Review - a flight sim on the Dreamcast. That'll never work, right? Wrong, AW2 is exceptional
The original Aerowings was a bit of a non-starter. I'm not even sure it was released over here. It was low on action, despite selling itself as a dogfighting flight sim, and its sales suffered heavily as a result. Aerowings 2 makes up for this by focusing almost entirely on dogfighting, filling the skies with enemy jets and creating a profound and embracing game to wrap it up in. Even for the lowly newcomer, like me! I'll let you in on a little secret - flight sims aren't really my bag. Never have been. But Aerowings 2, through its softly-gently training and tutorial modes, has taught me everything I need to know about throwing a £2 million fighter plane into a barrel roll and coming out of it on the tail of my nemesis. The game is quite complex, but it's equally rewarding. There are lots of techniques to get to grips with, and the training scheme is very thorough. Of course, experienced pilots rejoining the series after the first encounter may find the early sections rather boring, or at least, less interesting than sharing a wartime story with some pals in the mess hall. That said, despite forcing the player to take part in the training regardless of their experience, it will offer a good grounding for the controls, and as the game wears on, more and more challenging and complicated missions unveil themselves, making up for the lack thereof earlier on. I'm certain that the later missions will give even the most practised baron of the skies a run for his money.
Elsewhere, there is also a separate tactical challenges mode to overcome, which will have you flying around shooting targets against the clock. Some of your targets are stationary balloons, whilst others are anything but, and even return fire. These challenges are just that though - challenging - and will definitely prove a little too daunting if you've just put on your flying gear. The free flight mode can actually be quite troublesome as well, but after a few minutes learning the various sticks, the shear amount of things you can do with it makes it quite cosy. For instance, you can select any of the main game's set missions and just fly around getting to grips with the controls and interface, or, you can add in a few enemy pilots and see how you fare against them. I must admit, for all the fighting, a relaxing break after a hard day at work is definitely piloting a multi-million pound fighter plane 200 feet off the ground in middle-America. Especially if your enormous surround sound audio/visual set is gently pounding away in the background. Rattle the neighbours, then complain that they blocked your runway. One slightly disappointing thing about Aerowings 2 is that there aren't too many planes that you can go for at the start. The reward structure gradually gives you access to them as the game gets going, and although I didn't recognize too many of the model numbers, I'm pretty certain that this will attract flying buffs all over the place.
Dogfighting is the %^#%!
As it goes, dogfighting is the name of the game, and whether you're in campaign, tactical or free flight mode, you will definitely need to get the hang of outwitting your enemies before you take to the skies. The main trick is to get on their tail, of course. If you can do that you can lock on with a missile and run them into the ground. The thing is, they are just as well taught in the art of getting on your tail as you are on theirs. The artificial intelligence must have been given just one instruction - to stick a rocket up your rear end, and it's effective. Playing against the enemies in some of the more grisly campaign missions is a diehard affair. The two player dogfighting mode is equally superb. Ideally you want to con one of your Dreamcast owning mates into buying Aerowings 2 as well and get them proficient in the art of wingmanship before going head to head. If your real life opponent is up to standard, you will have the time of your life. I honestly believe this is the best multiplayer experience I've had all year. If you are both inexperienced it can quickly degenerate into pot luck with whoever gets a lock on winning, but after a while the gameplay becomes utterly intense, with both players locked into the battle, gripping the Dreamcast pads hard - it almost becomes a case of he who flinches first loses.
It's not just about the gameplay though, Aerowings 2 looks and sounds the part as well. Visually it's a tour de force, although ground detail is rather sparse. Each plane is well defined and intricately detailed, and the noise of the jet engine is every bit as g-force-intensive as you might expect. The sound effects are pretty infallible on the whole, with the exception of the machineguns, which have nothing of the cutting staccato chatter one would hope for in a dogfighting game. The soundtrack is a bit of a flop too. Everything sounds like it's been ripped out of Top Gun, and fair enough, Berlin were pretty big, but the tunes here do nothing to take your breath away in the 21st Century. (You are so utterly fired this time! We shall have no Berlin puns on this website! -Ed) Overall Aerowings 2 is a very involving, very exciting game, and one that matures with your cockpit experience. It's full of things to do, and little extras that just make it perfect. For instance, you can actually save playbacks of your dogfights to VMU memory and analyse them for your weaknesses in battle. Although pilots coming to the game with experience may find the opening missions a bit tedious, even they will have to admit that the two player mode is a gift from God, and every bit as exciting as it should be. Congratulations, then, to CRI for managing to fit such an extraordinarily good flight sim onto the relatively limited Dreamcast, and to have done so with such an impeccable control system and multiplayer aspect.