Air Warrior 2
On the off-chance that you weren't paying attention when your 8th grade history class went over World War II, here's your chance to redeem yourself -- literally. Well, OK, only sort of. The good news is, this time the only books involved are the ones that tell you how to pull your ripcord after a Messerschmitt has just opened up your P-51 like the tin can it is.
Now if you've never played the original(the granddaddy of all online games), or if you've never given Air Warrior 2 or combat flight sims in general much more than a casual glance as you stop by the Comp-u-Mart to pick up , you really owe it to yourself to take a look at this one.
Here's why: 1) Unlike the majority of the flight combat sims on the market today, you can actually fly your plane in Air Warrior 2 without all those expensive pre-flight training classes down at the local airport practicing with real airplanes. 2) Air Warrior 2 lets you go online and fight with (and against) over 100 other live human pilots, all at the same time, all with a butter-smooth response rate. 3) The aircraft art and the flight model are without equal in the gaming world. 4) If you get bored of flying, you can choose to get out and drive a jeep or a tank or sign on as somebody's gunner.
There has quite simply never been another game or sim that so closely approximates a real-world scenario. If you miss out on this one, you are missing out on a look at what the future of all multiplayer gaming holds -- imagine knowing that every other plane you see, every tank on the ground is controlled by someone else somewhere in the world. Imagine giving your wingman an order to attack an enemy plane and having a real person answer back. Imagine hitting the hat switch on your joystick and being able to look back at a squad of seven P-17s rising off the ground and heading out over the Pacific at dawn. That's what this game delivers, and it is awe-inspiring in terms of the possibilities it brings into being.
The premise here is strikingly simple on the surface: take your pick of a huge number of vintage World War I or World War II airplanes, then go out and shoot down and/or bomb the enemy. Where this gets a bit less straightforward, and where Air Warrior 2 really shines, is in the vast complexity of the world Kesmai has created -- or in many cases recreated.
Air Warrior 2 offers both stand-alone missions (over 300 in all) and the aforementioned and virtually limitless online world. The stand-alone missions are good practice to pick up the basics (navigating, for one), but they are obviously not the heart and soul of this package. That, and for all the advances in computer AI, it is really only as smart or dumb as the programmer's algorithm. With human opponents, you get the full range of not only skills, but distractions: even the best ace gets tired, gets distracted by another aircraft in his or her vicinity, and yes, even has to take an occasional bathroom break. Why bother pointing out all these mundane things? Because if you were really up in the sky in 1943 fighting another plane, these things would all come into play in a way that they simply never will if your opponents are no more than advanced equations in an extruded 2D matrix.
I mention the idea of difficulty in regard to Air Warrior 2 for two reasons: first, the designers of this game were savvy enough to include multiple realism settings, not only for individual pilots, but for entire theaters of war -- you can choose to join into a theatre of action that is set to your liking -- a huge plus for those just getting the hang of the environment. Secondly, I mention difficulty because this game is refreshingly easy to pick up and play and would top my list for anyone who likes the idea of flying a plane in combat much more than having a sim that's too close to the real thing.
If I haven't already said it enough, I'll say it again: Air Warrior 2 is, hands-down, the most extensive, ambitious, and well-realized multiplayer game on the market today. It's not fast-paced every moment in you're in the game, but it absolutely shines in either Internet or head-to-head modem play. I honestly don't know how they managed to make a 100+ player game run smoothly, but I've played in an arena with 109 other pilots and had no problems over a 28.8 modem, and that, folks, is downright amazing.
The graphics in Air Warrior 2 are necessarily of two kinds: gorgeous control panels and plane art, and fairly run-of-the-mill polygon landscapes and buildings. The latter is, of course, necessary to maintain the fluidity of the flight model under heavy loads, but I must admit that it is a bit disappointing given the amazing (and accurate) detail elsewhere in the planes. Most disappointing to me was the fact that when you are shot down, all you get is a red screen -- no animated explosion, not even a few stray pixels for effect. Only a minor gripe overall, though.
A side note: Kesmai spent hundreds of hours photographing and sketching the control panels and other parts of real World War II era planes in order to make the in-game representations as real as possible -- if you are at all a history buff, this alone should recommend the game.
The intro to Air Warrior 2 has a nice score to go along with the cinematics, but once the intro is over, so is the music for the remainder of the game. No huge loss, but a bit odd. As for the airplane engines, gunfire, wind, etc., these are all done very well, including "proximity" effects -- when you have a close call with another plane, you hear it grown louder, cross channels, then grow softer all in the span of perhaps a second -- a very nice effect.
100% Windows 95 system (486/100 or better, Pentium recommended), 16 MB RAM, 2X CD-ROM drive, DirectX compatible video card, input device(s) (an advanced flight control stick or digital joystick is personally recommended, and Air Warrior 2 has support built in for most name-brand sticks)
Installation & Documentation
My install went off flawlessly, but my friend John had several sound and joystick problems. He resolved most of these pretty easily, and there is a patch now available that should alleviate most of the problems you might run into. As far as documentation goes, Air Warrior 2 comes with an extensive manual, in-flight reference card, and detailed instructions for getting online (a one-month free CompuServe offer is also included with the boxed product).
By now you're probably wondering why I only gave Air Warrior 2 an 87 if I loved it so much. The answer is simple: this game isn't for everybody -- it takes a lot of patience to use the navigational devices, chase down enemy planes, etc. and this won't appeal to a fair number of people. It is also a game of very fine tolerances -- you get only a moment to get a shot off at an opponent before he or she has whisked away and you have to begin a lengthy pursuit for another fleeting opportunity; on bombing missions if you pass over the target, it makes for a long and treacherous second pass. This is the double-edged sword of a good flight combat sim -- it is really like flying, which means that there is little close-quarters fighting. Your opponents will more often be small black specks on the horizon than recognizable aircraft square in your sights. If you are into flight sims, this one is golden -- for you this should rate more like a 97. If you are just getting interested in this genre or in online games in general, I would strongly encourage you to check Air Warrior 2 out -- the adrenaline of looking over your shoulder to see a pair of Zeroes diving out of the sun is every bit as pure as in the best shadowy 3D shooter or most frenetic strategy game.