Aircraft Evolution is an action game with 40 stages, each with its own objective. These can range from needing to wipe the map clear of enemies, destroy all of the structures, or even race through a minefield in the sky. Originally released on PC, it makes its way to Xbox, Nintendo Switch, and PlayStation 4 on July 22nd, 2020.
Unlike in Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown, Aircraft Evolution begins with the player taking control of a WWI era bomber plane and they have to defeat an enemy to continue to the next stage. The controls are straightforward enough. The plane will maintain a constant speed and the left analog stick can be tilted up or down to dodge projectiles or turn around. If the A button is held down the plane gets a speed boost that uses a limited supply of fuel. The right trigger will drop a barrage of bombs and Y will fire a machine gun. The basic bomb and machine gun have an unlimited supply of ammo and as the player gains more levels more bombs are unlocked. These can be purchased and used but only in limited supplies.
Aircraft Evolution takes place over 40 stages which are grouped into sets of 10, each with their own theme. There are a couple of bonus stages throughout the game where the player will have a limited amount of time to fly around and pick up as many bombs, repair drops, and fuel resupplies as possible before the stage ends. Once it does the stage is locked and can’t be accessed again, with each era ending with a unique boss stage. But to get there, the player will need more than the first plane has to offer.
Thankfully there are two ways to address and rectify this problem. First, each plane can be upgraded in several different categories, such as armor, speed, maneuverability, and damage. But for those who have earned a bit more in terms of finances and have managed to gain a few levels, the other option is to buy a better plane.
Both methods have their pros and cons. Upgrading the plane is a nice affordable solution since upgrades don’t get more expensive as they are purchased, all costing the same. So if it costs 70 finances to upgrade armor, then it will cost 70 to upgrade fuel, speed, damage, manoeuvrability, and so on.
On the flip side, higher tier planes can be upgraded more than lower tier ones. The gains in upgrading to a better plane come in the form of better armor, fuel, speed, and maneuverability skills. They also eventually get rockets that they fire along with the machine gun, which are invaluable at higher levels and also come in unlimited supply. The downside to getting a new plane is that depending on how much has been invested in the current model, the new one will actually be worse until you can upgrade it too.
This is pretty frustrating at times since there are relatively low caps to the stats. For example, the bomb attack speed and bomb damage stats max out quickly. Damage caps at 1 and bomb attack speed at 1.7, which seems low – especially since the first plane is capable of reaching those stats.
If upgrading the plane wasn’t enough to get past a hard stage, another option is to buy repair kits in the shop. These will bring the plane back to full health, regardless of how much damage it has taken. This is a godsend on some of the harder stages.
It would be nice if the game didn’t cap out on upgrades so quickly since Aircraft Evolution becomes near impossible to complete unless speciality bombs are heavily invested in. Speaking of which, there are four different bombs to be bought throughout the game: cluster, napalm, heavy bomb, and super heavy bomb. The most fun to use are the cluster bomb and super heavy bomb, ironically both the least and most expensive ones respectively. And as that would imply, cluster bombs will see the most screen time since they only cost 3 finances, while the super heavy bomb costs a staggering 300.
The super heavy bomb just isn’t an economical or feasible option since it still takes a few of them to level structures, and only the last few stages of the game have a high enough earning potential to offset those costs. Further, one super heavy is worth 100 cluster bombs, and when it comes to carpet-bombing the entire map, more is better. The gameplay is still enjoyable; it just walks a fine line with tediousness when the stock of cluster bombs runs dry.
The last thing to really talk about are the menu systems. They aren’t bad but they could do with some improvements. Namely, they aren’t the easiest to navigate. This is fairly common in games that get ported from PC to console so it isn’t an egregious error by any means. It really comes down to three updates that would be nice to have. First, the selected UI element could be made more visible, as it is hard to see where the selection would jump to at times. Second, the plane upgrade menu can glitch out a little and make it hard to select certain upgrades depending on what’s already been purchased. And third, it would be nice if there was a way to quickly purchase more bombs instead of the slider counting up by just one as a purchase quantity is increased.
Overall, Aircraft Evolution on Xbox One isn’t a bad game – it reminds me of the games I used to play on the PC when I was supposed to be doing schoolwork. The only real negatives are that the stats cap out so low that it can feel like a constant uphill struggle. But this game took me several hours to get through and it was satisfying to finally reach the end. Whether or not Aircraft Evolution is worth a purchase comes down to how much you like a challenge and if you’d enjoy bombing a map to oblivion. If both of those things sound good, then Aircraft Evolution’s affordable cost should be all the persuasion you need to pick it up.