Developer: City Interactive / Publisher: City Interactive / Played on: Xbox 360 / Price: 1200 MSP ($15) / ESRB: Teen [Language, Violence]
It’s rare to play a game as mechanically and thematically directionless as Dogfight 1942. The title itself summarizes the game perfectly — it tries to capture the simple essence of World War II era dogfighting but ends up being completely forgettable and banal.
The story in Dogfight isn’t special, but the game’s themes are uncomfortable and awkward. You play as both American and British forces, and while the British are mundane one-dimensional stereotypes, the Americans are absurd corn-fed southern boys that throw around the term “Jap” more times than I could count. Now, I’m not sensitive about race — I work on Inside Gaming for Christ’s sake — but in Dogfight it’s just bizarre. With lines like “The lord’s as eager to punish the Japs as we are,” you can’t help but raise an eyebrow.
I get the feeling that the developers were going for a pulp comic book style where our fighting boys are broad-chested and square-shouldered. I’m imagining a vibe like the proud nationalism of Iron Brigade, only it’s not evident in the rest of the game at all. If they’d gone for a more outlandish theme like Crimson Skies the caricatures would’ve been more enjoyable instead of wholly awkward.
Thematic inconsistencies could be forgiven if the game was fun to play, but Dogfight sets new standards in minimizing player input. It reminds me of a drop quote on the back of the Ace Combat: Assault Horizon case, dubbing it “Call of Duty in the air.” While Assault Horizon captured all the best aspects of Call of Duty (the scale, bombast, and immersion), Dogfight simply apes its basic mechanics without context. The most overbearing of these mechanics is the “Ace” capability, which not only causes you to loosely lead your target with your guns, but will actually snap you around completely to point you at your target. It even turns you faster than you can turn yourself. Engaging it does drain a meter, but it refills so quickly it may as well not be bounded at all.
This is a literal autopilot for the whole game, so much so that I finished an entire level using only the left and right triggers (ace and guns, respectively). Granted, I had to use the right stick to throttle up for takeoff and the left stick to land again… but that was it. It’s the snap-targeting of Modern Warfare taken to absurd new levels and it eliminates most thought or skill from the game. There are missions that involve bombing naval ships and the inexplicably mandatory stealth level, but they fail to feel substantively different than any other task. Combine that with a two-to-three hour campaign and you’ve got an experience that is hardly a game at all. There are optional bonus objectives for every level and a scoring / star ranking system but it’s just a rote attempt to add depth. It feels as hollow as Dynasty Warriors, only that game understands what it is and offers enough unlocks to keep a player busy.
Thanks to the Ace mechanic, the rest of the controls don’t really matter, but there are a few intelligent aspects I’d like to praise. First, Ace mode doesn’t point you directly at your target, but (theoretically) leaves the fine aiming to the left stick. This system works well, it’s just a shame none of the missions or game structures build on it.
I also liked the way Dogfight handles targeting. While you can just cycle through all targets with the left bumper, the game generally does a good job of switching your target to whichever plane is in your reticule when you pull the trigger. However, it would be nice if the game cycled through targets based on proximity rather than some arbitrary value I couldn’t discern. If an enemy was just out of sight, targeting them usually required cycling through every enemy in the area.
VISUALS AND SOUND
In terms of presentation, there’s very little worth noting about Dogfight 1942. The menus are basic and use a default font while the greatest compliment for the in-game graphics is that they are stable. There is an appreciated killcam feature that randomly triggers when killing a plane showing its destruction in close-up slow motion, but it’s fairly boilerplate at this point after appearing in Ace Combat: Assault Horizon and even 2007’s Heatseeker.
The music and sound effects are equally unimpressive, though you can note more liberal borrowing from Call of Duty in the gun sounds. While modern shooters play a meaty thunk when you shoot an enemy, Dogfight 1942 plays a metallic clank to signal that you’re connecting with an enemy when you fire. It works, and when so much else doesn’t, it stands out as a positive.
Dogfight 1942 isn’t offensively bad outside of the racial issue, it’s just completely forgettable. It doesn’t do anything that other games haven’t already done better, so why would you waste your time?
4 / 10