Dogfight 1942 Review
This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360
Released on September 5th, 2012, Dogfight 1942 is a World War II-era airplane shooter available on Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network. It is an arcade-style shooter, with more in its DNA from After Burner and the Ace Combat series than any hardcore flight sim. There are no ridiculous power-ups like you’d see in a shoot-‘em-up game. No triple-shots or missile spam to be found here.
What Dogfight 1942 tries to occupy is a middle ground, offering simplistic flight controls alongside an attempt at capturing the gritty tone of the era, complete with what could be creatively called ‘period-accurate language.’ If you personally find the term “Jap” to be a very offensive slur, for example, you may want to skip over Pacific Theater-related missions, as it’s used pretty much exclusively and frequently to refer to the Japanese planes you’re fighting against.
The controls are functional and simplified. By default, there’s no manual control of pitch, roll, and yaw as you’d traditionally fly a plane. Instead, movement using the left analog stick is easy. Left turns left, right turns right. For an added challenge, you can turn on the Simulation Mode as an option; however, this simply makes turning the plane a more frustrating endeavour and reduces your maneuverability in a seemingly arbitrary way.
When you engage the enemy, the game provides a number of aids to make combat less confusing. Enemies have bright coloured diamonds around them, colour-coded for their importance to your current objective. Objectives themselves, such as areas to protect or vehicles to escort, are also clearly indicated with appropriate icons. Weapons that require a tricky sort of lead up, like bombs or torpedoes, have helpful crosshairs and guidelines to their use. Ammo is unlimited, although relentless firing can overheat your guns, requiring a cooldown, and there is a timer between firing secondary weapons like rockets or bombs.
The most potent of all of the game’s aids to combat is Ace Mode. Ace Mode allows you to lock on to a target, hold down the left trigger, which essentially puts your plane on auto-pilot towards the enemy while you line up shots. It even provides a helpful crosshair floating ahead of the enemy so you know exactly how to lead your shots at a distance. There’s no limit on how often you can activate Ace Mode in a mission, although it does have a generous cooldown meter so you can’t just hold it down constantly.
It works at apparently any range, as well. On one mission I was able to lock on my target before I had even taken off, and as soon as I hit the sky I turned on Ace Mode and shot him to pieces before he was more than a dot on my screen. The tempting ease of Ace Mode renders combat into a series of rail segments, as you move from target to target activating Ace Mode and shooting them down.
If I make the game sound too easy, there are ways to make it more challenging. You can up the difficulty from Normal to Hard, turn on Simulation steering to make maneuvering sluggish and unresponsive, and you can turn on Hardcore Mode in the options to essentially disable the HUD, objective indicators, and targeting markers. For an extra personal challenge, you could even try resisting using Ace Mode at all.
This alters the numerical balance of the game’s various cooldowns and meters (on Hard difficulty, Ace Mode isn’t nearly the instant-win button it is in Normal) and increases the damage of enemy planes dramatically, but the enemy AI doesn’t really improve the higher the difficulty setting, they just fly their previously established flight patterns. I never once felt like I was being tailed or actually engaged in a real dogfight with an enemy. It felt like a classic arcade shoot-‘em-up where rows of enemies fly in a curve or straight line while periodically lobbing a shot or two your way, with higher difficulty making those random shots especially lethal when they do hit. Considering dogfighting is right there in the game’s title and theoretically a focus of its gameplay, the lack of the enemies actually capable of doing any dogfighting is a glaring omission.
After playing a few missions like this, I found the game a frustrating chore to play. There was no increased excitement or intensity, just slow, plodding controls, objectives made more confusing by the lack of indicators, and periodically dying out of nowhere because the increased enemy damage meant sometimes they got lucky and shot me down when I crossed their pathing instructions.
There are a variety of different period-accurate aircraft to unlock, but the statistics that are displayed don’t seem to make the planes feel meaningfully different. The star-ratings for attributes like damage, durability, or maneuverability didn’t appear to really make an impact on the game itself, and I found it difficult to actually notice a difference beyond the appearance of the plane I was flying.
While it does present itself as an accessible air combat game, a bizarrely inconsistent and challenging element I found was actually landing my plane. Despite being arcade-style in nearly every other respect, for some baffling reason the developers decided that landing your plane was to be difficult, careful, and highly realistic. If you have the incorrect angle of approach or don’t manually throttle down with the correct timing, your plane tends to smack into the ground and explode or, heaven forbid you’re landing on aircraft carrier, slide right off the runway into the water.
If you do fail to land and end up dead, then the game puts you back to your previous checkpoint, which is always the last wave of enemies you fought. This is vexatious, and actually makes landings feel like they’re the real boss fights of this game, and I’m not sure the developers intended that interpretation. It took me six or seven tries to beat the last boss of Final Fantasy 7, but it took me 11 tries to land my plane on the USS Yorktown in Dogfight 1942.
While other elements of the game err on the side of accessibility and ease, with options to make it more challenging or closer to a simulation, there is no way to make landing less complicated and tricky. Since landing your plane is required on every single mission, it’s a completely unavoidable issue if you find it difficult and frustrating.
Clocking in at about three or four hours, it is a game a person could chew through in a lazy afternoon, which is typical of many XBLA titles. A DLC expansion exists which adds an extra set of missions to the Campaign focusing on the Russians versus the Germans, but it was not included in this review.
The game does have other modes besides Campaign, but these are all local multiplayer modes that require another player. Dogfight Mode pits you and a friend against AI-controlled enemies in a straight-forward deathmatch, with a competition to see who can destroy the most enemies the fastest. Survival Mode is similar, but makes the waves of enemies endless, with the objective of seeing how long you can last. Most of the missions from the single-player Campaign can also be played co-op. Unfortunately, Dogfight 1942 does not have any online multiplayer of any kind, which is surprising these days even from an XBLA title.
At 1,200 Microsoft points, Dogfight 1942 may make a good purchase if you’re looking to scratch that itch of World War 2 aerial combat, and if you’ve got a friend or roommate to enjoy the local multiplayer with that might extend the life of the purchase beyond the short campaign.
Dogfight 1942 earns a 4 out of 5.
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