World War II is still proving to be a hugely popular setting for the games industry, and it’s not just videos games. Movies and TV shows still continue to use the Second World War as a source of inspiration. There have been some of the greatest combat games ever to be released using WWII as their setting; Medal of Honor: Frontline and the Wolfenstein franchise, of course, spring to mind, but there are countless others, some good, some not so good but playable, and some that should never have seen the light of day. Developers Gaijin Entertainment will be hoping that their latest title won’t fall into the final category and be thought about in the same mind as Hour of Victory (bad, hideously bad). Initially released back in November 2012, War Thunder has finally been ‘fully’ released. There is certainly a lot to like about this game, but equally, there is also a lot that can leave you inherently frustrated, but without further ado, let us nosedive right into battle, sorry, I mean the review of War Thunder.
War Thunder is a Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) combat game, and you guessed it, set during World War II. It is free-to-play, but of course, comes with the usual option to buy various vehicle packs and upgrades which will speed up your progress; however, thankfully there is no cap which you find on many games that are free-to-play. If you put the hours into War Thunder (and boy will it take a lot of hours), you can fully unlock everything the game has to offer, which is more than 800 aircraft and heavily armoured ground vehicles from the Soviet Union, United States, Nazi Germany, the Japanese Empire and the United Kingdom. Italy and Romania are also featured in War Thunder but only with the ground based vehicles. Many of the arenas (maps) you will be fighting in are also influenced from real life battles which took place during WWII, so you can expect to dogfight over the Pacific and shoot it out, tank vs tank, in mainland Europe.
With War Thunder being an MMO combat sim, there isn’t much in the way of a traditional storyline, well not for the free-to-play mode anyway. There are USA and Japan Pacific campaigns to download, but these will set you back £14.99 each. There are some PVE (Player Versus Environment) options if you wish to play offline and recreations of some famous battles from WWII which are fun, but these aren’t the main reasons to play War Thunder. The real reason is the PVP online play where mass 16 vs 16 battles take place. Again, with War Thunder being a free-to-play game, there are never any issues trying to find anyone to play with, there are literally thousands of people online all the time.
Like many online combat games, War Thunder‘s game modes come in the form of the industry standard Domination for both air and ground battles. Air combat also features ‘Ground Strike’ where you and your team have to destroy all vehicles (land and air) in order to be victorious. Thankfully though, there are different roles to play in these game modes (more so in the air), so the gameplay doesn’t become repetitive or dull. Air combat in War Thunder is excellent. It is a great thrill to dodge incoming enemy fire, all the while chasing down your target as they desperately try and avoid your hail of bullets. Ground battles, on the other hand, are not quite as good. All the vehicles look and sound fantastic, but it just seems like Gaijin Entertainment just added this at the last minute to beef up the content. Ground battles are by no means unplayable or bad, but compared to the sheer thrill of the air combat, they can become quite dull after a rather short amount of time. Also, I had no idea tanks could drift around corners?!
There are three options to choose from before you jump into the cockpit or driver’s seat (I am sure that is ok for a tank) and wage war, which are Arcade, Realism and Simulation. Arcade mode is where I spent most of my time and seems to be the most popular choice. It is basically the entry level option for War Thunder with unlimited ammo, and in air combat you actually start in the air. Realism is the next step up, so once you get used to the basics and fancy a challenge, this is the place to go (don’t make the same mistake I made by getting too cocky and jumping straight into Simulation, you will die, quickly). In Realism mode you will have to actually take off from the runway, and then if you run out of ammo, there is no magic auto refill, it is back to the hangar to reload those guns, pilot! Also, the damage you take is significantly greater; in Arcade mode you can take a fair amount of damage before anything bad happens, but here in Realism mode, not so much. Furthermore, going too fast can have severe consequences, as in you will black out from the G-force, or worst of all, your plane will just break in the air. Simulation is the daddy of them all, the ‘Dark Souls‘ mode of War Thunder where only the experts and legends of the air and ground battle it out. The view is locked to first-person in Simulation, and you cannot use the user-friendly ‘mouse aim’ control scheme here.
Before you jump into battle, the real challenge comes from trying to navigate the stupidly over-complicated, horrible menu. When you first boot up War Thunder, you are faced with just a confusing mess, which is exasperatingly off-putting, especially for newcomers to the Combat Sim MMO world. Eventually, you will be able to navigate your way around, and before you jump into battle, Gaijin Entertainment has you covered with extensive tutorials for both air and ground combat. The air combat tutorial is crucial, especially if you want to try your hand at the Realism and Simulation modes, but the ground combat one is not so much needed, and I often found myself just clicking through the instructions. Unfortunately, you will find yourself at the arduous menu quite a bit as you will need to assign research options for new vehicles, upgrade current vehicles and hire crews.
Developer: Gaijin Entertainment
Publisher: Gaijin Entertainment
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Release Date: 21st December 2016