Iron Wings is an arcade-style WWII combat flight game in which two pilots search for a German officer named Adler.
Developer: Naps Team
Publisher: Naps Team
Genre: Arcade-style combat flight game
Release Date: May 31st, 2017
Iron Wings is an arcade-style WWII combat flight game in which players take on the roles of former Tuskegee Airman Jack Carter and former W.A.S.P. Amelia Petti during their time in a squadron known as Iron Wings. The story follows their search for a high-ranking German officer named Adler and the operations that they help out with during that search. Throughout the campaign, players will be given a variety of objectives, including destroying an aircraft carrier’s defenses before subsequently bombing it, stopping trains by destroying their locomotives, searching for targets with a searchlight, taking photos of various targets before they escape, and more. In addition to the main campaign, the game also features an Arcade mode and a Free Flight mode.
- Unique arcade-style combat – fight enemies using the game’s unique arcade-style combat system, which allows you to lock onto enemies’ tails and go on strafing runs.
- A unique story set during World War II – the game tells the unique story of a former Tuskegee Airman and a former W.A.S.P. as they search for a high-ranking German officer named Adler.
- A variety of objectives – players will be given a variety of objectives during the campaign, including searching for targets with a searchlight, taking photos of targets, bombing targets, and even stopping trains by destroying their locomotives.
- Seems that this game hasn't made any headlines yet!
By Matt Chelen
There are likely a number of untold stories from World War II, but I can assure you that Iron Wings isn’t one of them. While the game’s core story surrounds itself in facts about the war, the characters from the Iron Wings squad, and even the squad itself, are fictional. The game follows former Tuskegee Airman Jack Carter and former W.A.S.P. Amelia Petti as they tell the story of their squadron, the Iron Wings, and its hunt for a German officer named Adler. The story is framed as if they are being interviewed by a news station, showing clips of them talking at key moments.
Given the nature of the story, it’s not particularly interesting. It’s mostly just used to explain each operation that you play through, as opposed to being gripping from start to finish. That’s not to say that it’s a detriment; it simply isn’t memorable.
Iron Wings is an arcade-style combat flight game, which means that you won’t find much realism in terms of gameplay either. The flight model is extremely forgiving, with engine stalls only occurring if you reduce your speed beyond a certain point, and all planes fly in exactly the same manner. Each plane has the same selection of three weapons, which are variations of machine guns or bombs, depending on which character you are selecting the weapon for. There are controls for yaw, pitch, and roll, but I rarely found myself attempting to roll my plane. It’s not meant to be a simulator in any way and it shows.
As an arcade-style game, this largely works out. Flight feels great, even if not realistic, and it’s easy enough to maneuver around. It is slightly disappointing that spending $10,000 on a new plane doesn’t provide you with a faster or more easily maneuverable plane, but I also didn’t find it to be too much of a problem beyond my initial disappointment.
During missions, you have the option of switching between Jack and Amelia at any time. In fact, due to the different gear that their planes are outfitted with, you are often required to. You can also order the AI pilot to complete various objectives, but leaving them without an objective will allow them time to repair. You can usually switch between them without issue, but there are occasional moments that the AI pilot will be close to an obstacle, such as the ground, and you will switch right in time to crash into it, which can be frustrating.
Combat in Iron Wings is somewhat odd. Naps Team was clearly attempting to reinvent arcade-style air combat in a way, perhaps to make it more movie-like, and I found myself feeling differently about it practically every mission. Each gun has a certain range. If you are in third-person mode and within that range and you fire at a target, you will start to fill up what I called a focus meter. During the time that the focus meter is filling up, you can hit your target, but your accuracy is rather bad. Once the focus meter has filled, you will zoom in on your target and your accuracy will increase significantly, as long as they’re within your targeting reticle. If your target is airborne, you will lock onto their tail. If your target is on the ground, you will begin a strafing run. This focus mode lasts as long as you can continue to fill the focus meter by hitting your target, until your target has been destroyed, or until you have to end your strafing run in order to keep from hitting the ground.
Combat is augmented slightly by various nuances that players can use to their advantage. The game features two lock-on modes, one where you simply lock onto the target and another where the camera automatically rotates to keep the target in view. If you have your target locked on and in view, and you use the game’s U-Turn maneuver, you will be facing the target immediately upon turning around. This can be used to easily gain an advantage over airborne targets as they pass by you or to quickly perform multiple strafing runs.
Oddly enough, if you’re in cockpit view, you are largely required to forego these amenities. You cannot enter focus mode, instead simply firing at enemies with greater accuracy than if you were playing in third-person and you were not currently in focus mode. You can, however, still lock onto targets and have your camera automatically rotate to keep them in view.
Now, the inclusion of a focus mode as described is odd, but there’s another aspect of combat that is truly grating. Almost everything that you do in Iron Wings is followed by a short cinematic showing the effects of what you’ve just done. Shot down an aircraft? There’s a short cinematic showing the plane falling from the sky. Bombed a target? There’s a short cinematic showing the bomb hitting it. Killed an enemy unit in a strafing run? There’s a short cinematic showing them dying. Pulled a U-Turn? There’s a short cinematic showing the currently selected character pulling a U-Turn. You get the picture. I am almost certain that the reason for this is that, as mentioned before, Naps Team was trying to make combat seem more movie-like in nature, constantly ensuring that something was going on, but it ultimately breaks up the action far too often. I feel like the frequency of such cinematics could have been halved and the game would have provided a similar, but much more fluid, experience.
Where Iron Wings really shines is the overall scale of each mission. Each mission takes place in a specific location where you will complete several mandatory objectives and be given the option to take on several optional objectives for extra money that can later be spent on upgrades. The locations are each massive, with each objective often taking place in different parts of the map. There aren’t always a large number of enemies to face at once, but it really feels as if you are flying over entire cities, entire countrysides, or even entire deserts. These maps are greatly enhanced by the game’s high quality graphics, which extend to both ground units and the overall scenery, which is uncommon for flight combat games.
Unfortunately, the objectives don’t always do these maps justice. While missions often take dramatic turns, throwing unexpected objectives at you, the difficulty and nature of these objectives leave much to be desired. Throughout my eight and a half hour playthrough of the game’s main campaign, I was actually shot down a mere three times. Every other failure was the result of a timer expiring or crashing into something.
That is the core of my issue with the game’s objectives. They aren’t difficult because they test your skills in combat—I can assure you that they don’t. They’re difficult because you’re almost always racing a clock that it seems that you are only intended to just barely be able to beat. Some missions are outright timed, but others where you fight groups of enemies have timers that are hidden until the last 30 seconds and others still, where you have to defend allied units, use a bar as a different sort of timer. Due to the way the game is balanced, you will often find yourself replaying objectives multiple times as the timer runs out. It might have been fine had fewer objectives relied on timers, but it gets to a point where there are so many timed objectives that it begins to feel artificially difficult. I often found myself with a single enemy left as my time ran out, which is beyond frustrating, especially given that there was no point in which many of the objectives were given a particular sense of urgency. This is especially disappointing when you consider that there are a decent variety of interesting objectives that you will complete throughout the game, including but not limited to killing specific targets in strafing runs and stopping trains by destroying their locomotives, many of which would have benefited from more relaxed time constraints.
Because of the fact that the game’s objectives are largely timed, I often felt that success was based less on flying well and more on learning to use the game’s unique mechanics to complete various objectives faster. For example, I often found that I did not complete various objectives in time unless I used the aforementioned U-Turn-and-automatically-face-target mechanic liberally.
Later missions also have other problems. As you play, more tech gets added to each character’s plane. This is a fairly normal procedure for any game, but the way that each particular piece of tech is implemented doesn’t make its use feel particularly rewarding. It almost feels as if it comes down to constantly checking off boxes on a checklist. Did you make sure to deploy chaff to confuse missiles? Did you remember to redeploy chaff the moment that it stopped being effective? Did you remember to reactivate the Magnetron so that you can see your targets? The tech is largely based on a set of timers, which eschews any sense of skill in favor of simply giving the player more buttons to press regularly.
The problem with that is that later missions try to introduce the need to use multiple pieces of tech at a time while simultaneously requiring you to use the other character to complete specific objectives. This would be fine except for the fact that your AI partner can’t use tech at all, meaning that you have to manually switch to the character with that specific piece of tech if you need to use it. This creates situations in which you have to actively stop doing what you are currently doing to simply reactivate a timed toggle switch while potentially also racing against a hidden timer. While some missions offer you the chance to destroy whatever is causing you to need to use the tech in question, this often only serves to further break up the action in frustrating ways.
There’s also this odd mission in the middle of the game where Amelia crash lands and has to fight her way out of enemy territory. This entire mission is played as a gallery shooter and it works fine, but its goals aren’t particularly engaging. You just keep shooting enemies and trying to stay alive until the game has decided that you’ve shot enough enemies and can move onto the next part of the mission where you start the process all over again until the mission is over. There’s no indication that you will be moving to the next part of the mission either. You simply keep shooting the nearly endless supply of enemies with no visible kill counter available.
In addition to the main campaign, the game features an Arcade mode and a Free Flight mode. The Arcade mode offers a short-form, combat-only experience in which you get points for shooting down an endless number of planes on any campaign map that you’ve unlocked by playing the campaign. As you play, you slowly run out of fuel, take damage, and have to account for a timer. If you run out of fuel, take too much damage, or run out of time, you will lose, but you can get more fuel, repair damage, or get more time by shooting down enemies that have specific markers over their heads. This mode works well enough, but I can’t see myself going back to try to get high scores. Free Flight mode, on the other hand, simply lets you fly around each of the game’s beautifully crafted maps without any objectives or opposition.
I also want to take a moment to talk about the dialogue. The voice acting was largely tolerable, but ranged from perfectly fine to extremely stiff to sounding nearly identical to a synthesized voice. The English subtitles also contained a number of errors, some of which were reflected in the spoken dialogue. There is also what seemed to be an awkward reference to Britney Spears’ “Oops!… I Did It Again,” which could not have felt more out of place.
The game also suffers from several obvious bugs. I was able to complete one objective that I would have otherwise failed by accidentally breaking it; I destroyed a target right as I ran out of time, which allowed me to continue the mission without a timer and later complete it. Another objective continued for a good minute after I destroyed all of the targets, leaving me flying aimlessly and wondering if I would have to manually restart it. During one focus mode sequence, my plane automatically followed the plane I was firing at into the ground; I ended up crashing and failing the mission as my plane tried to fly out of the ground. I started one optional objective, only to mysteriously crash immediately upon starting the objective, fail it, and not be given a chance to retry it.
I had a number of issues with Iron Wings, but I would be remiss to say that I didn’t have fun with it. Much of what it attempts to do, it does fairly well. The game’s missions are just varied enough as to not feel repetitive and combat may be odd, but it also has just enough nuance that you will find yourself optimizing your routines to complete objectives within the timer. It’s also one of a small number of flight combat games that genuinely has great graphics all around, instead of just for key set pieces or even just the planes, which lead to the creation of some truly stunning maps. The fun comes with a few caveats, such as an overuse of timed objectives and a lack of true challenge, but it is fun, nonetheless.