War Thunder is one of the several day one free-to-play titles which is heading to the PlayStation 4, an MMO flight simulator set across a wide period of history, with World War 2 a clear touchstone to the game’s combat.
The real trick for Gaijin with this game has been to try and make this accessible to newcomers who can only really play with a mouse – a far from ideal situation – and also scale it in difficulty and controls to accommodate those playing with joysticks or controllers.
In order to do this, they’ve created three levels of difficulty, with Arcade the easiest to grasp, Historical making it more difficult to shoot at long range and with tougher, more stringent limitations to your flying as well as limiting the planes you can use. Realistic mode, on the other hand, ramps things up even further, limiting you to a first-person view.
This then applies to a vast array of content, including 300 planes and rising, which are rendered and created for their historical accuracy in quite a particular fashion. This manifests itself in gameplay where planes don’t have hit points, but feature more locational damage instead, and aren’t necessarily balanced for absolute fairness online, but aiming for what the planes would have actually been like.
Admittedly, I was finding it difficult to hit a proverbial barn door, whether I was playing with Oculus Rift or the PS4 version. Hitting distant targets is really quite tricky, even with each target you select having a leading marker, for where you want to aim when shooting.
Thankfully, all it takes is a few well landed bullets and an enemy will go down, but I do think that this is going to be the real sticking point for newcomers who just want to dabble in the game. It’s really, really hard to shoot stuff.
Dabbling with the early parts of the game on PC, my early German biplanes were just awkward enough to sap a little of the fun out of the game at that crucial early stage. There’s a wobble and imprecision to the way in which they turn and I found fine aiming was just as tricky in my more controlled setting as they had been at EGX, with the meters rapidly counting down to me crashing into the AA battery I’m trying to shoot up.
I pull up, just at the last moment, and find myself soon in a dogfight and able to shoot down a plane on the other team. However, more often than not I’m on the losing end of an encounter, though I feel like I’m doing well to evade their attacks for as long as they did. Eventually I do perish, and run through my three available aircraft and crews. These were just my early encounters, and though I did get better at hitting ground targets, the air targets are still largely beyond me.
The game starts off with you having access to a single country’s military forces, with you then branching out to research more aircraft and purchase more crews for you to use in battle. After just a handful of battles, whether you win or lose, you’ll unlock further countries, with a different set of planes. It’s a fairly straightforward system and one which lets you get a quick start, but is also one tied to your country-based experience levels, so that you can’t pump money into the game to unlock all of the best aircraft.
As a free to play title, there is naturally a grind to unlock newer and better vehicles along with more crews so that you can have more respawns in fights, and this is also something which I fear will be a turn off for many. This is the point with the hooks, with a Premium account letting you earn double the experience and one and a half times the number of Lions. This is one of the two currencies in game, the other being Silver Eagles which can be bought for money, and in turn pay for the Premium account.
Soon the game will be expanding to include land and naval vessels, casting the net even further than before, and in quite an interesting fashion. I’m certainly curious to see how a combined land and air battle will play out, with ground targets already part of the spread of objectives you can already face across both PvP and PvE mission types.
However, one of the most appealing aspects of this particular release, is that we’ll see cross-platform multiplayer, something which Sony are very much open to under the right circumstances. Additionally, free-to-play titles are allowed to sit outside of the impending requirement of PS+ for multiplayer, meaning that anyone and everyone can jump into these games and play.
War Thunder swept past the 3 million player mark back in July, and is surely pushing ever onwards and upwards in that regard, so with such a wide fan-base already in place, the PlayStation 4 release can only add to and improve upon that. There will be matches readily at hand, and a well established game with experience under its belt and bold plans for the future.
I must admit that I do find myself drawn back to the game, as I’m typing this. It might be crushingly difficult in many ways for a beginner like me, but it doesn’t feel like the game has been unfair to me. I’m eager to get more and better planes, nail the control system, and show them all what for.
You can play War Thunder right now on PC, via Gaijin’s own website or Steam, or if you don’t mind waiting a little while for your historical war simulations, it is set for a day one release on the PlayStation 4.