published on: 17/09/2020
For fans of flight simulators, the last fifteen years can be considered the faithful mirror of the transformation of the video game industry: in the 90s there was no Christmas season without at least a couple of aerial combat simulators coming out. The desolation of today, however, sees few exceptions, as the War Thunder project, a free title downloadable from the Internet to be tackled in multiplayer, singleplayer and co-op. The developers, the Russian Gaijin Entertainment, have in fact been involved in the creation of the excellent IL-2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey and the sequel Wings of Prey, but also Apache Air Assault and especially of Birds of Steel, a title released only on consoles in 2009, from which War Thunder clearly derives.
This project allows you to board dozens of World War II aircraft, belonging to the five main factions of the conflict: Germany, England, the United States, Russia and Japan. There is also no shortage of aircraft from other nations to compose your hangar, comprising virtually all aircraft capable of detaching from the ground and fighting, built between 1935 and 1950+.
As mentioned, War Thunder takes most of the content and modes from Birds of Steel and re-proposes it in a revised and correct version for PC users, starting with the control system. You can customize the difficulty extensively by choosing between three modes: Arcade, Realistic (Historical) and Simulator. The first mode greatly simplifies the management of the aircraft, allowing even a novice to fly easily without worrying too much about the laws of physics and technical characteristics of the aircraft.
It takes you just thirty minutes of training (using only mouse and keyboard) to get the hang of maneuvers worthy of the best Erich Hartmann: for its immediacy, the arcade largely characterizes the multiplayer in which up to 32 players face off in predefined scenarios to take down as many enemies as possible or perform special missions, such as bombing enemy armored vehicles, artillery or airports. Even the possibility of losing consciousness for a short period of time, as a result of prolonged G forces, confirms the simulating attitude of an interesting mode, especially for those who prefer realism to the frenzy of arcade duels.
The real purists, however, will undoubtedly devote themselves to battles in which the attention is oriented to the most possible realism, and accurately simulates the physics of flight and proposes a model of precise damage.
The three game modes offering different styles of battle are all multiplayer, playable to accumulate, with the wins, the experience needed to access the most advanced planes of the main factions. Βy investing experience you can upgrade the planes purchased (armament and engines) but you can also go to improve the skill of the crew, which results in better maneuverability, resistance to fainting or even aim, especially for the bombers in which, in addition to the pilots, there are also machine guns capable of firing autonomously at enemies.
War Thunder is fully tackled without spending a euro, but in this case your advance won’t be very fast, since there are many complex tech trees to unlock progressively; most players will probably only focus on one or two at most. Gaijin's kids also have to make a living, so it is reasonable to expect an economic system that would make the game profitable: purchases with virtual currency money (called Golden Eagles) allows you to buy experience points to convert into airplanes or upgrades. If you want, you can also promote your account to Premium status and ensure a faster progression of the experience for a certain period of time or even exclusive content such as special aircrafts. The system is however well designed and does not overbalance the game for the benefit of paid users, since, even for premium machines there are dozens of equivalent variants accessible for free.
The only thing to consider about your account balance, in addition to the purchase of new aircrafts, is maintenance costs. At the end of the multiplayer battles it is necessary to rearm and possibly repair the damaged aircraf. But,as long as you play frequently at medium-low levels you are ok, but once your fleet is high level, you need to be careful.
The game modes are not limited to multiplayer. If you want, you can try dozens single-player missions based on historical scenarios in which up to three friends can participate as wingmen -otherwise controlled by the CPU. Single Player mode therefore complements that cooperative, and is not a simple pastime to accumulate achievement, since, depending on the level of difficulty set, it also gives usable experience for unlocking new aircraft for multiplayer.
The singleplayer/cooperative missions are joined by dynamic campaigns, which allow to rewrite history in the four main theaters of the Second World War (Eastern Front, Pacific, Western Front and Mediterranean). Missions change depending on your performance and the greater the difficulty level, the higher the experience will be.
There's also a mission editor in the installation package that allows you to create all sorts of situations for aircraft, ground troops, tanks and combat ships. Directly from the main menu you can then access custom missions created by other users/ aviators scattered around the globe. For a free game, and essentially a multiplayer one, War Thunder has an exceptional amount of content, able to keep the player nailed to the plane's cloche for months, especially in the company of a couple of friends.
Splitting into three distinct gameplay types affects the level of difficulty to the point of making the same game an easy-to-pick arcade for the most total novice, or an accurate flight simulator. In between we find a lot of possibilities of customizing a control system adaptable to the needs of practically anyone.
Proprietary game Engine: Dagor
The Dagor Engine is the proprietary game engine used by Gaijin Entertainment in War Thunder. Even in the most chaotic situations with dozens of planes, ships and artillery that are spewing lead in every direction, the frames per second never drop below 50, even on low-end PCs, confirming Dagor Engine's impressive optimization level. All the effects related to the trails of the projectiles, the smoke and the flames of the downed aircrafts, are the outline of an absolutely majestic presentation. The result is a small masterpiece that mixes aesthetics with the physics of damage suffered: losing an entire wing leads to uncontrollable swirling, while simple damage causes vibrations and slips but rarely the loss of total control of the aircraft. On some occasions we witnessed fatal collisions where one of the planes continued to fly even though damaged, confirming how advanced is flight model.
The rest of the world outside the cockpit is also well executed: in sea missions the water is very well presented, but it the mainland where you can appreciate the excellent detail of the countryside, mountain ranges, islands, towns, ports and airports where, in high-level missions of difficulty, you need to land to replenish and repair the damage. All this in excellent frame rate and marvelous antialiasing. The details we could be talking about for hours are too many and apply to all the beauty of the lighting system that rewards us with beams of light and exceptional heat distortions. But there are also banks of haze, full moon nights and layered clouds.
War Thunder surprised us as a small masterpiece. It is capable of making it immediately accessible to an audience that in its life would never have purchased an air combat game, let alone a flight simulator. As of 2019, War Thunder is among the most played games on Steam with over 25,000 concurrent players.
A realistic damage model
Plenty of game modes offering different experiences
A plethora of micromechanics
Good physics engine
Great maps – even in the aerial version, where fog, clouds or mountains can affect the gameplay
Good sound and atmospheric music
OS: Windows 7/Vista/8/10
Processor: 2.2 GHz
Memory: 4 GB RAM
Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 4000 / AMD Radeon 46XX / NVIDIA GeForce GT 520 (DirectX 10.1 level video card and drivers, The minimum supported resolution for the game is 720p)
DirectX: Version 10
Network: Broadband Internet connection
Storage: 12 GB available space