Unlike PC games, where historically inspired titles like Civilization and Age of Empires are some of the platform's most popular to date, console gamers rarely get a fair shake at tackling history headfirst through their television screens. Historically based, well-crafted titles like the PlayStation's FPS Medal of Honor are the exception, not the rule. And though Iron Aces, Xicat Interactive's entry into the historical flight-simulation genre isn't the first World War II-based title to appear on the Dreamcast (that honor goes to the disappointingly tepid, Hidden and Dangerous), it hopes to be the first to successfully combine the backdrop of a bygone era with cutting-edge technology and fun gameplay.
Even if you get drowsy at the thought of watching the History Channel, you won't have much to fear about Iron Aces representing the digital equivalent of a history lesson. Discarding the potential excitement of D-Day strafing runs through French Boccage in June of '44 or escorting Flying Fortresses and Liberators over the Ruhr Valley of Germany at the height of industrial raiding, Iron Aces chooses to rewrite history instead of imitating it. Iron Aces takes place at the right time (between 1939 and 1945) and has the right combatants, Germany and Japan (the Axis Powers) versus America and Britain (the Allies); but from here, though, reality is anyone's guess.
Apparently, Germany and Britain have paused their cross-channel air duels in Europe long enough to relocate their respective air forces to a chain of fictional islands in the South Sea of the Pacific. Here, they meet up with fellow Axis and Allies powers, the US and Japan, to duke it out with each other for control of these no-man's-(is)lands. Historical purists would most certainly cry foul at such egregious disregard for reality and the historical situation of the time. Xicat, however, probably doesn't mind if Dreamcast owners see the contrivance for what it is: an excuse to gather all four air powers into a neutral theatre for an extravagant dogfight.
Thrown headfirst into this nonhistorical amalgamation, you're an inexperienced American pilot, fresh from the academy, facing the seasoned veterans of the Thousand Year Reich and Hirohito's Pacific Empire. To combat your country's enemies, Iron Aces lets you choose from a wide array of both the USAF's and RAF's finest fighters to take on the Axis forces. From the lowly US P-40 Warhawk to the equally mediocre UK Hawker Hurricane, all the way up to the P-47 Thunderbolt, P-51 Mustang, and the British Spitfire Mk. IX, you'll be given plenty of options on how to deal death to would-be hunters. Facing them is the Axis' own all-star team of fighter planes, including everything from the infamous Mitsubishi Zero to the ubiquitous Messerschmitt BF-109 and the all-around superior Focke Wulfe 190D. Xicat claims to have designed all aircraft to mimic their real-life counterparts. To this end, weapon caliber, armor thickness, turning radius, speed, and engine are accurately recorded and represented against one and other. This means that, just like in real-life, the Spitfire will own the Messerschmitt in a turning duel, and Thunderbolt's powerful machine guns can tear through ground and aerial targets with equal ease. The weapons of war, though not the war itself, will be factual in Iron Aces.
Gameplay is designed around the single-player mode (there are no multiplayer options) and is composed of a series of increasingly difficult sorties. Like any well-intentioned flight simulator, Iron Aces follows a learning curve that starts with simple dictates like, "Fly here and shoot down incoming bogies," before quickly turning to much more complicated objectives, which vary from bombing targets to intercepting enemy raiders to downing wily aces, and more. All missions take place from within the cozy confines of your plane's semitransparent cockpit. Faithfully modeled from the real thing, each cockpit is unique to the fighter you're flying.
Accurate models and appearance are one thing - authentic handling is another. Xicat is up front about designing the planes around ease of use rather than realistic handling; stalls are nearly nonexistent, and pilot fatigue (redouts and blackouts) is nowhere to be found. That leaves you wide open to push these machines to their physical limits - not yours. Loop-de-loops, Immelmans, and (thankfully) landings can be pulled on without a tenth of the ability it takes to do the real thing.
Visually, expect a high level of detail in the aircraft models. Texturing on the planes are photo-realistic and includes details like squadron insignias and numbers as well as several different types of paint jobs for each plane. However, ground textures aren't the most unspectacular, especially at lower altitudes. The current build's lighting engine is also a bit plain and offers very little in the way of shadows or varied light sources. It should be said that these screenshots aren't necessarily indicative of a final product, and there are lens flares and varying levels of cloud cover and brightness to make up for these deficiencies. Also, special effects like burning engines, explosions, machine-gun fire, and smoke look very good and provide evidence that Iron Aces should provide a solid graphical experience.
Considering that there's nothing even remotely near a World War II flight simulator on the Dreamcast at the moment, Iron Aces will nicely fill a currently vacant niche in the DC's lineup with high-flying antics on an epic scale. Sure, you won't be able to engage in a historical rendition of Midway or D-Day - you'll have to settle for the anonymity of fictional South Sea island hopping, instead. But with a ton of classic fighters to choose from, varied missions and objectives, as well as arcade-style gameplay mechanics, Xicat could certainly have done worse. Look for this pseudo WWII flight simulator to land on store shelves this December.