Iron Wings is a WWII flight sim from Italian dev team Naps, which sees you taking to the skies in a variety of planes across different parts of the European campaigns of the war.
You play the game as a pair of pilots; Jack is a member of the legendary Tuskegee airmen – a group of African-American fighter pilots, while Amelia is his childhood friend who also happens (conveniently) to have become one hell of a pilot. You can assign different planes to each one and swap between them on the fly – which makes it easier to tackle missions which might have objectives including dogfights and ground bombing, which no single plane in your collection will be able to handle.
The game starts in a fundraising mission over New York, in which you learn a couple of the game’s central concepts – those being flying manoeuvres and radio transmission interception – then you’re into the Midwest as Amelia to put out barn fires (it’s amazing how many farmers’ barns caught fire in a single day!) which teaches you the basics of bombing. Then you get to learn to shoot… by shooting crows out of the sky.
Persevere beyond the tame training missions though and the game soon opens up and throws you into combat over Italy (after seeing off a couple of German jets over the Hoover Dam…), and this is where you really get to see what the game is about.
Before each mission, you select planes for each pilot from an impressive selection of aircraft, including P-41’s and Spitfires. You can also choose the camouflage, markings, weapons, and bombs – all of these are unlocked with in-game currency that’s earned by completing optional objectives in the missions.
Missions are structured in a way that features multiple checkpoints. They might begin with ground forces to combat – once cleared out, fighters will arrive. Shooting all of them down will lead to bombers appearing. Destroying them will highlight ground targets to bomb, and so the game continues until the mission is done and you move on to the next. Each mission does a good job of reminding you of the training mission, in that each of your abilities is generally tested. Probably the most important thing you need to do to achieve success is to remember that you can not only switch between Jack and Amelia whenever you want, but also assign the character you aren’t using to a task – whether it’s shooting down a particular fighter or bomber, strafing ground troops, or bombing a target. This becomes essential as soon as the game begins imposing arbitrary time limits on the game – completing the objectives in time allowed is simply impossible without ensuring that your wingman is constantly instructed. The other pilot is apparently incapable of acting independently, and will fly alongside you pestering you for instructions until you give them.
Shooting down enemy planes requires deflection shooting, just like it would in reality. You need to shoot at a point ahead of the plane you’re aiming at so that it flies through your bullets. If you get this right for long enough, the camera angle switches to one that allows you to concentrate on just keeping your targeting reticule over the enemy plane until it’s been blown apart. Keep firing for too long though and your guns will overheat.
In addition to the campaign mode, Iron Wings includes an arcade mode and a free flight mode. Arcade mode pits you against a squadron of enemy jets, every single one of which is considerably faster, better armed, and more manoeuvrable than your plane is – which make it a frustrating experience until you’ve progressed through the campaign to the point where you can buy a comparable aircraft and stand a fighting chance. The free flight mode is exactly that, allowing you to practice your flying skills in entirely empty skies above one of the numerous stages from the game.
Unfortunately, it isn’t all straight flying through sunny skies for Iron Wings – the game suffers from some serious flaws. That most of these are technical is the biggest let down, but they’re so noticeable that they simply have to be mentioned.
The first of these is that the game crashes. During review, we experienced several crashes – generally when the game was flashing a hint on controls up on the screen, which happens regularly. Even when you’ve seen them before. We’d have to bomb out of the game to the main menu and then re-launch the game and start again, including sitting through the loading screens.
Speaking of loading screen, the loading times are ridiculous. Firing the game up, you’ll get a loading screen. Then you’ll select your profile, and look at another loading screen. Then you’ll pick your game mode… another loading screen. Pick a plane? Loading screen. Watch a brief cut-scene, and you’ll get another loading screen. And then, finally, the game begins. These loading screens aren’t present for a few seconds each time, it’s often several minutes. It’s long enough that you’ll become utterly sick of the sight of them.
Screen tear is regularly present, both in cut-scenes and in the game itself. Character models are nothing short of awful, delivering lines that make you wonder whether the script was made worse during translation. Cut scene graphics look like something from an earlier generation, with washed out textures and poor animation.
All of these problems massively diminish the game experience. As fun as it can occasionally be, wading through the problems to get to the fun moments soon becomes laborious. It would be nice to think that patches could resolve some of them in the future, but as it stands Iron Wings is a disappointing game. Fans of the genre will be able to find some enjoyment in the game in exchange for their perseverance, but it’s hard to recommend it to anyone else as it stands. Overall, it feels as though a couple more months of development and polish could have made all the difference.
Iron Wings is available from the Xbox Store, flying in at £19.19.
While the premise of the game is great and the Xbox One really needs a decent WW2 flight sim, Iron Wings simply isn’t it. A host of technical issues cause this one to be best avoided. There are moments of fun to be had – but they aren’t fun enough to justify sitting through the endless loading screens and crashes unless you’re a fan of the genre.