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Posted on Dec 4, 2013 in Electronic Games

Sid Meier’s Ace Patrol – PC Game Review

By Matt Richardson

A1-coverSid Meier’s Ace Patrol. PC and iOS. 2K Games. $4.99.

Passed Inspection: Charming art direction. Easy to learn and kid friendly. Interesting metagame of managing pilots. Plenty of variety in planes.

Failed basic: Little replay value. Definitely not for hardcore flight sim players.

Sid Meier’s Ace Patrol is a fun little game that will charm its way into your heart. No one’s going to mistake it for a hardcore flight sim or strategy game, but it’s a fantastic introduction to the genre and WWI aviation. The intuitive controls, lovely art direction, and cartoony graphics make it easy to slip into for some beer and pretzels fun.

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In Ace Patrol, you are given control of a squadron of British, French, American, or German pilots over the Western Front of WWI. You start with a single pilot (two if you skip the tutorial missions), whose skills you build up over time, adding more maneuvers and special abilities. You fly sorties far above the stalemated trenches, choosing between four missions. The missions vary widely, from balloon busting to airfield defense, one on one duels between aces to strafing tanks. Each of the four “offensives” that make up a game (one per year, 1915–1918) are capped off with a big “all in” mission with all four of your pilots against four crack enemy pilots, making for a satisfying buildup.

My favorite part of the game is the pilot-management metagame. Your four fliers have unique, hand-drawn portraits and well-acted voices, giving them a lot of personality. You will get attached to your senior aces and get a little twinge when they go down. As your pilots rack up kills, they advance in rank (sporting ever fancier rank insignia and medals) and gain new maneuvers and special abilities. Whereas rookies can only bank, climb, and dive, experienced pilots can add on rolls, loops, power maneuvers, skids, and special “ace maneuvers” like Immelmann turns and wingovers. Your veteran pilots are many times more effective than newbies fresh from flight school.

The personnel management reminds me strongly of the new X-COM (also a 2K/Sid Meier collaboration), in that you have to balance bringing your “A-team” against the need to blood your rookies so they’re more than just cannon fodder if your prize Ace is sent to the hospital for a few missions. And heaven forbid your Ace of Aces takes a dirt nap behind enemy lines—you won’t see him again until the prisoner exchanges at the end of each year’s campaign. Your enemies, likewise, have unique and recognizable Aces—you can check intelligence reports to see which Huns are flying CAP that day, and coming up against a menace like Max Immelmann or the Red Baron himself will give you pause.

The variety of planes is also impressive. During the course of a campaign, you’ll get access to about half a dozen models per nation. The planes start our primitive, spit-and-bailing-wire contraptions and end as, well, faster and deadlier spit-and-bailing-wire contraptions with a lot more machine guns. No one’s going to mistake even a late WWI fighter for a F22 Raptor, but even in those brief four years you see the enormous leaps made in aviation.

This game spurred me to spend a lot of time on Wikipedia reading up on the quirky, eccentric designs present in the game that I’d never heard of. Everyone’s heard of the Sopwith Camel, but did you know that, before they invented the synchronization gear (letting machine guns fire forward, through the propeller), that the British flew the DH2, a pusher aircraft that looks like the original Wright Flyer with a flexible Lewis gun stuck on the front? Or that one of the best British designs of the war had a tail gunner—on a fighter? Or that one of Germany’s best planes was a ridiculous looking (and ridiculously maneuverable) triplane? All three of these quirky little birds are present in the game, along with the more famous designs. Throughout the campaign, the Germans and Entente will trade the technological advantage back and forth as new designs come out. Ace Patrol, despite its cartoony, casual nature, is surprisingly well researched and a fun introduction to the history of WWI aviation.

Hardcore WWI history buffs will find plenty to gripe about. If the inclusion of female pilots on the roster or the lack of permanent deaths for pilots are going to bother you, you’ll find happier hunting elsewhere. However, if you’re not as exacting, you’ll find a lot to enjoy here. The flight dynamics are very simple, of course, but even as basic as they are the principles behind them—conservation of energy, the inability for pilots to suffer through multiple high G maneuvers in a row, the need to maneuver for an optimal firing angle—are all present to some degree. Even if you’re a finicky propeller-head yourself, this game would make a great gift to introduce a friend or child to the genre.

My biggest issue with Ace Patrol is the lack of replay value. Once you’ve played through all four campaigns (UK, France, USA, and Germany), there’s really no reason to replay them. Then again, for $4.99, that’s still plenty of playtime. You’ll probably end up with a hankering for more and want to seek out (or reinstall) a more proper WWI flight sim, but the game is perfect for loading up on a laptop (or iPad) for a weekend trip. A quick word though—even if you enjoyed Ace Patrol, as I did, avoid the recently released Ace Patrol: Pacific Skies. Despite being released later, this newcomer is far less polished and enjoyable, with no selectable missions, ugly artwork, an inferior interface, and bad voice acting. Search me as to why the series took a step backward, but that shouldn’t detract from the fact that the original Ace Patrol is a fine little game.

If you embrace its casual nature, Ace Patrol will let you grin and cheer on your little cartoon pilots. You will thrill when you set up the perfect deflection shot and down an enemy Ace. You will curse when your top Ace goes down behind the trenches. You will have a heck of a time and will probably want to give the game as a gift this holiday season. Everyone should have this much fun flying.

Armchair General Rating: 85%

About the Author
Matt Richardson is a freelance social media and web traffic analyst in Charlotte, North Carolina. He has a degree in History from Davidson College, with a special interest in military history. He has rotted his mind with video games since childhood. You can follow Matt at @MT_Richardson and read his blog at Ritalingamer.com.

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