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Rise and Shiny: War Thunder


War Thunder, a new instanced-based WWII flying battle, uhm, thingy, didn't really seem that appealing at first. It looks nice, and yes, the planes can be controlled in a few different styles ranging from an FPS twitch style to a more "realistic" mode, but I was worried it would be just another slogging grind until I was able to have any fun. There's some truth behind my worry about the grind, but overall I had an incredible time in the game. The only real shame is that I didn't get to put as much time in it as I would have liked. The game had infrequent connection issues, but when they cropped up, they lasted a while. Even so, each match lasted long enough to give me a pretty good taste of combat.

I stuck with the "arcade" style of gameplay. It's a simpler way to control the planes that allows players to point the mouse pointer for control. You might need to land for repairs and take off again, but it's as simple as slowing down until you touch down. I started to take the more realistic mode's tutorial, but as soon as it told me I had to manually control much more of the plane's controls, I gave up. Call me a wimp, but I just wanted to shoot planes.

War Thunder screenshot
If you've played World of Warplanes or World of Tanks, you'll be familiar with the layout and how War Thunder generally plays. There are not as many features in War Thunder right now as there are in the games, but this title is still in development; there are tabs that say things like "fleets," but clicking on them displays "in development," so I expect to see a lot more from this game later. Even with the missing content, the game is a blast to play. You'll work your way up through ranks and into better and better aircraft by playing missions. A premium account will net you more points overall, but I don't really care. I can see the appeal of a premium account for sure, especially if you plan on playing the game a lot, but I found the experience gains I got were paced nicely enough.

"Many players seemed more turned on by flying through the sky while pursuing other aircraft, but I found out pretty quickly that in some missions, ignoring objectives for some virtual flyboy glory will bring your team to a loss."

That doesn't mean that the game is going to be an easy-peasy breeze through level after level until you find yourself in the seat of a jet, but it doesn't seem as if the grind will be that rough even for a casual player. Well, almost. The truth is that the missions repeat themselves a lot. The key is to learn the environments and plan accordingly. I found myself mostly going after ground units. Many players seemed more turned on by flying through the sky while pursuing other aircraft, but I found out pretty quickly that in some missions, ignoring objectives for some virtual flyboy glory will bring your team to a loss. I really enjoyed "zooming and booming" (or whatever the term was that my brother used), which means to start climbing as soon as possible and then dive down onto target, gaining speed and spitting lead. I would fly above the main fighting until I came around to the enemy base. Then I would burn down as many anti-aircraft as I could, staying close to the ground so I could really feel the speed of the craft.

Flying in an out of canyons can provide protection and confuse enemies. Also, it just feels damn cool. The sound effects and on-screen warnings (like the ones you get when your pilot is passing out due to pulling too many Gs) are fantastic. I had the game cranked up and was more than impressed by how it looked. It ran beautifully; rarely did I have any lag. I would like to give a ton of credit to the sound department at this point. This game sounds awesome.

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But I have discovered that shooter-style games with PvP-only content do not benefit from the likes of me. I tend to suck and sort of avoid ever becoming better. Call me a noob or kill me over and over, whatever. To me, it's all fun. Of course, it doesn't feel horrible when I successfully take down an enemy, but I prefer a support role. Bedazzling anti-aircraft guns with hot bullets is how I contributed, and the game rewarded me with some decent experience. My self-esteem got a nice boost, my team won, and all was right in the world. Mostly, anyway.

In the time I played, I was able to unlock only a single new aircraft, but I know I would have seen more with a deeper look than this column entails. Oh, I shot down some planes and went through some great matches, but overall I would have liked to see at least a bomber or (hell, while I'm wishing for things) a jet. War Thunder, like World of Warplanes or World of Tanks, is a game that rewards patience above all. It takes a while to get where you're wanting to go, but it doesn't really feel like a grind. It's fun, serious fun. Because many of the planes are based on real WWII aircraft, they feel slow at first. Then, in the middle of a dogfight or strafing run, you realize the kind of guts those old pilots had to have.

War Thunder screenshot
These are vehicles of paper and metal, not bullet-proof armor and massive jet engines. The aim was to shoot stuff through the other pilot -- a gruesome attack if ever there was one. But thanks to the fact that the game is attempting to mimic reality, the fight can last quite a while. You can also have a back-up or two that act basically as an extra life. One of the gripes I had with World of Tanks back in the day was that once you died, you died. That was it. I think there should always be some sort of respawn option, otherwise newbie players like me just sort of feel silly at first. I liked the fact that War Thunder allowed me to come away from death with a new and fresh plane several times during a match. Heck, I even went through one match without dying even once! It felt good. Maybe there's a competitive PvPer in me yet.

Check out War Thunder if you want an instanced-based shooter set in the time of the Greatest Generation. There's a grind to be found, for sure, but there are some truly nail-biting moments.

Next week I am jumping into anther WWII shooter, this time Heroes and Generals. It's a browser-based FPS that looks great. Watch me play it live on April 29th at 5:00 p.m. EDT right here on our livestream channel!

Each week on Rise and Shiny, Beau chooses a different free-to-play, indie, or browser-based game and jumps in head-first. It might be amazing or it might be a dud, but either way, he'll deliver his new-player impressions to you. Drop him an email, comment, or tweet!

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