Combat Wings: The Great Battles of WWII lands on PS3 this November with aerial combat campaigns set amidst the bloodiest air battles of World War II. Not long ago, I tried out a pre-release version of the game under the watchful eye of Creative Director Jakub Majewski, focusing on the game’s use of the PlayStation Move motion controller.
Before I grabbed the stick for a test flight, I was curious what made Majewski want to support PlayStation Move in the first place — WWII air combat isn’t exactly a genre that leaps into my mind when I ponder the potential of motion-controlled gaming. “Move makes this game better,” Majewski said with conviction. “It’s a much more natural form of steering than using an analog stick and it makes a huge difference to the gameplay. Playing a flying game with a controller can be clunky; you have to make a lot of fine movements in order to change direction and aim. PlayStation Move is great – you just point where you want to go.” Based on just 30 minutes of play time, I’d have to agree.
Move proves its worth the first time you pull out of a gut-busting dive into a triumphant ascent with no more than a firm flick of your wrist. Pointing to the bottom of the screen makes your aircraft dive and pointing towards the top of the screen makes it ascend; at a basic level, that’s all you really need to know. While guiding your aircraft using Move, you’ll use the navigation controller’s analog stick to control the throttle, pushing forward to boost your speed and pulling back to reduce it. During bombing runs, I found myself screaming towards an enemy bunker or ship as quickly and dramatically as possible. Once I reached attack range and lined up my target, I cut the speed and spammed the Move button — bombs away! Then, as the smoke billowed and enemy planes buzzed in to retaliate, I gunned the throttle and soared back into the heavens from whence I came. It found this to be a surprisingly liberating experience because it was so easy.
Midair dogfights, too, are livelier thanks to the ultra-accessible Move controls, which let you dodge around incoming machine-gun fire like an over-sized, overcaffeinated hummingbird. And when you’re on the offense, you can freely aim your machine gun or hold L2 to enter Ace Mode – a nod to Call of Duty’s oft-imitated aim down the sight – to quickly plant your crosshairs on the closest airborne target and begin blasting away. “We’re trying to channel some of that Wing Commander spirit, where you get in very close to the enemy,” Majewski explained. “Because WWII air combat was quite different from modern air combat, where the pilots fire extremely long-range missiles from miles away. In WWII, pilots had to rely on guns and get in extremely close to ensure that they scored a hit. So we wanted our combat to feel intense, more up-close-and-personal. Many other air combat games tend to have you shooting at little dots.”
It’s worth noting that Combat Wings fully supports the tried-and-true DualShock control scheme. But the Move controls felt smooth and effortless to me, reinforcing the sensation of flying while hugely lowering the learning curve — a win-win. Before long, when you’re flying in smooth sine waves and swooping down to drop bombs on Fritz with nary a second thought, the game will click.
Combat Wings’s single-player experience sees bombing runs and across 30 missions divided between four classic WWII campaigns: Britain, North Africa, the Pacific, and Russia. Standout entries include iconic no-brainers such as the Battle of Iwo Jima and the Battle of Britain, as well as major tank battles including the Battle of Kursk(the largest tank battle of all time). The game’s plane roster is similarly expansive, with roughly 50 different WWII-era plane designs from Romania, France, Poland, Italy and more. “We wanted to go beyond the usual suspects: the Spitfire and all the planes everybody always has,” Majewski explained. “We wanted to show planes that don’t get a lot of screen time.” One noteworthy example is the Gloster Meteor, an early jet fighter pioneered by the Brits and, I’m told, a plane rarely seen flying the digital skies.
Though I was impressed by the game’s attention to historic detail, my thoughts always returned to its refreshing accessibility. Air combat games are great fun, but their steep learning curve typically limits their appeal to a core group of experienced players. Based on what I played with Combat Wings, PlayStation Move might just be the democratizing influence the genre needs.
Or, as Majewski so eloquently put it, “You won’t need a degree in aeronautics to understand this game.” Works for me!