Sunday, January 22, 2017

Game Review: War Thunder


Bixyl Shuftan

Most gamers are familiar with the popular "World of Tanks" game in which players are in two teams with each operating a World War 2 tank and shooting at one another. Less well-known is War Thunder, by Gaijin Entertainment. The game is similar in that it also involves WW2 style combat, but the game is a bit more detailed. Unlike "World of Tanks," players can fly aircraft in addition to driving tanks and other combat vehicles, and there are plans for naval vessels. So the action can take place on land, sea, or air. Like "World of Tanks," the game is free to play, but there is a "Premium" level, but here it allows players to play certain vehicles basic players can't yet.

When the game first came out in 2011-2012, it was an air battle game. Players start out with pre-war fighter biplanes, three among the following nations: United States, Germany, Britain, Soviet Union, and Japan. Unlike "World of Tanks" in which players can only bring one vehicle in the battlefield during the entire battle, players can bring in another if the first is destroyed. After the destruction of all airplanes, the player can only observe or leave. Through capturing areas, destroying opponents, and destroying ground targets, players earn research points and silver lions. Research points are used toward researching both improvements on your vehicles and researching another aircraft on the tech trees of each nation. Eventually, you can get more advanced fighters, fighter-bombers and bombers, and eventually Korean-War era jets. Silver Lions are used to purchase the parts and eventually more aircraft. When you get more aircraft, you have the choice of either getting another vehicle slot or assigning it to one of your existing ones. Assigning it to one of your existing slots cost Silver Lions. Getting another vehicle slot requires Gold Lions, which are difficult to get without buying them with real world currency. Each additional vehicle slot per country is more expensive than the last. Once every 24 hours when the player logs back in, they get a random bonus for either research points or silver eagles that has to be applied within two days. If they log in every day, every five days comes a group of bonuses, or perhaps a chance to try out a premium vehicle for an hour. You can take a plane out for a test flight before buying it to see how it handles.

There are three types of multiplayer battles. The basic one or "Arcade" is the easiest with players able to respawn, using a different plane in your slots. "Realistic" is more difficult as the plane will be a little more difficult to control, such as being easier to stall, and you cannot respawn once shot down. In "Arcade," when your plane runs out of ammunition or bombs, you just need to wait an amount of time before you reload. In "Realistic," you have to go back to your airfield and land to reload. There is also the "Simulator," which I haven't gotten into much. On any level, making tight turns can sometimes cause your vision to black out due to the G-forces on your pilot's brain. Both "Arcade" and "Realistic" have a small"radar" window in the upper right that keeps track of where your teammates and opponents are, as well as the bombing targets. On the upper left is your speed, altitude, engine temperature, and how many bombs how have left. the lower left shows how many small ground targets are left, and when your plane starts to take damage, a small picture of your plane will appear, showing what's been hit and how badly.

 What battle a player is matched into depends on the level of the planes he has in his slots, so one doesn't end up hopelessly outclassed or in a plane that outclasses everyone else. If your plane has one or more gunners in addition to the pilot, the computer will automatically control his firing, unless the player chooses to take control of the gunner himself. Planes do not have hit points the same way tanks in "World of Tanks" or ships in "World of Warships" do. Instead, the engine, wings, body, stabilizers, etc. take damage separately. If a major part is destroyed, the plane is going down.

Each battle has a different kind of mission. Airspace domination battles are simple as it means the planes of one side keep the air space marked clear of the other side's planes. Airfield domination battles are trickier as they involve capturing one to three airfields, doing so by landing one's plane on them and holding it for a minute. Unfortunately for the pilot, the landing and capturing makes them vulnerable to a strafing run by opposing fighters. In bombing missions, you have to take out three enemy factories, and then the enemy airfield. Some missions will have AA guns and convoys of ground vehicles. fighters can, with difficulty, take out the latter and the unarmored ones of the former. Bombers can take both out if the bombs hit close enough. Carrying larger bombs means fewer drops, but each will have an easier time taking out AA guns and vehicles, and cause more damage to factories and airfields. In some missions, there are also enemy ships to contend with. They can be dispatched with bombs, or a torpedo if you have a torpedo bomber. On the top of the screen, a bar with one side red and one blue keeps track of which side is winning, both sides getting shorter depending on the progress in the game. If the line is mostly red, your side is losing.

After the battle, your score and your place on your team's side is displayed, followed by any parts and vehicles you've finished researching. You can choose new priorities of research and purchase researched parts. You also get a number of crew skill points on your aircraft, depending on how well they did (planes that didn't take part get no bonus). These points can be applied to piloting skill, gunnery skill, skill of any other gunners, pilot's G-tolerances, etc.

Different planes have different tactics. The Mistubishi "Zero" fighters are highly manuverable and are best in a circling dogfight. The American "Thunderbolt" in contrast is less so, but can handle steep dives and can climb well. And don't forget to keep an eye out for what's around you. Pilots concentrating on trying to shoot down the plane in front of them can easily not be aware of the guy sneaking up from behind, until it's too late. Bombs can also be given a time delay, which can help a bomber escape a blast when making a low-altitude run, or give an enemy fighter close on their tail a nasty surprise during a chase at treetop level.

In 2014, War Thunder introduced tank combat, starting with Russian and German tanks, and later on adding American and British tanks with Japanese ones currently available only to premium players. The vehicles look more detailed than their "World of Tanks" counter parts, and those with more than one cannon such as the American Lee And Russian T-35 can fire multiples of them. When your gunsight is in front of a friendly, it will turn blue. When targeted on an enemy tank in a spot it has a decent chance of penetrating, it will turn green. When the chances are iffy, it is yellow. And when it's red, the shot has a poor chance of doing damage. The results of hits show in a pop-up display in the upper right.To help players get around, a minimap of the area is in the lower right. The lower left will show if your engine or gun is damaged, and the number of uninjured crewmen. When you score a hit on someone, a brief display appears in the upper right, showing where you hit and if it damaged anything.

With the hills and drops, it's possible for a vehicle to end up upside down. The player can call for assistance for a teammate to try to pull him upright. Hits on a tank can injure crewmen or damage equipment, the former meaning the tank can't shoot or drive until another crewman takes their place, and the latter meaning the tank has to either stop for repairs right away, or move slower and shoot slower and less accurately until the player stops and enacts repairs. Once the number of uninjured crewmen falls to one or zero, the tank is out of action. The tank can also be blown up by a hit to the ammo supply or fuel tank. After three tanks are used up, the player can no longer respawn, even if there's a fourth tank in the country's spaces.

There are also self-propelled anti-aircraft guns, which spit out high rate of fire, but have little chance of stopping all but the most thin of armor of enemy vehicles, such as other anti-aircraft or some tank destroyers. Many tanks also have machine guns. While AA guns and machine guns can't destroy a thickly-armored tank, they do count as making a hit, so if another player destroys the tank later, they get credit as having made an assisted kill. But one other difference from "World of Tanks" is that crew members are clearly visible in  AA vehicles and certain tank destroyers. This means a machine gun attack, or a high explosive round, into an exposed area can really hurt.

At several points in tank battles, players will get the chance to switch to an airplane for a few minutes, either a fighter-bomber which can damage or destroy tanks, or a fighter which can take out opposing planes. Anti-aircraft guns and machine guns that can aim into the air can fire at them when they get close enough. It takes several AA and machinegun hits to destroy a plane, though if it crashes the player who damaged it gets credit for the kill. Taking out a plane with a tank round would be a difficult feat of marksmanship, but most likely end up taking it down. Tank missions, at least in arcade mode, are just one variety, to occupy one or more designated points.

Like the planes, different ground vehicles call for different tactics. Light tanks are built for speed, but not going toe to toe with heavier armor. Heavy tanks are built to take and give punishment, but as the saying goes "there's always someone stronger" and a lucky shot to the turret ring will still hurt, if not take your tank out. Medium tanks can handle both roles. Tank destroyers are best when on the defensive, and when outflanked are vulnerable to blows from the side. Anti-aircraft vehicles are great for taking down enemy planes, and can  damage or knock out enemy vehicles with thinner armor or open areas if they get a lucky shot from behind, but are not built to take much punishment. Both tank destroyers and AA vehicles are at a disadvantage from tanks in city combat. And if a shell hits armor at an angle instead of head on, it's less likely to penetrate.

For certain accomplishments, such as getting a streak of three or more opponents before getting clobbered, blowing up the guy who got you earlier, or capturing an area, you get extra silver eagles and possibly more research points. For destroying a certain number of opponents during the course of your virtual campaign, you will be awarded insignia and artwork, which can be affixed to your vehicle as labels. You can do a little mix and matching with the artwork. It is possible to put a decal meant for an Axis aircraft on an Allied tank.

Naval combat is currently under development, and for now available only to Premium players. But these are not the battleships and cruisers of "World of Warships." All that's available now are small ocean craft, such as American PT boats and German E-Boats.

Although War Thunder is a multiplayer game, and you can fight alongside friends, I've personally found it more difficult to team up with my Second Life friends there. So when we feel like a round of tanks together, we usually hit World of Tanks. This to me is War Thunder's greatest flaw. But once a group of players gets in and can communicate by voice to coordinate their actions, that makes a clear difference in gameplay

It's also notable that War Thunder pulls something every April Fools. Last year, it was a pirate ship battle. Probably their most memorable prank was the "My Little Pony" air battles on April1, 2013, with flying colorful ponies with jets and rockets strapped to them, firing rainbow lasers.

Aside from a lucky picture from when I took a test drive of a T-35, I never could get screenshots of the game. So most of the pictures here are from films on warthunder.com.

Still, if you feel like a good round of air combat, or want a round of tank combat that's a different style than "World of Tanks," War Thunder is certainly worth a try.

Bixyl Shuftan

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