Not So Simple And Not Just Planes

HIGH A combo of stock/procedural parts for great elasticity in building. 

LOW Lack of a proper multiplayer mode.

WTF Why is my submarine flying?


SimplePlanes is a title that makes building and flying planes easier than ever. Probably. Don’t be fooled by the title though — even though it’s easier than ever, the planes are hard to design and almost half of the content isn’t about them at all…

In addition to a robust plane-building tool there’s a singleplayer campaign with a variety of missions in three categories — racing, combat, and challenges. It’s brief, but being able to dogfight against enemies with a freshly-made DIY plane is something else. There’s also an sandbox mode allowing players to test their vehicles inside a giant map and an official multiplayer mod, although guns do no damage to other players, effectively nullifying the most needed function of multiplayer, i.e. — shooting each other out of the sky.

Looking at the mechanics of building a plane, the tool looks voxel-based, but that’s not true. The main body of vehicles can be made out of procedural parts which can be freely resized and reshaped to the player’s liking, and will have their physics parameters changed accordingly. There’s also many functional parts to choose from — in addition to the pieces one would expect a plane to require, there are car wheels, shock absorbers, and various engines. With this tool players have created not only planes but helicopters, cars, boats, submarines, rockets, starships, UFOs, and flying toasters — this list just scratches the surface of what’s possible. 

The learning curve of building is great. The tutorials are simple and to-the-point when explaining the fundamentals, and making something that flies is easy — a fairly experienced player can do so in around half an hour without too much fiddling around. However, it’s hard to squeeze the full potential out of the physics engine, and just by tweaking a few parameters, a vehicle’s performance can improve by a significant amount.

The base game also accepts a wide range of parameters stored in the craft files themselves, including the size, mass, drag, and collision of parts. Test flights for changes are easy to do, and troubleshooting is simplified with data provided by the game. For those who focus less on performance and more on cosmetics, parts can be colored with a lot of freedom.

All of these parameters can be modified and then loaded into an unmodded game client when using a mod to assist the building process, usually called “XML modding” by the community. However, the balance of SimplePlanes is easily upset because players can freely change parameters to make overpowered vehicles to be used in missions without any penalty.

XML modding aside, procedural parts in SimplePlanes combined with an ingame position tuner gives great flexibility in builds, even when no mods are installed at all. However, the limitations are that procedural parts generally feel too elastic and stretchy in flight, and not being able to rebind controls freely is a major pain. 

Speaking of which, this is one of the biggest complaints I have about SimplePlanes — the controller inputs aren’t as flexible as the building. There are several hard-coded input controllers that players can assign keys to in the settings, and players can then set certain parts to react and function as they should. The upside is that most of the creations feature the exact same control scheme, but the downside is that players run out of controller schemes to choose from when building specialized vehicles. 

In a game like this, the physics are of utmost importance, and in this respect, SimplePlanes is impressive. There are no lag issues even on potato PCs, so long as the video quality is adjusted, and if the part count is kept reasonable then the physics feel realistic. There are a handful of things that don’t handle well, though.

For example, the stall physics for wings are very very broken, and players generally rely on mods to make realistic modern jets able to perform fancy post-stall maneuvers. The water physics are also not optimal, and I had some major lag spikes with the desert island for no apparent reason.

There is an official website for sharing and downloading creations. Creators can create an account to easily share their creations with a press of a button, and on the receiving end, players can download the creations of others.

Overall SimplePlanes is a very solid engineering title. With its learning curve and freedom in building, both new and experienced players can enjoy the process of building. With its physics engine, it’s also an engaging vehicle simulator with exploration, racing, and combat accessible within a a few clicks.

Rating: 8 out of 10

— Hans Wang 


Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Jundroo, LLC. It is currently available on PC, Mac, Android and iOS. This copy of the game was obtained via Steam and reviewed on the PC and Mac. Approximately 10 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed500 hours of play were spent in sandbox and multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated E and has no descriptors. There are just some cartoonish explosions on some cartoonish planes, even Tom and Jerry is more violent than this game. 

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: Playing the game without sound is absolutely possible. Every single audio cue comes with a visual cue. Also, the audio does not affect troubleshooting creations in most cases, either. 

Remappable Controls: Yes, this game offers fully remappable controls, and there are far more settings available than we could display here.

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