It is the summer of 1940. The smell of high-octane aviation fuel courses through the air as you don your flight suit and fire up the behemoth V12 motor in your Mark I Spitfire. A distant droning hum followed by the signature squeal of a Stuka dive-bomber siren heralds the arrival of the next wave of German attacks on English soil. You wind the throttle up to 100% and take off, entering battle as the last entity that stands between a Free Britannia and the ever-increasing onslaught of Nazi fascism.
A big-budget remake of The Battle of Britain you’re thinking? Not quite. Enter War Thunder, the latest flight simulator offering from indie Russian developer Gaijin Entertainment. Currently in open beta on PC and due for console release in late 2013, War Thunder puts forwards a dazzling attempt at creating a multi-player flight simulator based around the last era of true dog fighting, all whilst appealing to a broad gaming audience. And best of all, it’s free!
From the get-go you notice that War Thunder is an immensely visually-stunning game. Powered by the relatively-unknown Dagor engine, rendering of everything from models to environments on high settings is comparable to what you see come from big-name releases such as EA’s Battlefield series. Upon first starting the game, you can’t help but spend quite some time looking around and admiring just how pretty everything looks. Admiring for long enough, in fact, that one might even forget they are piloting an aircraft and end up crashing said aircraft in a fiery mess somewhere in the jungles of Guadalcanal. Yes, it does happen.
Taking lessons from other prominent flight-sims such as IL-2 and Birds of Steel, the developers at Gaijin have successfully integrated the game into options that appease both newbies and veterans to the world of flight simulators. Different game modes are available to suit a variety of players, from simple Arcade combat putting players against each other in a ‘capture the point’ or ‘team death match’ scenario, all the way up to historically accurate virtual versions of Pearl Harbour, Midway and many other key battles of World War II, complete with real-life accurate physics and great joystick-control support for the more involved simulator player.
You’re kept interested (and playing) with the game’s levelling system, allowing you to choose a country’s air force and unlock more planes within each one as you play more and level up. Attention to detail is where Gaijin have truly done well here, with each new plane unlocked being a completely new model, with completely new textures and completely different in-game handling. Over 100 unique planes are available for players to choose, from agile single-engine fighters to monumental four-engine heavy bombers, allowing players to configure themselves into the role that suits them best within each individual match.
An interesting thing to note is that the game itself is actually free. Yes, free. (That’s a win for us university students). War Thunder represents a new wave of games, coming from modern indie developers that don’t aim to make money off the direct sale, instead giving you the base game for free, but then allowing people the option to buy in-game upgrades that give them a slight advantage over other players. In War Thunder this comes in the form of upgrades to your planes and weaponry, as well as access to premium planes unavailable to free players. One can unlock the same upgrades through points earned in-game themselves although this requires a lot (and I mean a lot) of game time to acquire the same things as a hefty $5 might get you. That being said, the value gained from buying into the game balances well so as to not give players that do buy-in too much of an advantage over players that don’t.
Being an open-beta there is still the occasional, very infrequent, game bug and to the woe of Australian players, servers are currently only available in Russia, Europe and America. These small issues, however, do not really detract from the overall impact of the game, and will most-likely be completely fixed ahead of global release later this year. Future releases intend on further broadening the scope by introducing ground and naval battle to players, allowing for massive online vehicular warfare over gigantic-scaled maps. How successful Gaijin will be on this endeavour though remains to be seen.
Overall a highly recommended game, War Thunder heartily satisfies the inner flyboy within all of us and presents its players with an incredibly beautiful virtual window at experiencing their own finest hour.
Check out the game, including download links, available at the War Thunder Website: http://warthunder.com/en/