Version tested: PC
Most flight sims concentrate on providing satellite mapped terrain and flight models so realistic that you need to study a two hundred page manual and take a flight training course before you can even lift your plane off the ground without crashing it into the side of the nearest building.
Airfix Dogfighter, on the other hand, is a breath of fresh air for this most stale of genres. Real world physics go out the window, replaced by one of the most ludicrous flight models we have ever seen, allowing you to pull off gravity defying stunts, and practically bring your plane to a halt without it stalling. There are no laser guided bombs or heads-up displays, and you don't have to press twenty-eight different keys in the right order just to get your plane into the air.
In fact it's more of an arcade action game than a flight sim, but what really seperates it from every other game that involves flying an aircraft of some kind is that you aren't flying real planes in the real world, you are flying the little plastic models of the title around the inside of a house, re-enacting a bizarre parody of World War II. Like something out of "Toy Story" or "Small Soldiers", as soon as the family leaves their home to go on holiday in the rendered intro movie, the toy soldiers, planes and tanks come out to wage war. You will fight on the landing, you will fight on the stairs, you will fight in the kitchen and under the bed. You will never surrender...
It's A Kind Of Magic
At the heart of Airfix Dogfighter are two single player campaigns, one for the Axis forces and one for the western Allies, each featuring a linear series of ten missions. These vary from straightforward search and destroy sweeps to raiding enemy strongholds to capture new Airfix kits, weapons blueprints, or that most valuable of resources .. glue.
The sheer range of different missions on offer is enough to keep you (ugh) glued to your computer throughout. You will find yourself blowing up enemy radar installations in the front garden, sinking submarines in the bath tub, and helping to rescue an imprisoned scientist from the bedroom. The whole thing is very tongue in cheek, and although the humour is rather hit and miss, the sheer magic of flying a model aircraft between the legs of a table while dodging incoming rounds and trying to blow up a vase twice your size is something which will grab your imagination.
The whole game is set within a single house, but it's so huge compared to your tiny aircraft that you never feel too claustrophobic. At the beginning of each campaign you start off with access to just one or two rooms, but as the game continues missions will take you into the sister's bedroom (decorated in a horrible pastel pink wallpaper), the bathroom (obviously the center of naval operations), and the kitchen (to help Il Duce and the Italian forces fight off an attack on his spaghetti cooking operation, naturally). In all there are around a dozen different rooms to explore, as well as the landing and downstairs hall, which you will pass through in most of the missions.
It's not just new rooms which are unlocked throughout the game though, you will also gain access to a wider range of aircraft and weapons as you find kits and blueprints. There are 17 planes to fly in all, from Stukas through to Spitfires, as well as Mustangs, Hurricanes, and the Me262 jetfighter.
Regardless of the plane you are flying your main weapons will be your machine guns. These handily lock on to targets near your crosshair, avoiding the need to aim too accurately in the midst of a big hairy furball. Flying into medals (shaped like a star for allied pilots and an iron cross for the Germans) will gradually increase the tech level of your guns, and for every ten you of them that you find your firing rate, range or damage will rise. Sadly you always start a mission with a tech level of zero, which means that towards the end of the two campaigns you will find yourself flying around looking for power-ups for the first few minutes of every mission. As there is no way to save your game mid-mission, this can become tedious.
Other power-ups include glue, paint and repair kits to fix any damage which you sustain, and spare ammunition and fuel should you start to run low. Most of the items you will find are additional weapons though, from basic bombs, rockets, guided missiles and parachute bombs through to fanciful laser guns and tesla coils towards the end of the game. You may even occasionally find an atomic bomb to unleash on your enemies!
Limited numbers of these items can be found simply sitting on the shelves, cupboards, floors and tables of the house, but more often you will have to work to find them. Blowing up the vases, dishes, plates, lamps and other "breakables" which are scattered around the house will reveal additional power-ups, as will destroying enemy units.
The game is viewed from a third person perspective, with a choice of two chase cams and an overhead view which can be useful for (ugh) carpet bombing. The graphics are certainly impressive, and the house in which you are flying has been lovingly recreated in full 3D, from the gruesome pink decor of the sister's bedroom to the dark wood panels of the lounge, and from the u-boats lurking in the bathroom to the tanks patrolling on the landing.
Detail levels are high, textures are realistic, and giant ballustrades and fire places make far more interesting obstacles for armchair aviators than the mountains and cities of most flight sims. In fact the only real low point is when you reach the great outdoors, as an invisible wall stops you from flying too high or leaving the confines of the garden, and the backdrop which shows the world beyond the house is rather ugly and pixellated in comparison to the rest of the game's graphics. Given how frantic most of the missions which take you outside are though, you don't really have time to notice these shortcomings.
If you're not happy with the way that the house has been decorated, you can always indulge in a spot of home improvement and create your own missions, placing furniture, breakables and military units using a simple 3D editor. And when you complete the two single player campaigns, which shouldn't take you much more than six or eight hours, you can take the war online and fly against up to seven other players via the internet or a LAN. You can even customise your planes by changing their colour schemes and designing new logos for them in the built-in "paint room".
Airfix Dogfighter is an amusing if slightly shallow arcade flight sim with ridiculously simple controls - within a few missions you will find yourself effortlessly weaving your way between armchairs, strafing beds, and dive bombing the bath.
It's good clean fun as long as you don't take it too seriously, and the only real problems are that it's all over fairly soon, and the stocking up on new weapons and power-ups at the beginning of every mission can get tedious after a while. The excellent graphics, solid gameplay and oddball setting mean that it's well worth a look though, whether you're a newcomer to computer gaming or a hardcore gamer looking for something completely different.
8 / 10