There are a fair number of combat flight simulations on the consoles. From the ultra realistic Il Sturmavik to the more arcade based Ace Combat. Yet on XBLA the choice is very limited, with the stand out title being Snoopy Flying Ace, the excellent Crimson Skies clone. Dogfight 1942 hopes to fill that gap with its mix of combat arcade action.
Dogfight 1942 lacks the realism of Il Sturmvik and the eye bleeding speed and action of Ace Combat, yet by sitting nicely in the middle, it makes for a solid title that is both approachable and challenging in equal measure.
The World War II setting isn’t exactly new, but it does helps the developers to concentrate on the dogfighting, rather than all the bells and whistles that come with modern fighter planes. Controls are simple, with the left stick controlling the directing and the right stick speed. Firing your primary guns is done using the right trigger, selecting a target with the left button and firing rockets with the right button.
The simple controls mean that while in the air, you can concentrate on the battles, rather than making sure you’re micromanaging the aircraft itself. All aspects of realistic simulations are left to the games that specialise in that. This is more of a FPS in the sky, playing more like a Crimson Skies, but in a real world setting.
The gameplay isn’t deep, the maps aren’t even that grand in scale, but by keeping everything reined in, it keeps the action exciting and constant. You will basically be given a series of missions across various locations. Most missions are essentially, take off, battle, battle some more and then land. There are some variations, such as keeping escorts safe, or manning positions within larger planes, which does add to the experience. However the bulk of the action boils down to dogfights, lots and lots of dogfights. Making sure you are in the thick of the action, as much as possible.
Despite being easy to pick up and simple to play, the gameplay is extremely satisfying, the AI feels intelligent (especially with the harder settings) and will try to out manoeuvre your attacks and put you on the defensive, meaning that while at times you will take down multiple enemies in quick succession, you can quickly find yourself trying to avoid fire yourself and in a one on one battle that takes up a lot of your attention. It makes battles very intense. You will have a health meter yourself and despite being auto regenerative, it comes at a cost. To regenerate your health you need to fly away from battle and away from the attention of the enemy. If you are under attack your health will not increase, it adds an element of risk vs reward when trying to get a better score from a level.
There are some lovely touches to the combat too. As you concentrate fire on an enemy plane, the camera changes angle and zooms in slightly to show that you are doing damage, before seeing the plane explode in front of you. There is also the fact that friendly AI aren’t immune to your bullets, it is possible to hit your allies and they will let you know about it. It is a nice inclusion, which means you can’t get away with just aimlessly spraying bullets around and hoping for the best.
Dogfight 1942 isn’t the most amazing looking flight based game, but it does do a good job. It never looks ugly and the planes are well modelled. The sense of speed and inertia are really well handled, without over reliance on special effects. The sound is really impressive, the noise of the engines, the sound of guns firing and planes exploding all do a fine job of immersing you into the experience.
The game consists of a single player campaign that can be completed in around 4-6 hours as well as co-op play. The missions are relatively short, but as said the action is satisfying. With around twenty missions on hand though, you will get plenty of value for money you can play with friends in local co-op, including a survival style mechanic, it adds plenty of extra value. The co-op options are only local, which is the most disappointing aspect of Dogfight 1942.
There is a pure Dogfight mode too, pitting two teams against each other, with the winner being the first to reach a set goal. The teams consist of around five aircraft each, with other members taken up by AI bots. What is really disappointing though, is that this again is purely local, there is no online option whatsoever, when it is a game that is crying out for its inclusion. The gameplay mechanics are done really well and while playing you find yourself itching to take the battle online, but sadly you find yourself unable to do so.
Dogfight 1942 isn’t a game that would have been on the radar, but it is a very pleasant surprise. It’s not as good as some the the full retail efforts, neither is it your long awaited alternative to Crimson Skies. It is however a fun and entertaining game, that offers up plenty of thrills throughout your time with it. The lack of online options is a hard pill to swallow though and may keep some players away, but despite that, it is one that is well worth picking up.