A Welcome Addition To A Forgotten Genre
Whether it's better known as Arcade Aerial Combat or Arcade Combat Flight Sim, the concept of piloting a fighter jet has been a niche in gaming culture. Ground-based warfare including large expansive battlegrounds found in Battlefield is commonplace in video games. This is due to the ever-popular FPS going hand-in-hand with the occasional vehicular combat. What if combat wasn't confined to the Earth but instead took to the expansive skies? Sector D2's Project Wingman seeks to answer this question while giving fans of combat flight simulations a way to sate their cravings.
One thing to keep in mind about Project Wingman's development is that it was done by a three-person group. Sector D2 is made up of a developer, a writer, and a composer. The reason why this is brought up is that the quality of this title far exceeds what one would expect from a three-person group. Navigating through menu options can be a bit clunky, but controller support is solid, the graphics are amazing, and the aesthetics are familiar to fans of the genre.
Project Wingman Is A Love Letter To Ace Combat
It's not just Ace Combat that Project Wingman draws inspiration from, but beginning the Campaign mode it's hard not to think about it and smile. The story centers around the Sicario private military set in an alternate version of Earth. The player named Monarch is a pilot of the Hitman faction, a group of elite pilots who have an impressive track record of cleaning up the dirty work. Most of the missions in Campaign mode centers around the Hitman team as they attract the attention of every hostile faction.
While the story isn't needed to enjoy Wingman, it offers a sense of immersion as each pilot engages in dialogue with one another. Each pilot in your faction has a distinct personality as well as a familiar bond. The dialogue steers towards the verge of cheesiness but it doesn't take itself seriously. Friendlies will warn the player when they are targetted, acknowledge when the player locks on a target, congratulate on a takedown and keep up to date with the action. It's not groundbreaking but it offers a sense of comradery rather than "Go here, shoot this thing, and move along." It's very similar to later entries in Ace Combat and it takes the best bits of what made the series memorable.
Each Plane Behaves Different From Each Other
The fighter jets that Monarch has access to are limited to two crafts in the beginning with more jets and variations accessible as the player progresses. Each jet has different attributes depending on player preference. Some jets are sturdier yet not as nimble as others that may be "glass cannons." Some jets are equipped with different load-outs including anti-ground shells for grounded and at-sea units. While enemy jets are the main target, the player will occasionally have to contend with threats down below.
Each jet is fitted with missiles and a gun, the former will be the main method of attack during dogfights. Similar to other arcade combat flight sims, two missiles are usually enough to take an enemy down. They won't simply be sitting ducks, however, as they will chase and evade missiles just as capably as you. This is where the thrill of dogfighting in games like these prevail, almost engaging in a dance-like situation to assert dominance.
You Are Not Invincible, Especially In Higher Difficulties
Using an Xbox controller, the fighter jets were easy to control under default settings although I offer one recommendation to controller players. Be sure to set the "Arcade Controls" to "On" as it simplifies the movement of the fighter jets considerably. With this option turned off, the player will need to use a combination of x and y movement to turn, which is manageable but it doesn't allow you to 100% focus on the action.
The only frustration I had would be when my missiles would lock on yet barely miss the target. It's then I realized that the timing of firing missiles determines whether it's a hit or a miss. Again, these same strategies of avoiding enemy fire are also done by the enemies themselves.
The graphics are absolutely stunning at max settings, with the right amount of bloom emulating the sun as it reflects on your jet. It's not "different shades of brown" either, as the environment changes depending on the altitude of the craft. Directly above the clouds may be clear but go under and you'll go barrelling through a thunderstorm picking off opponents. This attention to detail is what makes Project Wingman an impressive game visually as well as mechanically.
Project Wingman Is Beautiful Aerial Combat On A Budget
At this current time in writing, the default MSRP for Project Wingman is $25, which for the size of the team that worked on it and the quality of the game itself, is a steal. It is also on Game Pass, which means anyone with access to it shouldn't pass up on an opportunity to try it out. My major gripes are the cumbersome menu system and the lack of a "tutorial" for your buttons.
You'll have to adjust some settings to see what button does what in-game. However, spending the minute or two to configure and calibrate will equate to hours of content. Players looking for an alternative to Ace Combat after sinking hours into Ace Combat 7 should look towards Project Wingman for more dogfighting action.
Project Wingman is available on the PC and Xbox One.