|Talk about your oldtimers. In its third incarnation
now, Air Warrior has been providing sim fans with realistic dogfighting for almost
ten years. And for those of you who think battle.net was the great leap forward in online
gaming, think about this: Air Warrior has been an online game since its very
inception. The games venerable and distinguished pedigree is both its strength and
its weakness, for it has bred a hardcore cadre of fans, some of whom have been flying the
unfriendly skies since the game first appeared. These grizzled vets dont brook half
measures, and because of this the games flight models are extremely realistic and
the quality of online opposition extremely high. But this clubiness has its downside as
wellAir Warrior online is not an easy game to for the newbie to learn; the
documentation and interface are designed for oldtimers, and neophytes will find themselves
struggling as much with the clumsy keyboard commands and unfriendly manual as they will
with the Me 109 on their six.
OK, Air Warrior III is much like Air Warrior II; the flight models dont seem to have changed all that much, the cockpits are very similar, and 300 of the single player missions are direct lifts from the earlier game. But the enhancements are major ones: most significantly, AWIII supports 3D acceleration. Its no secret that Air Warrior II, though highly esteemed for its realism, had fallen way behind the graphics curve. No more. Under 3D acceleration the game runs smoothly and looks just great. Terrain and enemy planes at close quarters are very well-drawn, and explosions are big ugly things. No longer do the games graphics detract from the flight models realism. And speaking of added realism, AWIII also supports force feedback. If youve been waiting for a reason to buy a FF joystick, this game will give you one. Wrestling these planes around the sky and trying to maintain a bead while your machine guns recoil has your ship bouncing around is a riot, and takes the game to a whole new level. Even more remarkably , the force feedback effects feel different for different planessome are harder to coax out of a dive, some feel the recoil of their machine guns and cannons more forcefully. The game also includes 150 new single-player missions and a useful mission editor, so you can get plenty of practice before entering the online arena.
Air Warrior allows you to fly almost fifty planes from World Wars I and II and the Korean Conflict. While its nice to have this kind of historical coverage, the game is clearly focused on World War II air combat, and the flight models for the other periodsespecially the World War I planesdont seem as well-wrought. A substitute for Flying Corps Gold this aint. The flight models for the WWII planes, however, are exquisite. Some planes are built for zoom and boom, some for dogfights, some are turners, some climbers; some take a lot of damage, some are very fragilelearning the strengths and weaknesses of your ride is essential in this game, and if you try to fly a Zero like a Wildcat, you will neither live long nor prosper. Unfortunately, the realism of the flight models leads to a lack of variety in plane choice when you fly onlineI dont think Ive ever seen anyone flying a Yak (which is probably understandable) and youll find that in the online arena almost all combats take place at less than 10,000 feetmost at less than 1,000, Id wager. This means that high-performance high-altitude planes like FW 190s and P-51s arent very good choices if you plan to reach retirement age. Most players stick to Spitfires and 109s and P-38s in the European arena, and while this is probably good for ones score, it also bespeaks a certain lack of imagination.
But online Air Warrior is a world unto itself, and a thoroughly enjoyable one at that. Unlike many online games, the emphasis is not just on flying around looking for random dogfights. Rather youre assigned to one of three air forces, and the game consists of helping your side take other airbases and destroy other planes while living through it all. Teamwork is essential, and the side that communicates most effectively is the side that does best. Flying with a wingman will work wonders for your life expectancy, and bombers that recruit fighter escort before their runs will have a much higher probability of completing their missions. However, communication can be an unwieldy affair--especially in flight--and using the awkward keyboard commands to type messages can lead to ugly results. Fortunately, Air Warrior III now has a network speech option; and all it takes is a mike and a sound card. Up to sixteen pilots can be on any one channel, and it goes without saying that this can give you a real advantage in combat.
OK; thats the upside to the gameit looks great, has terrific flight models, is a deep online experience, and has a high fun factor. The downside is that its much more difficult to learn that it should be. While the game does make some concessions to new pilotstheres a new pilots arena available, as well as a very useful and informative (though not very conspicuous) online guide to planes that gives advice on a planes qualities and how to exploit themthe game is not very newbie-friendly. Dont expect hints on how to dogfight or flyif you dont know an elevator from an aileron or a stall from a split-s, you wont after you read the manual, either. Adding to a beginners difficulties is the clumsy, counter-intuitive interface; want to turn on your dive-bomb sight? Just hit esc+s+d. Ugh. Of course, you can help yourself out a lot by programming your joystick for the most commonly-used commands, but its till an inexcusably awkward interface. The manual, while extensive, is poorly organized, gives no historical background, and is written about as invitingly as an army training manual. All of this is a shame, since the online players are uniformly helpful. Ask a stupid question, and youll get a friendly and informative answer. Air Warrior players, especially the oldtimers, have a rare though not exclusive camaraderie; they like new players because they believe fervently in the greatness of their game, and want to spread the word. Of course, they also like them because theyre easy to shoot down.
The final word on Air Warrior is that its a great game that deserves to be played by wider audience; unfortunately, it doesnt really reach out to new players. Its as if Interactive Magic decided that the game would preach only to the converted, and thats too bad. If youre an Air Warrior II buff, get a 3D card and get this game. If you are unfamiliar with Air Warrior, but like air combat sims and are willing to suffer a steep leaning curve, I recommend this game heartily. But if you just want to jump in and have some fun, this game will definitely and unnecessarily try your patience.