Arcade flight simulators are tricky things to get right, but that hasn’t stopped developer GamesFarm and publisher bitComposer from taking another run at the genre. Following “Secret Wars” and “Pacific Carriers – their spin-offs to 2006’s “Air Conflicts” – comes the PS4 re-release of their third installment – 2013’s PC title “Vietnam”
The game features several modes beginning with the ubiquitous campaign where players take on the role of pilot Joe Thompson and chart his progress through the war via missions and personal correspondence with his family in the U.S.A. – which isn’t a new approach by any measure, and will be familiar to anyone with a penchant for videogames based upon real-world conflicts. That said, Joe’s story is surprisingly well-crafted and intriguing, and players with a particular interest in the Vietnam war may find that they can overlook some of the plot issues and the rather jarring transition from action to narrative.
The main campaign in “Air Conflicts: Vietnam” begins with a brief introduction to the story, and after players decide one their vehicle from the limited choices available (more can be unlocked as the game progresses), they then embark on a tutorial mission which will teach them how to control their aircraft. Now for the most part the instructions are pretty clear, but there are occasions where the details are sorely lacking – such as using the right stick to operate the afterburner (Note: DO NOT PRESS IT as this appears to switch the engine off resulting in a rather annoying death).
Overall the controls for both fighter jets and helicopters are quite complex, but once players have mastered them they may find that several missions have become quite easy. In general though, the controller works in a very similar way to other console-based arcade flight simulators – which is a plus for those familiar with the genre. The gameplay is actually quite fun, and while the dogfights are pretty much what one would except from and arcade flight simulator there are some challenging moments involving anti-aircraft turrets. On the other hand the bombing tasks aren’t as well realised as the camera is not really needed – players can drop their explosives successfully without trying to aim.
In addition to the main campaign there’s a local play mode that gives players the option of a custom match with no cut scenes – the choice of how many fighters they want to face, as well as Carrier Battles and the usual Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch. There are also online multiplayer options, and these modes are a great addition for this title because it has two major flaws – one of which is the main campaign.
By following Joe’s story players will be introduced to a repetitive cycle of bombing, dogfights, destroying turrets and transporting soldiers – and the “rinse and repeat” monotony is only broken during certain helicopter missions where players can switch to controlling the vehicle’s machine gun turret. Thankfully the “Lost Letters” DLC – which allows players to experience the action from the perspective of the Vietnamese troops – offers a surprisingly unique campaign that works well with the main one. As for the missions themselves, they’re actually quite short (almost annoyingly so), and some of them can be finished in minutes. In addition to this they are often followed by a cut-scene – which can become more than a little tiresome if players are simply interested in jumping straight into the action.
The second, and most noticeable issue, are the visuals – which is surprising given the capabilities of the PS4. One of the nice things about PC gaming is the ability to define textures, tweak the frame rate and enhance the colour and detail on the graphics in general, but console gamers don’t have that ability – and it shows with “Air Conflicts: Vietnam”. Frankly, it looks more like a last-gen title than anything else and the frame rate can drop like a stone during larger open-air skirmishes (the resulting “jumps” may cause some to think that their new shiny PS4 is having a few problems).
Thankfully this title does take advantage of the PS4’s Dualshock controller to breathe some life into the menu system (every click is crisp and clear from the little speakers), and the game is actually quite robust in the audio department. The effects are well realised and the mission chatter adds to the atmosphere, and although there are some slight issues with the voice acting at times (especially during the cut-scenes), these are all overshadowed by a catchy soundtrack that works very well with the time period and captures the flow and feel of the game.
Overall, “Air Conflicts: Vietnam” is a decent title for casual play but due to the repetitive mission structure it can become tedious during longer gaming sessions. That said, the storyline does a good job of keeping the player interested – especially the parts that deal with Joe’s personal life – and anyone interested in the Vietnam war, videogames based on real world conflicts or vehicle combat games in general may find something to enjoy. There are some fun gameplay elements to balance things out and the soundtrack can keep players humming along during missions, and the local and online multiplayer can be quite challenging as they add an element of the unexpected to proceedings (real people are a lot trickier to deal with than game-based enemies after all). Unfortunately there’s a good chance that people will judge this installment in the “Air Conflicts” franchise by the frame rate issues, last generation textures and low-detailed models – which is a shame as they really don’t do the game any justice.