Flying, Fighting, And Firing Missiles

HIGH Exhilarating combat. Fantastic sense of speed.

LOW No. Checkpoints. During. Missions.

WTF This is a post-apocalyptic future with our current level of technology???

I believe I was a combat pilot in a past life.  Unfortunately, because it was a past life, I also believe I wasn’t a very good combat pilot.  However, I’m still drawn to combat flight sims despite the fact that I’m terrible at them. In fact, I can quote all kinds of statistics about turn ratios, missile capacity, and so on… but I also tend to crash into mountains. What this means is that I prefer a more relaxed flight model in my sims, and I also love being able to fire an impossible number of missiles while whooping loudly and performing Immelmann turns.  Hence, titles like Project Wingman grab hold of me and never let me go.

This one takes place in an alternate reality where an apocalyptic something-or-other releases a resource known as Cordium, which is… good for some reason?  Nation-states are formed and folks battle for control of the supply, or something, and the plucky Cascadian Republic has enlisted the player’s mercenary group to help them. 

Look, it’s all a bit convoluted, but the gist is that the player is the babyface, the Federation are the heels, and the player gets to blow up lots of stuff in some swank alternate-present aircraft while dodging missiles and flak at over 1000 MPH. 

Flying the aircraft in Project Wingman is a dream come true.  The sense of speed is intoxicating, and small details like clouds leaving moisture droplets on the canopy never fail to impress.  Aircraft and ground details are simply stunning except when I auger in, as flames around an impact site are obvious 2D sprites against the 3D world.  Smoke contrails fill the sky as missiles chase my plane, and enemy forces explode in an extremely satisfying manner.  I can only imagine how amazing this must be in VR. 

The flight model is accessible to newcomers, with easily-recoverable stalls that will make even novice pilots feel like an ace.  Difficulty is customizable, and planes are able to carry an impossible number of standard missiles, but pilots must ration advanced missiles and air-to-ground weaponry.  Realists may balk, but these piles of ammo allow missions to be much longer with more frequent dogfights, which is really why we’re all here.  The game wears its Ace Combat inspiration proudly on its sleeve and feels like an homage rather than a direct competitor, although both games share the same space.

The controls get the job done.  I appreciated being able to configure my T Flight HOTAS X without difficulty, making use of the stick twist function to serve as a rudder, and the attached throttle to provide that extra sense of immersion.  I was also able to quickly reconfigure button layout to provide me with the easiest access to my weapons and the ever-so-important flares used to assist with missile evasion.  The stick could have been a bit more responsive (especially when attempting tight maneuvers) but I’m not sure if that’s a setting I didn’t fix, the relaxed flight model, or my aircraft’s overall speed.  The throttle also felt a bit loose, but at the end of the day the controls felt fine and I had a great time wasting enemies while juking away from counterattacks. 

Missions are extremely long, often 30 minutes or more, and it’s a testament to how engaging they are that I often didn’t realize just how long I’d been flying.  Each one in the 21-mission campaign offers a number of different objectives, and a boatload (sometimes literally) of things to destroy, and in-flight chatter between allies and enemies complete the feeling of a life-or-death struggle in the air. 

Unfortunately, new waves of opponents often ‘pop’ in, which breaks the immersion somewhat, and the most frustrating part of Project Wingman’s design is that these incredibly lengthy missions don’t have any checkpoints! 

A particularly egregious example took place after devastating an enemy supply depot and splashing all of their defending fighters.  I was making my way to a rendezvous point and the end of the mission when an elite wing of fighters I had no hope of defeating showed up.

The idea (I assume) was to scare the player a bit and lead them into purchasing a better aircraft between missions.  Irritatingly, these fighters were significantly faster than me, and tore my poor F-14 to shreds before I could reach safety. The result?  more than 30 minutes of combat were wasted and I had to start the entire mission over.  It’s a good thing the core gameplay loop is so addicting because this lack of checkpointing would absolutely kill a lesser game.

Project Wingman may well be the most frustrating game I’ve ever unabashedly loved by making me feel like the hotshot pilot I’ve never been, and the only price I have to pay is a little bit of my sanity every time I die and remember that there aren’t any checkpoints.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Sector D2 and published by Sector D2 and Humble Games.It is currently available on PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 11 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was not completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents:  This game has not been rated by the ESRB. The game features realistic air combat against human opponents piloting enemy aircraft, land, and naval units.  There is no gore and it is sometimes implied that enemies have escaped the wreckage of their units (though not every time).  It is also stated that allied forces sacrificed their lives for their cause. The game discusses the nature of a mercenary lifestyle with pilots excited to rack up damage/kills in order to make more money.  There is a passing reference to alcohol when flying over vineyards in what is supposed to represent Napa valley. 

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game offers subtitles. The subtitles can be altered and/ or resized.  Subtitles may be moved to the top or bottom of the screen.  There are no font choices. All spoken dialogue during briefings is fully subtitled.  All mission critical dialogue and radio chatter in flight are subtitled.  All audio cues have a visual component usually in the form of a pop-up. 

Remappable Controls: Yes, this game offers fully remappable controls.

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