3WS – WWII Air combat on PS3

What a bunch of acronyms on the title alone!
World War II was all the rage in the early years of PS3 but the genre got overexposed or people simply grew tired of it and that resulted in a pretty big hiatus where no big budget title wanted to bring the player back to that dark era in history. That gap seems to have reached an end now that the series Call of Duty is going back to its roots and will be delivering a WWII experience this upcoming november.
The thing is, this hiatus might have been real for the big shooter titles like COD and Battlefield but in more “niche” territories like strategy or flight combat games, companies have kept using this period as their backdrop. That later genre is the one I’ll be looking at in this article. In particular, I’ll be comparing Air Conflicts: Pacific Carriers, Birds of Steel and Heroes over Europe. Let’s take a look at them.

What are they?
Even though it’s very obvious that the three games share the same genre, as they’re all about fighting in WWII planes, you could make a distinction between them comparing how arcadey or realistic they are. On that scale, Heroes over Europe with its pure arcade approach would clearly be on one side of the scale but for the other two titles the lines get blurrier.
For best phisics and realistic handling of the planes I’d go with Birds of Steel but Pacific Carriers on its simulation settings adds some extra detail that the former doesn’t have like having to manage limited ammunition and going back to base to resupply if needed.
In any case, because the game also includes a very simplified arcade setting, I guess I’ll have to place Pacific Carriers one step closer to the arcade end.

Its quirks
Because of its more personal storytelling, whenever your plane is shot down in Heroes over Europe, it’s game over. You have to restart the mission from the start or from a checkpoint. That however isn’t quite the same on the other two games.
In Birds of Steel and Air Conflicts you’re actually in control of a whole squadron. Whenever one is shot down, you take control of the next. You’ll only get a game over when all of their planes get shot down (or if you fail an objective).
Adding to that, because your plane will quickly run out of ammo, you can just change to another pilot on the fly and let the AI take that empty plane to base for it to resupply. That is easily the coolest feature in this game but not the only one.
Move users will probably be happy to hear that Pacific Carriers supports the periferal and it does it in a pretty cool way. Using the move wand like a flight stick feels surprisingly natural and it is indeed fun.
Heroes over Europe’s main quirk would clearly be its “ace kills”. That is some kind of special move where time will move slower and you’ll be able to aim at particular highlighted weak spots in the enemy’s plane for a one-shot take down. It’s certainly not very realistic but the ace kills are very satisfying and this is clearly an arcade-styled game anyway.

The good parts
It may be hard to explain but Birds of Steel’s highlight has to be simply the overall quality of the title. This is a pretty niche genre so companies don’t work with the biggest budgets here but this game manages to feel like a AAA product. There’s so much content in terms on planes and locations, the graphics and the sounds are fantastic, the introductory videos to each mission are crafted with detail and so is the rest of the game. It all has a very authentic feel and that is a great feature for a kind of game like this.
For Heroes over Europe I’ll have to go for the variety. Missions in here are the most varied of the three games and that keeps the game fresh and fun. I have to admit that I’m not a simulation junkie myself, I tend to prefer arcade games and this game provided me the most fun out of the three.
As for Air Conflicts: Pacific Carriers, I’ll have to point you back at the quirks section. What the game does different is what makes it most interesting. The whole squadron managing mechanic is fun and the move controls are well implemented.

The bad ones
You couldn’t say that the lack of realism or scope in Heroes over Europe would be something to criticise since the game never aimed to be a hardcore simulator but I have the feeling that it’s the only thing that would keep certain demographic from enjoying this game. That lack of ambition to try and create a greater game than what they actually did, this game is just a little (but fun) arcade flight shooter.
Birds of Steel’s main drawback would be that it’s a little too serious. It always tries to be authentic and that makes for a very solid experience but not so much “fun”. Missions can feel pretty repetitive for a while because you won’t be asked to do any outlandish tasks. It’s a been there done that situation.
Unfortunately the problems with Air Conflicts: Pacific Carriers go way beyond the personal creative vision that the developers had while “crafting” it. The problem here is that this is a budget title and it shows. It’s one of those small scale games with very little content. The menus are basic and the graphics subpar. However, the greatest offender here has to be the bugs. I’ve encountered many during my playthrough and it’s not like I was trying to break the game at all.

My thoughts
If we talk about quality in a product, Birds of Steel is almost flawless. It’s the safe bet. If I had a friend who’s into flight games and I had to gift him one for PS3, this is the one I’d pick because of all the flight games here and all the ones I have on PS3 in general, I admit that it’s the best one in terms of quality, scope and content.
However, in my perspective of an action enthusiast that leans more into arcade territories, I have to say that I had more fun while playing Heroes over Europe. It’s smaller and it’s certainly not realistic but the missions are more varied and interesting. This is the one I’d pick for people that are more into video games in general rather than hardcore flight games fans.
As for Air Conflicts: Pacific Carriers… I could only recommend this title to either someone who has played already all of the greater flying combat games and just needs to play anything else or to someone who just wants an excuse to dust off the playstation move controller. Otherwise, let it stay in the bargain bin.

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