Red Wings: Aces of the Sky developed by All in! Games is a brutally difficult, highly stylized, and fast-paced aerial shooter. Red Wing’s challenging and hard to master gameplay won’t be for everyone, but for fans of air combat who have dealt with rather sparse game choices the past few years, there is a lot to love if you are willing to invest the time necessary to master the game.
Players take the helm of 10 different airplanes during World War 1 as none other than the infamous Red Baron – Manfred von Richthofen – as they fly for either the Entente Powers or the Triple Alliance. Each mission is slightly based on one of the Red Baron’s over 80 historical flights, with quick segments between chapters to progress the story.
The entire game takes place in the air, with only brief moments before missions to spend stars on upgrades, choose your plane, and your plane’s color scheme.
Levels consist of straight dog fights, objective based encounters, fuel collection, and bombing raids. While initial missions feature sparse enemies, toward the end you’ll quickly become overwhelmed with the chaos erupting on screen.
The best missions are also the simplest – defeat all enemies to advance in thrilling skill-based dog fights. Unfortunately, as the game progresses missions will rarely remain that simple. Each mission adds a new element, be it blimps which call for reinforcements or armor covered fighter planes. These additions on their own are not bad, but the reliance on a constant barrage of reinforcements or missions that force you into completing multiple goals rather than focusing on dog fighting took away from my enjoyment a bit. Though, I suppose variety is necessary to keep missions from becoming stale and Red Wings does still find time to shine during multiple missions.
In addition to the stream of enemies and objectives thrown at you, your fuel is constantly depleting. This, combined with the knowledge that every action you take or second you spend in the level is ultimately determining how many stars you receive upon the level’s completion, all makes for a stressful rather than purely enjoyable experience.
Speaking of stars, they are essential to progression. Each level has various guidelines necessary to be awarded stars, be it completing the mission within a certain time frame or scoring a specific amount of points. Stars are given on a scale of zero to three, with obtaining three stars on each mission being almost required in order to advance as many necessary upgrades can only be purchased via earned stars.
Unfortunately, you can only replay a level to figure out how to earn three stars, but cannot replay a level just to earn more stars. The only way to continue earning is to progress and master each stage. A feat easier said than done as the enemies and goals seem to accelerate far quicker than your plane’s abilities.
With stars you can increase the time before your gun overheats, amplify your weapon’s damage against armored enemies, decrease fuel consumption, level up and reduce cool down time for special skills such as barrel rolls and fatal takedowns, etc.
While the special abilities are useful in a pinch, they can’t be relied on to complete a mission. With stars being so hard to obtain I would assume most players would upgrade their weapons and fuel consumption first before throwing any remaining stars at upgrading their special skills.
Levels can be quite long, with many not ending until all goals are satisfied. Throughout missions you’ll have to keep an eye on both your fuel and your health. Health thankfully only goes down when attacked and drops in tiers, so if you can fly away quick enough there is a chance to recover a small amount of lost health. Fuel, on the other hand, is constantly being used.
In order to replenish your fuel and health you must fly through one of the rings scattered throughout Red Wings missions. A few levels are based solely around flying through fuel rings and can become quite frustrating if you have issues guiding your plane.
The bombing stages, on the other hand, were a welcome change from the other missions and involve players dodging anti-aircraft fire while taking out various ground targets. These levels are few and far between and are a welcome addition.
There are no checkpoints in a level, so any failure, death, or mistake will normally force you to restart. While I enjoy a steep learning curve, I felt that Red Wings was difficult for the sake of being difficult, not due to lack of skill on my part. (Although I certainly admit that may have been the issue).
I replayed many missions multiple times only to not be able to score high enough to unlock three stars due to needing to essentially chain kill every enemy plane – a feat incredibly hard to accomplish when the chain kill timer runs out quickly and planes are often in different areas of the map. Normal completion of a level will often get you nowhere near two stars, let alone the coveted three.
While it may seem as if I am complaining a lot, I’m just being honest with my experience. I truly enjoyed the flying and fighting in Red Wings, and some of the missions were truly fantastic to navigate and consumed me with the thrill of aerial combat and the rush of attempting to thwart a ticking clock or achieve a high score – but others only led to frustration and too often took me out of the moment. My idea of fun has never been to replay missions multiple times just to achieve random goals.
That said, it is quite possible that some players will breeze through this game and experience none of the frustrations I did and for them, this will be a truly memorable experience. I love the art style All in! Games has brought to Red Wings, and both the flying and fighting felt very intuitive and flowed smoothly. I would have preferred to not worry about upgrades and played through just a campaign, but I’m sure the upgrades will give the game a replyability for some that otherwise might not exist.
Overall, Red Wings is an enjoyable, albeit mildly frustrating experience well worth the cost for those who enjoy the WW1 setting, aerial combat, or tough challenges.