Flight-combat sims are an unfilled niche on handheld platforms, which makes Air Conflicts: Aces of World War II a notable addition to the PSP's library--and an enjoyable one, once you get used to its idiosyncrasies. The in-air action is entertaining, you can tackle the enemy as one of four countries, and you'll soar above a variety of different locations, from the Egyptian desert to the snowy shores of Finland. It's unfortunate that the fun is so often grounded by frustration. Your limited ammo reserves may necessitate landing at base, yet doing so is next to impossible, which makes certain missions highly irritating. Additionally, the unusual mission structure keeps you from replaying most assignments if you lose them, yet you can complete the campaign even if you fail more often than you succeed. These and a few other bizarre design gaffes are true head-scratchers, but enjoyably tense dogfights let the game shine through these murky clouds.
6208734NoneEnemy fighters crash to a fiery death in the desert sand.
However, it will take time for Air Conflicts to grow on you. Riddling an enemy aircraft with bullets is more challenging than simply hovering your targeting reticle over it and firing. Rather, you must lead your target by gauging its direction and altitude before letting loose your barrage. Your reticle will help you out in this regard by turning red when you can successfully hit your target, but it will rarely be when your enemy is in the center of your crosshairs. The targeting will require a mental adjustment (and a few failed missions) for many players, but once you grow accustomed to thinking a half-second ahead, you'll be a much more formidable presence in the skies. You'll generally be taking on a fair number of enemy fighters at once, often reinforced by friendly AI-controlled pilots, and in these circumstances, dogfights can be a lot of fun. Bullets fly through the air, felled foes burst into flame before taking a final nosedive, and you'll weave around as you dodge ground-based antiaircraft gunfire.
You'll unlock new aircraft as you progress through each campaign. Some, such as the German Messerschmitt, excel against winged adversaries, whereas bombers such as the B-17 easily take out ground targets at the expense of maneuverability. For the most part, each aircraft feels good to pilot, though the PSP's analog nub makes the more agile planes handle a bit too loosely. Some missions, such as one in which you escort a friendly bomber across the African desert, can be completed within a minute or two. Others last longer, stringing together multiple objectives and requiring you to take down enemy fighters and bombers in addition to tanks, buildings, and other ground targets. Successfully completing these multipart missions is exciting and rewarding, especially when waves of reinforcements keep you on your toes. Yet Air Conflicts begins to struggle in these longer stretches. You always possess limited ammo, even for your front-mounted machine gun. When you run out, you can land at a base to fill your reserves, but you have a better chance of piloting an actual Spitfire than you do of landing one within the game. The added authenticity of limited ammunition could have offered a welcome tactical consideration, but the idea goes up in flames thanks to the difficulty of successfully landing an aircraft.
Failed missions are at the heart of another of Air Conflicts' intriguing but flawed concepts. Missions progress historically; if you fail one, you generally don't get a chance to play it again and must instead choose another. Should you lose an aircraft, it will be removed from the hangar (though there are several aircraft of each type held in reserve for you, so it takes several losses before you lose complete access to your preferred planes). Failed missions won't keep you from completing the campaign, but the ability to lose the majority of your assignments and yet still finish it diminishes any sense of rewarding progression. Winning a mission increases your pilot's ranking and may gift you with additional aircraft, but when losing a mission doesn't have many long-term consequences, victory feels hollow. Additionally, withholding the ability to go back and replay a mission once you've finished a campaign is an unnecessary restriction. Following a historically accurate timeline is an interesting idea, but as presented in Air Conflicts, it's an added frustration without any notable benefit.