Sid Meier’s Ace Patrol is a turn based, tactical level, air combat game. After playing the first part of the campaign, the focus seems to be on small scale conflicts. The biggest so far was 4 vs. 4 battle.
After selecting a country, player is given choice of 4 different pilots to choose from. These are randomly generated, but the difference is only on name, portrait and a special skill they have. In any case, this is a nice touch, since it immediately gives player chance to which pilot they identify most. I sort of would have liked to hace a character creation too, but this way players might play something else than their absolutely favourite skill too. Later when player receives promotions, they’ll be able to command a flight of four planes.
Game revolves around missions, which each have a specific goal. Be it shooting down all observation balloons or protecting a flight of friendly planes. The game starts from the basics and in-game tutorial is nicely spread over multiple missions. Player only needs to learn what they need on that specific mission, no more. No need to try to learn how bombers differ from fighters, when all you have to do is shoot down some observation balloons.
Game is played in turns, which gives player ample time to think their next move, further reducing the complexity of the game. All possible moves are shown with clear icons and hovering mouse over the icon will show the orientation and height the plane will end up. In case of shooting enemies, caused damage is shown too, alongside with factors that affect to it. This allows players to compare different options and choose what they think is the best for the situation. In case some action can’t be performed, it’s shown grey and tool tip will tell why it is not available. After action has been selected, short cut scene plays, showing the plane flying and shooting.
Part of the fun is that planes are constantly moving, banking and doing all kinds of aerial acrobatics (world war I dog fighting is where it originally originated after all), while trying to shoot down their enemies and avoid being downed. Player needs to think ahead couple of turns and try to anticipate how current situation will unfold. Ganging against single plane is fastest way to bring it down, but that leaves other planes unchecked and free to cause trouble.
Complete list of moves available to current pilot is always available, with a recommendation what the pilot should do next. Small icons show special effects of the moves and possible restrictions (speed, initial banking etc.) These weren’t explained anywhere as far as I saw and as a result I’m bit unsure what’s some of them mean. As the game progresses, pilots will learn more moves, again helping the player as they don’t have to learn everything in one go. It of course also nicely reflects pilots getting better.
Progress isn’t limited to pilots only. From time to time new planes will be available or special upgrade can be installed to one of existing planes. Same hold to the enemy forces too. I didn’t notice that much difference between performance or effectivity of different planes or upgrades (save for enhanced carburetor, which adds to operational ceiling of a plane). Maybe these are more pronounced after longer play or when I get more familiar with the game.
Because pilots get better only by flying and downing enemy planes, part of the strategy in game is to choose which pilots get to fly which mission. Do you concentrate on a single pilot and make them ace of the aces? Or do you spread the experience more evenly around the squadron? Do you risk an important mission so a rookie pilot can learn to fly? What will you do when your ace is injured or even captured and can’t participate on war for a while?
The game felt easy to learn and offers variety of missions. Some are simple balloon bursting ones, while others are epic fights with specialized opponents. Visuals and sounds are clear and serve their purpose well. Only really confusing thing was how some manoveurs were shown in the preview. Spin manoveur especially took me off guard couple of times, because I expected the plane end up to different orientation than it actually did.