I love watching aerial stunt teams. Watching high-performance planes performing precision stunts is an excellent way to spend an afternoon. Now Crave is giving gamers the chance to join the ranks of the world's elite pilots in AeroWings. Take the controls and strap yourself into the cockpit of some of the most versatile aircraft in the world to navigate your way through a challenging series of solo and team training maneuvers. Or go against the clock and try to make it through complex aerial obstacle courses. Either way you’ll be learning the skills you’ll need to make it to the game’s climax -- participating in an aircraft stunt show as part of the Blue Impulse flight team.
AeroWings has four basic play modes: Blue Impulse, Sky Attack, Free Flight, and Multiplayer. When you start the game you also have the option to go through a simple tutorial that gives a basic overview of the game controls through a scripted flight you watch and a simple flight mode where you can’t crash the plane. There’s nothing in the tutorial that can’t be learned by a quick glance through the manual, but it’s a nice touch.
The Blue Impulse missions are the heart of the game -- each of the 20-odd missions will teach you a different stunt combination. Getting through the first couple of missions is easy, but they rapidly become more complex as you continue. You start with simple tasks like straight and level flight, and progress to increasingly more complex stunts including precise loops rolls. To complete each task you must control the plane's speed, position, heading and altitude -- being off on any of these will cut your score on the flight. It gets even harder in the latter missions when you must fly in formation with other planes, as you have to follow the leader’s actions to succeed.
I found many of the more complex stunts harder due to the Dreamcast controller -- I like it for almost all the games I’ve played and it does work well in AeroWings, but I found myself wishing I had a real flight stick in many of the missions -- the smaller stick on the standard controller just isn’t precise enough. The Sky Attack missions also prepare you for stunt flying, although in a different way. Each course consists of smoke rings placed around the flight area that you must fly through within a time limit. To "win" you must hit a target score within the time limit. Points are earned for each ring you touch, although some rings score more than others and some will double the points earned for other rings. Getting through the courses can involve some hair-raising flying, from dodging through skyscrapers to diving into canyons or flying tight against the ground.
You start the game with a T-4 training aircraft, but the game has plenty of planes you can fly, up to the powerful F-15DJ. As you complete Blue Impulse and Sky Attack missions, new planes will be unlocked for play. In many cases later missions will require the extra maneuverability and speed the new planes provide.
The Free Flightmode allows you to take to the air in any of the planes you’ve unlocked. You can fly solo to practice stunts and maneuvers, or you can take the lead position of a flight team to try more complex multi-plane stunts. The AI behind the other planes in Free Flight is my biggest complaint with the game -- nine out of ten times my free-flight sessions ended with one of my teammates slamming into me. Even simple stunts seem to be beyond the capabilities of the AI. I’ll put my plane into straight and level flight and command the team to switch formations from a simple delta pattern to a diamond and the other planes will zoom all over and criss-cross each other’s paths. Trying to get them to fly even simple roll maneuvers correctly is almost impossible.
The multiplayer mode is similar to Free Flight, but up to four players take the controls to fly together. Unlike most multiplayer console games AeroWing’s multiplayer mode does not use a split screen setup. The camera zooms in and out to keep all the multiple players within view, which means that unless you and your friends can stay together you’ll quickly end up with a camera angle that has your planes as small specks in an open sky. This can make for some interesting flying, but it’s less than perfect as it can be very difficult to get the planes back in formation once you’re split up.
The graphics in AeroWings are a mixed bag. The aircraft are breathtakingly detailed, from the cockpit and paint detailing to the intricate movement of each control surface on the plane -- plane movement is realistic and smooth. You can even watch the landing gear deploy and retract. No matter what the camera angle or distance, the planes are fantastic to watch. The game's intro video switches back and forth from real stunt planes to the game animations and in a few cases you will have to look twice to tell which is which. The effects for the sky also impressed me. From the soft glow of sunset to the puffy cloud masses the airspace is rich and varied.
Other graphics aren’t as good. The textures on many of the buildings are detailed, but others look like roughly painted cardboard boxes. From high altitudes the ground texturing is realistic, but get close and the illusion sometimes breaks down. The shortcomings don’t detract too much from the game, but they do give an overall impression of "not quite done" to the game.
As with the graphics, the audio picture is mixed. Plane effects are top notch -- engines whine and growl as you take off. Plane sounds are different when your view is outside the plane than when you’re inside the cockpit. Landing gear being deployed produces satisfying clunks and flaps raising and lowering as you fly give the correct bangs and thumps. The music in the game is decent, but repetitive enough that I turned if off after a half dozen times playing. I found the voice instructions form the other pilots and voice-overs on the mission summaries to be the most annoying thing in the game. In many cases you’ll have your lead plane actually screaming at you when you get too far off course and after the fiftieth time I head the overly enthusiastic "Okay" during mission debriefing I was skipping the flight recap as fast as I could.
If you’re always ready to spend an afternoon out watching the Thunderbirds or Blue Angels zoom by overhead then AeroWings is definitely your style of game. The aircraft visuals rival anything I’ve seen and while the game won't appeal to every player, those who want a more genuine flying experience will enjoy the thrill of high speed precision flight provided.
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP