The air combat genre has a long history with video games; a fantasy that the medium is uniquely positioned to fulfil. Flying fast in advanced aircraft, tearing apart ships and other planes at lightning speeds. Arguably the greatest in this genre has been the Ace Combat series and that’s why it’s a compliment to say that it was the only game I could think of when playing Project Wingman. In fact, Project Wingman may be even better than Ace Combat, at least the latest release in the franchise.
Just from the outset, it seems like Project Wingman has been made by diehard fans of the genre. Not everything is perfect by any means, but there is a clear sense of passion and attention to detail. It’s got everything you would want out of an arcade-style air combat experience.
To start there are two major game modes. Campaign which is a series of narrated levels and Conquest – a wave based mode in which you attempt to slowly take over territory.
The campaign is the highlight for sure. It’s set in a future that is consumed by war after a cataclysmic event. You play a pilot in a for-hire mercenary group and this story is shockingly engaging. Every mission starts with a briefing where the objective and some exposition is given and it is here where the writing and voice acting is excellent, bringing the excitement required to get to every mission.
What also got me excited were the gameplay scenarios that are presented to you. Wingman does a great job of mixing up the objectives and types of enemies you face. Many missions will have you face off against ground combatants like AA guns mixed in with enemy fighter pilots. However it often changes things up with various amounts of unique enemies.
The gameplay is generally pretty simple; this is not a simulation. You can pitch and yaw, but generally flying simply focuses on pointing in a direction and kicking on the afterburners. However it is incredibly tight and feels great, so much so that you can’t help but find a smile on your face as you go about skimming across water, slinging missiles at assault boats or making a last second barrel roll to dodge an enemy aircraft. It’s able to offer up some really great fun.
What adds to this excitement is the music, which is properly cinematic and grand in scale. It reminds of soundtracks to classic war movies; really intense orchestrated pieces. It’s so good in fact that it is able to add a lot to the atmosphere and moment to moment gameplay of Project Wingman.
As you progress through the story you can unlock new planes that are suited to various different situations. There are also new weapons to enjoy, even though most of the armaments in this game are pretty run of the mill; plain affairs. It’s still satisfying to slowly build your collection of aircrafts and weaponry, yet I only wish there were some more exotic airplanes and weapons to use.
The second game mode – Conquest – essentially takes all the lessons learned from the main game and puts it into a series of endless skirmishes; as you’d expect, these get progressively harder the farther you progress. Again in this mode you can unlock different aircrafts from the main campaign, however as you complete missions you can also hire AI support to help you in the battles. There’s no debate that this is pretty cool as it feels like you’re building out your own private army.
Generally though, Conquest is not as engaging as the main campaign. There are some modifiers and difficulty levels that encourage replayability in that mode, but without the gripping story to pull it along, you may find yourself becoming less invested in the gameplay. Your air mileage may vary though.
Speaking of AI, it’s generally excellent from both sides. The enemy airplanes are smart and will engage in complex evasive maneuvers to avoid your attacks. Also, unlike many games in this genre, your AI companions can do some serious damage, happily holding their own on missions where they are present.
Project Wingman is a fine addition to the air combat genre – so much so that it is frankly a no-brainer for fans. It plays somewhat on the safe side with predictable weapons and aircraft, however the tight and satisfying gameplay, epic music, and engaging story, really make it stand out.
Project Wingman is available from the Xbox Store