofen. They both have the same mission types in the same order, almost to an exact tee! The narration of the story is set to a backdrop of comic book style slides, which again are excellently designed and drawn. The content, however, is questionable at best. The narrative attempted to set up what you may have to do for the next mission but never really fitted into it. The dialogue and voice acting for the narration parts are frankly really poor. Not only are the voices not authentic in either upper-class English or German, but the dialogue rambles on about a whole load of nonsense that at times literally doesn’t make any sense. The main thrust of the German campaign is based on the two Richtofen brothers (Yes, there really were two Richtofen brother fighter aces in World War 1) and their different styles and personalities, whereas the allies are all about hunting down the Red Baron.
The missions and gameplay are excellent in short bursts but have one main drawback later on in each campaign. The flight controls are extremely simple for your warplane, most of which are based on real World War 1 fighters of the time. Simple arcade flying controls make it easy to get around but, disappointingly, the planes can’t invert themselves, i.e. you can’t loop the loop. However, you have four special abilities: a finisher that can be triggered once the enemy is almost out of health and in range, that shows a short cinematic of your pilot shooting the other pilot in the back with a handheld pistol; Another instigates a barrel roll, which helps to avoid incoming fire; an almost instant u-turn And the last ability that sends one or more of your wingmen after targeted enemies. These special abilities all have a cool-down period, so you can’t keep constantly spamming the buttons (more’s the pity).
There are five main mission types: Fighter domination, protection of balloons, searching and taking down enemy balloons, bombing missions, or flying through hoops to restore your fuel and health. Doing each mission within time limits rewards you with more stars, And more stars equal upgrades to your kite and/or other perks.
As fun as these missions are in short bursts, they quickly become repetitive and have a very high expectation of the player’s abilities. In my playthrough, I never once managed to complete a mission within the time limit for 3 stars. It’s also quite galling when you complete a really hard mission only to get nothing for it as your time falls outside the one-star marker.
The other disappointing aspect, and probably the worst of the game, is that the enemy AI is suicidal! Being outnumbered ten to one would be manageable (just), but it is made impossible as the enemy follows you like an under 5’s football team does the ball, ignoring the other wingmen that they could also target, and just home in on you. As you are pushed and chased further and further away to the edge of the map, jinking and dodging as if your life depends on it, you eventually have to turn back, only for them to deliberately fly into you in full kamikaze style.
Even if you dodge a few of these attacks, a follow-up plane will get you and it is mission over! It’s hugely frustrating that the enemy has no regard for its own safety. The ONLY defence you have for this is that you can upgrade your barrel roll to be immune when you are doing it, so timing the roll when passing into an enemy will take them down and not you. However, get the timing slightly wrong, or attempt a barrel roll while it’s still in cooldown, and you crash and burn.
The only other defence to being outnumbered is the real world tactic of owning the height and flying down to pick enemies off one by one. Eventually, the enemy will get up to your level, but nipping down through the clouds to pick one or two off at a time is a laborious way to complete the mission and guaranteed to never fall within the 3 stars reward time limit. For example, one particularly hard mission required me to shoot down twenty-seven enemies, which I eventually did after twelve minutes. To get just one star I would have had to do it in five minutes, but getting in amongst them had me consistently dead within two! When I eventually defeated twenty-seven enemies with no deaths and received nothing for it, it was very disheartening.
The flying through hoops levels are either far too simple or very frustrating as you will have to follow the designated route to complete the mission. It’s not clear what that route is, though, and if you miss one of 45 hoops, you fail. When the hoops are moving, obscured from view midway through a very tight turn, spinning or hidden in clouds, it feels like they are doing all they can to deceive you, and it is simply not fun. You don’t get enough time or fuel to turn around to try and go back through missed hoops. Pass through the hoops in the wrong order, and again, you won’t have time to rectify the mistake.
Bombing missions added variety but were far too simplistic. They are top-down missions only, where you have to dodge the flak bursting around and drop bombs on targets. That’s it.
Despite the repetitive nature of the missions and the difficulty spike to near impossible later on in each campaign, I still kept coming back to try as the act of flying around shooting the enemies down was fun. The audio of each mission is OK, with decent engine noises, machine gun chatter and explosions, but I never kept playing for more than 20 minutes per session.
As mentioned earlier, there are many couch co-op missions to try and you can do both campaigns in local co-op, as well as the two co-op battles modes.
As fun as these are, the issue I had here, and I’m not sure if it was a game issue or Sony PlayStation issue, is that I got stuck in the campaign in solo mode and wanted to bring along a co-op wingman to help me carry on. Starting up the missions as two players would wipe my progress in single player with no option to save it separately, so I would have to start the whole story mode over again in co-op.
Red Wings: Aces of the Sky is a very simple and addictive game, despite some glaring design issues. It is at its thrilling best when you are tumbling around the sky, being shot at and taking multiple enemies out as quickly as you can. However once the difficulty ramps up (and it goes up very suddenly around mission 12), then everything starts to lose its allure and becomes a chore instead. The co-op modes add extra fun to the experience, but that can’t mask the lack of balance in the enemy AI and the glaring omission of an online multiplayer mode. As it stands it’s just OK for a short period of time.