HIGH Plane explosions are notably satisfying.
LOW The 15-ish hours of grinding to get every plane. Per faction.
WTF You want me to sink a German Aircraft Carrier? Um… What?
While I don’t want to tar all mobile game ports with the same brush, I can’t help but feel like there’s no point in converting action games. Puzzle games, sure, the platform doesn’t matter. Casual online-focused experiences? Why not, players have to log their hours somewhere to get their rewards, and a TV is as good as a phone. Action games, though, tend to rely on sparkling graphics and tight controls, which phones generally can’t offer. So why bother at all?
Warplanes: WW2 Dogfight doesn’t have a satisfactory answer to this question, as it never makes a strong argument for why it should exist as anything other than a free-to-play time-killer.
A dogfighting sim with mild management elements, Warplanes puts players in charge of an air squadron from Britain, Germany or Russia, and then dispatches them on randomized missions so that they can earn the resources they need to upgrade their airfields. Doing so unlocks new missions and maps, and the cycle continues.
The biggest problem is how hollow it is beyond this core resource-gathering cycle. There’s no story to speak of, and the missions get repetitive quickly. I never expect much variety from games like these — each mission will be about bombing a ground target or shooting down X number of planes, and that’s expected. There should, however, be a sense of progress and escalation, and that’s something Warplanes can’t offer. The randomized nature of the missions ensures that no momentum can ever be established. Increasing the size of my base and building a roster of planes unlocks stronger enemies, but since I’ve just bought improved planes, the challenge curve remains flat and it never feels like I’m advancing through the war.
Progress towards unlocking planes and base upgrades is frustratingly slow. There are four different types of missions — Attack, Defend, Attack Boats, and Special. Each one offers bonus rewards in one of four resources. If players want to upgrade their skills, they have to bomb boats. If they want to earn gold, they’ll need to take on the harder special missions. Since gold is the only resource that can buy planes or high-level base upgrades, and it can also be used to buy the other resources, it quickly becomes clear that there’s no real reason for the other types of missions to exist.
Players will also suffer constant setbacks — planes damaged in missions cost resources to repair, so unless missions go incredibly well and players make it back without a scratch, they’ll frequently lose up to half the cash they just earned on getting their planes back into flying shape. This kind of design makes sense in a free-to-play title that’s constantly encouraging players to buy gold with real money, but this is a paid download on the Switch, so why wasn’t all of the grinding patched out?
The actual dogfighting is competent, but clearly designed with casual players in mind. It’s easy enough to pilot the planes, but the controls are too loose to feel comfortable. Luckily, players only have to manually target in hardcore mode — the vast majority of the time they’re expected to use the ‘lock-on’ function, which allows them to simply hold down a button to automatically lead their target at just the right angle to score hits. It vastly simplifies combat and has a great feel, but anyone wanting to do more than make sure their plane is pointed in the right general direction needs to try another game.
The management aspects of the combat work well. Large-scale missions can force the player to take multiple planes out on a sortie, with bombers for ground assault and fighters for cover. Players can let upgradeable AI characters take care of the additional planes, or freely swap between them to make sure every job gets done right. Warplanes goes a little too far at one point, though, forcing the player to send planes back to re-arm when they run out of bombs.
There’s a reason most action flight sims hand-wave bomb weight restrictions and give players a cooldown timer on their ordinance — waiting around for 90 seconds resupplies between bombing runs is an unacceptable ask, and especially so when all enemy air threats are destroyed, leaving players with nothing to do but wait until their bomber returns and they can get back to the mission. The bombing mechanics are good, but by the end of my time with it, I was avoiding ground attack missions for fear of being stuck in a holding pattern for minutes at a time.
While I’m sure Warplanes works fine on phones and tablets, it needed a lot more work to get console-ready. There’s too much repetition, too little progress, and no narrative to give players a reason to keep plugging away. In fact, so little work was put in that the mission generation would occasionally toss out complete nonsense like asking the British to blow up an oil refinery in rural England. The developers couldn’t get something as basic as this right, and that same lack of effort is indicative of the entire experience.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Homenet Games and published by 7Levels. It is currently available on Switch. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Switch. Approximately 5 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was not completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated E10+ and contains Mild Language and Mild Violence. The swearing is no harsher than the occasional ‘hell’ or ‘damn’, and they’re right to call out the comparative lack of violence. This is more about the idea of a dogfight than actual aerial combat — planes explode and tumble out of the sky without giving players the cause to consider the people inside of them. Which is bleak, but not at all gory.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: There are no necessary audio cues in the game. Distant positions are marked onscreen, and vocal commands have subtitles. There is no way to resize subtitles. This game is fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable. Thumbsticks control movement and speed, with triggers locking on and firing weapons, and face buttons handling weapon and plane switching.