A long time ago, Kesmai introduced one of the very first fully graphical online games, a World War II-based flight simulation called Air Warrior. After numerous revisions throughout the years, Air Warrior II, the culmination of literally hundreds of thousands of dollars of research, was produced by Interactive Magic in conjunction with Kesmai Studios. Air Warrior II not only let you fly online, but offline as well, with over 300 missions and campaigns to accompany the smooth but still-dated graphics and realistic flight models. You could now spend hundreds of hours practicing and flying offline without ever having to spend a dime.
Now Interactive Magic has released Air Warrior III, which continues to add even more to the Air Warrior series. In continuing with today's trend towards 3D acceleration, Air Warrior III features Direct3D graphics and the ability to download new textures. Also included in the new version are force-feedback support, several new aircraft, and new Pacific-area campaigns. All of the original scenarios from Air Warrior II are here, plus an extra 150 or so, to make a total of over 450 independently playable missions. And that's not including online play with hundreds of other players in free-for-all arenas or historical scenarios with 49 different types of realistically modeled aircraft.
Unfortunately the feel of a full product is just not present. The problem is that Air Warrior is an online game first and foremost (and a fairly decent one at that), but the offline air combat flight is a noticeably distant second. You still have the feeling that the offline scenarios were merely tacked on as an afterthought. Over 450 afterthoughts, in fact, if you don't count the campaigns. The fact that Air Warrior III is built as an online game is apparent as soon as you jump into the cockpit; everything in the game engine is built around providing the pilot with information in the most simplistic and understandable way.
Everything is built around the idea that you are going to fly online. Yet you have to deal with some conventions offline as a result: funky aircraft IDs, the annoying "periscope" view (though this can be changed easily), hit bubbles, and the unmistakable feeling that you are alone despite the fact that you may be flying in formation with an entire squadron. And the way the key commands are set up makes you wonder if you're flying a flight simulation or playing an adventure game.
Of course if you go online everything seems to make some sense and you can actually talk to people using a microphone-transmission system called Network Speech rather than just typing out messages. You can talk with 16 different people on one channel, and it really works, though it does take some finessing. Online Air Warrior III, like most other big multiplayer games, is a fun experience - even more so if you know what you are doing.
Graphically, the Direct3D acceleration helps a bunch; the ground, sky, and aircraft textures are wonderful. Less than ideal, however, are the rather dull-looking explosions. During combat, aircraft take a few hits, stream smoke, then blow up in cheesy fireballs and puffs of black smoke. Explosions on the ground from bomb hits are the same as explosions in the air, except they cycle through the sequence over and over again.
If all you want to do is fly online, and you don't want to pay a single penny (for now anyway), you can just swing over to the Kesmai Air Warrior site, download the front end, and play for free in the beta arenas. You don't even need the boxed game. So if you are really itching to find out how Air Warrior III is, fly it for yourself, free of charge.