Air Conflicts: Vietnam – Review
Air Conflicts: Vietnam is the latest in a long line in the Air Conflicts series offering explosive fast paced arcade action and could be summed up in a few simple words “Just pick up and play.” It’s an arcade-style flight-sim set during the Vietnam War, where you can pilot both airplanes and helicopters over a wide range of levels. The game is developed by the bitComposer who made the excellent Thunder Wolves so I was expecting some great things from this title and with a £20-£30 price tag, the game is squarely aimed to not complete with the triple A titles. With the lack of competition in the arcade flights sim market, this is a welcome addition to the genre.
The game starts off well with some interesting tutorials showing you the basics of flying both helicopters and airplanes (there are 20 various types in the game) while offering a short mission showing you the basic controls. The presentation is good from the start with a nice looking introduction screen and easy to understand menus. Each mission is divided into multiple different check pointed sections, which often involve switching between different aircraft. For example, you may have to drop some troops off but you will have to use your attack helicopter to clear the area of anti-aircraft guns before landing your troops, then you will get switched into a chopper for an on-rails section where you will use the mounted gun to protect the recently-landed troops. The use of the different helicopters/aeroplanes during each mission is a nice touch however generally you have to select the right tool for the job so there aren’t multiple ways to do a level.
Each mission starts with a short cut scene or speech heavy intro, the actual impact and morals of war is discussed quite a lot which I was surprised to see in this type of game. However you don’t genuinely feel emotionally attached to the game, you may be thinking about the impact the war is having on the native population but then within two minutes you’re on yet another explosive killing spree without a second thought. The cut scenes are quite low tech and the voice acting is not great but you’re not really buying this game for either of these so it doesn’t impact on the overall experience of the game too much.
Each of the vehicles are controlled by a different named pilot in a squadron that you control, before each mission you get to see the planes/helicopters you will be controlling and what weapons will be available on each. There are some very light RPG elements in this case, where pilots are rated on endurance, accuracy and evasion, this will progress the more battles the pilots contribute in. There are also some side missions, for e.g when the pilot’s aircraft gets destroyed, the pilot can eject and be taken as a prisoner of war, you can attempt a rescue however you never quite feel attached to the pilots though so generally you won’t be too bothered when this happens.
The on-rails sections can be fun, however sometimes the enemy can be a little hard to spot and you will end up getting repeatedly shot from someone you can’t see. The enemies in general tend to be pretty good in shooting you down very quickly, you will die a lot and the targeting and aiming can be a little inconsistent at times leading to frustration and with limited ammo maybe not as fun as it should be in an arcade game.
The planes are easy to control and have clearly been refined over several generations so the combat and dogfighting feels good. Even though this is an arcade game it also features a few realistic touches, the ability to stall in a high nose-up configuration as well as afterburners and evasion flares. On the other hand, the helicopters are hard to control and that’s mainly down to the slightly unnatural control scheme. On the choppers, the left stick controls the roll, pitch and yaw but doesn’t actually move the aircraft, that control is delegated to the right stick. It felt unnatural to be able to pitch the helicopter forward without it actually moving. The thought behind the controls is that you could control and aim your weaponry with the left stick without your helicopter moving but it felt unnatural, it felt almost awkward.
The “pick up and play” concept is extended to the game’s multiplayer and you can just jump into a game, Air Conflicts: Vietnam has several multiplayer modes, free for all, co-operative team play and capture the flag (via bombing runs). The multiplayer is pretty straightforward, pick a map, an aircraft, weather conditions and your time of day. In multiplayer, you can choose from a huge variety of planes, both American and Soviet supplied North Vietnamese birds, including amphibious aircraft, propeller planes and even utility helicopters. Once you’ve selected an aircraft, you can choose from a weapons load out and then dogfight to your heart’s content. Multiplayer will undoubtedly keep you playing for many hours and is a lot of fun, however the key to its ultimate success will be: ‘Is there a large enough community to sustain a good number of rotating matches and varying opponents?’
The graphics in this game are quite impressive in places, the models look detailed mixed with massive explosions and smoke that will linger throughout the battlefield. There is a good sense of speed in air battles and you can see the ever increasing damage when you are getting shot at. On a less positive note, the animation of ground troops looks a little awkward and a few clipping issues when watching the cut scenes do add to the budget feel. The overall sound quality in this game is adequate but special mention must be given to the music which is fantastic, there is nothing like some classic rock tunes as you are conducting a bombing run bringing back memories of films such as Apocalypse Now.
In short, Air Conflicts: Vietnam is a deliberately unassuming game. Given this is the fourth game in the series, bitComposer games have had time to refine and polish their game mechanics and flight model. Whilst the campaign is the primary focus of the game, the multiplayer is definitely going to be a highlight. Overall, it wants to be the sort of game that’s sat in your gaming library for a quick blast whenever you want to play something fast. That’s an appealing idea, but it’s a fine line to walk for the developer bitComposer games and it will be a big test if people will go out and buy it, however given its budget pricing, you will certainly find some enjoyment as I did.