Gaijin Entertainment's World of Planes may sound almost exactly like Wargaming.net's title, but the name (and the fact that both games feature airplanes) is where the similarities end. First off, a little developer history is in order.
Gaijin is actually a Russian developer despite the Japanese name, and World of Planes isn't its first aviation rodeo. The company was formed in 2002, and it is most famous here in America for its 2009 Birds of Prey console title (which stands as the latest entry in the long-running IL-2 Sturmovik flight sim series). Gaijin also developed Wings of Prey, released later that same year for the PC, as well as Birds of Steel.
Discerning IL-2 fans will no doubt see plenty of similarities between the Prey games and World of Planes when looking at video and screenshots of the latter, as the new MMO features the same exacting aircraft recreations and crazy-detailed damage model of its smaller predecessors.
Sim vs. game
Is WoP actually an MMO, though? As ever, that distinction is in the eye of the beholder, but I can tell you that Gaijin is currently planning on 32v32 action, and the company says that it can technically support 128v128 on each map.
If you've never played any of the Sturmovik games, you may be wondering why you should care about World of Planes. In a nutshell, Gaijin is developing something akin to a flight simulator (as opposed to Wargaming.net's arcade-style approach). Early developer comments have touched on everything from the game's advanced and historically accurate flight models to modes that require the player pilot to manually control everything from the fuel mixture to the prop pitch to the operation of aircraft superchargers.
Gaijin has gone on record as saying that ammunition and fuel are limited, blind spots and sun glare will be a factor, and ballistic models will be extremely accurate (aside from a vertical wind component that is still under consideration).
World of Planes also seems bigger than your average online flight shooter, both in terms of the world size (currently 100 square kilometers on the largest map) and the amount of gameplay it throws at you (some modes will require you to take off and land, including challenging ship-based landings on World War II-era aircraft carriers). There's nothing quite like a moving runway to test your mettle, amirite?
Gaijin also has plans to allow players to switch between pilot and gunner positions on larger aircraft (no word on multiplayer planes, though), and the company will be offering mission and map editors as well as the ability to add custom effects to your aircraft (paint, squadron insignias, and the like).
If all that sounds like it's too good to be true, go ahead and pinch yourself because World of Planes really is shaping up to be a game for serious aviation enthusiasts. Gaijin says that you can play it with a mouse and keyboard, but I'm betting you'll need a joystick and a good amount of practice to truly master the intricacies of virtual flight. When you add semi-realistic aerial combat into that mix, you've got a recipe for a pretty deep game that may be daunting for the casual computer pilot.
The WoP forums are also fairly hardcore in terms of the sim vs. game crowd (though it's a uniformly polite bunch compared to many MMO boards). According to some reports, WoP's alpha test roster includes a bunch of gamers who double as real-world pilots, and there is a definite sense of longing for an authentic flight sim instead of an arcade shooter.
That said, Gaijin seems to have made several concessions to gameplay over realism, so you don't need to know how to fly a real airplane to enjoy World of Planes (though familiarizing yourself with aviation terminology and the basic forces that govern powered flight will ease the learning curve). Yes, the game does feature lavishly detailed cockpit views with working instruments (and pilot arms and legs that react in tune with your control inputs), but it also features HUD-like indications for altitude, speed, and thrust as well as radar functionality.
A sneak peek
If you're as excited about WoP as I am, I've got both good news and bad news. The bad is that the game is currently in alpha testing, so we'll be waiting a while to get our hands on the release client. The good news is that there are a couple of low-cost preview options in the form of the aforementioned Wings of Prey and Birds of Prey titles. The former can be downloaded through YuPlay for $29.99, and while you won't get the same multiplayer experience or the reworked flight models, you will get a good idea of the game's scope and presentation. Ditto for Birds of Prey, which can be had for around 20 bucks on Amazon, depending on your console of choice.
In conclusion, World of Planes is definitely one to watch if you're at all interested in MMO flight sims or World War II aviation. Despite its knock-off title, it's a very different game from its competitors, and I look forward to bringing you more info on it in the near future.
The Firing Line's Jef Reahard has a twitchy trigger finger, a love of online shooters, and an uncanny resemblance to Malcolm Reynolds. OK, maybe not, but at least if he ever kills you, you'll be awake, you'll be facing him, and you'll be armed.