Dogfight 1942 Review (Xbox360)

Originally entitled Combat Wings and promising a ”full boxed product experience” in digital download form, quite why developer City Interactive settled on the name Dogfight 1942 for the final release of its arcade flight sim is a bit of a mystery, as the game’s lack of content means there isn’t enough dogfighting and barely any of it is set in 1942 for that matter.

Befitting its arcade leanings, Dogfight 1942 has a very basic but serviceable flight model, with the left analogue stick controlling pitch and roll, and the right in charge of speed and rudder direction, with the added bonus of a temporary speed boost when clicking the right stick button. Landing and take offs are simplicity themselves as long as you avoid too steep a trajectory on your way in, while the game will generally pull your plane out of harm’s way automatically if you’re heading for a cliff or about to dive into the drink.

One on one dogfights are the highlight of the game

Combat controls are similarly straightforward. Enemy targets can be locked on to and cycled through using the LB button, and you unleash your onboard machine guns with the right trigger. Secondary weapons such as rockets, torpedos and bombs are available in infinite quantities depending on the model of plane, with the latter two bringing up a separate targeting reticule, though you’ll have to wait for a short cooldown period before dropping your next payload.

In general, the controls are instinctive and the handling of the planes agile and easy to master. Lock on to a target and you’re able to twist and turn with ease to follow them through the sky, and by holding down the left trigger you can enter Ace Mode, zooming your view in and allowing for finer control of your targeting reticule. If you do lose sight of your chosen victim, holding the B button will snap your view to them. When the game is at its best is in these brief moments of exhilaration as you spar with your opponent at break-neck speed through banks of oncoming enemies, and when you do take them out, you’re treated on random occasions to a kill cam showing their aircraft disintegrating in mid-air.

Problems do rear their head when the screen is full of enemy planes, especially in some of the later missions in both campaign acts. The game differentiates between mission-vital and secondary targets by marking them with red and yellow squares, but too often when the skies are packed the lock on will attach itself suddenly to one of the latter, allowing a primary target to slip through the net. Locking on to an off-screen enemy and accidentally tapping Ace Mode will find your plane wrenched in a different direction, disorienting and frustrating you in equal measure. Overall, though, the actual air combat in Dogfight 1942 is great fun - it’s a shame that the game’s less than plentiful central campaign means it is over far too quickly.

Based very loosely on real-life events such as the Battle of Midway, the V-1 attacks on London and the destruction of the battleship Yamato, the campaign comprises 17 missions broken up into two Acts - Onslaught and The Road to Victory - which range across both Pacific and European theatres. Only a handful of missions are actually set in 1942, before the narrative (such as it is) jumps back to The Battle of Britain in 1940, and then forwards to 1943-1945 for the second Act.

Each mission has a set of primary objectives, often handled in successive stages, as well as secondary objectives to go after if you’re so inclined, and range from straight up air combat to land and sea bombing and torpedo runs. The problem is the missions are all rather short and not particularly gripping: some such as a supply drop to a Resistance airfield or taking out the airplane of Japan’s naval genius Admiral Yamamoto consist of barely more than a couple of objectives and last mere minutes, while the longest mission won’t take more than a quarter of an hour to complete.

Rockets make short work of poorly armoured bombers

Even with a scoring system and three awards on offer for completing certain kill targets or unusual objectives in each mission, there is little incentive to replay them. Nor are the online leaderboards that record nothing beyond your score and time in the air likely to tempt you back. It all feels very insubstantial.

Matters are not helped by the ludicrously over-the-top dialogue, which sees the British pilots reduced to “tally ho” stereotypes and the Americans displaying a strange fondness for the phrase “squealing piglets”. The game is also unlikely to do anything for Japanese-American relations due to the numerous epithets bandied around by the U.S. pilots, even if the level of hatred evinced by the flyers is probably historically accurate, while the game stumbles dangerously close to bad taste territory when, in the final mission, one U.S. pilot ruminates: “If only there was something that would convince the Japs to surrender before we invade...”

Dogfight 1942’s campaign is ultimately a shallow and forgettable experience that can be breezed through in a handful of hours. Nor is the game’s virtual hanger of 40 historically accurate World War II aircraft likely to command attention, for, despite some detailed visual modeling work, in practice they all feel far to alike in handling, with the notable exceptions of the Catalina Flying Boat and the Meteor jet fighter. You’re able to choose between a selection of planes for certain missions, but simply plumping for the fastest aircraft on offer is usually the way to go.

The airplanes are at least visually attractive and distinctive, unlike some other areas of the game. Ground and ocean detail is sparse and variable in quality, with the fields surrounding Dover capturing the perfect Battle of Britain ambience only to be badly let down by a castle and harbour that look like they were constructed from Lego. With so many of the game’s missions involving attacks on naval units, the rather lumpen and basic ship models are highlighted perhaps more than they should be.

The majority of the missions in both Acts can be played as local co-op with a friend with the game splitting the screen vertically and pulling the camera back from the plane to afford a better view of the action, while upping the number of enemies to be dealt with. As always, playing co-operatively undoubtedly adds to the fun, though it’s a surprise that there is no option to play through the campaign with your online friends as well.

Tally, ho, chocks away and so on

Even more surprising is the fact that there is no online multiplayer component at all in Dogfight 1942. The Quick Play multiplayer section features two separate modes, both of which are restricted to two-player split screen only and use the same five settings taken from events in the campaign. Dogfights mode sees each player go head-to-head flanked by a group of AI wingmen to see who can reach the kill target first. Survival, meanwhile, is a standard wave attack mode that can be played either solo or co-operatively. Neither mode brings anything new to the table, and without online support is unlikely to be revisited often.

It may seem harsh to judge a relatively inexpensive downloadable title on quantity of content, but it was City Interactive themselves who made the comparison with boxed games, and on that front the game falls sorely short. Dogfight 1942 is a decent arcade flyer that’s ultimately kept grounded by an insubstantial campaign and a lack of anything interesting in the multiplayer department, and while it may pass an afternoon, don’t expect much in the way of longevity.

Top Game Moment: Flying an RAF Meteor at breakneck speed in pursuit of a German ace in a Messerschmitt ME 262 jet fighter.

Platform Played: Xbox 360