Echelon Wind Warriors may sound like some odd game where you have to beat an opponent to a pulp after drinking lots of gassy fluids but it is in fact a futuristic flight simulator set in the Echelon universe. The war with the Velians (which had just started in the previous game Echelon) is still raging (so what else is new?)
The game is a mission-based futuristic flight simulator – kind of like Wing Commander but in a planet’s atmosphere rather than space. The main thrust of the game is the campaign where you take part in the war, however there are a number of mission sets thrown in just for fun and for network play.
Each mission has a number of primary objectives which need to be met to succeed as well as secondary objectives which you can complete should you have the desire and ammo! As we’ve all come to expect in any mission-based game the objectives can change during a mission leading you to fly by the seat of your pants. While some missions will have you carrying out tasks by yourself, sometimes you lead a squadron into battle. Instead of just letting the game AI decide what your fellow pilots should do you can order them to perform a variety of tasks such as take out a specific target, help you if you’re getting battered or order them to return to base.
Before each mission starts you receive a briefing on the objectives, likely threats and any other relevant information such as locations of known enemy bases, surface to air missile locations and enemy patrol routes. Afterwards you can choose the airplane you wish to use and the weapons you’d like to take into battle. There are a number of aircraft to choose from each designed to fulfill a particular role such as interception, bombing, ground a*ault etc. As you’d probably expect slow heavy planes respond sluggishly to the controls, have a slow maximum speed but can withstand a large amount of abuse while interceptors tend to be light, fast and maneuverable but they don’t take too much abuse before they give up. One noteworthy attribute is the aircraft stay put when you kill the throttle so there’s no way to stall the wing or drop like a stone.
Each aircraft has a number of places on which to mount weapons. There are a large a*ortment of weapons which range from projectile based guns such as machine guns, energy based such as plasma rifles and missiles. Energy based weapons draw power from an internal reserve which recharges itself given time. Different weapons do different amounts of damage and an take differing amounts of time to recharge/ reload before they can be fired again. Missiles come in a variety of different a*ortments including both guided and un-guided, along with the different types of warhead such as plain old explosive and plasma based warheads.
As you’d expect, there are many, many controls in this game. Most flight simulators are quite difficult to control with anything other than a proper joystick with a throttle and a second pair of hands. Wind Warriors would be no exception except for the novel mouse control mechanism called ‘e-mouse’. Basically you control the position of a cursor on screen with the mouse and the aircraft tries to point it self in the direction of the cursor. Stop moving the mouse and the cursor floats back to the centre of the screen. This does give the game a more natural feel, however it is still quite difficult to perform a smooth controlled turn as you have to keep moving the mouse at a constant rate – eventually leading to the lack of mouse mat real estate.
Every aircraft has an autopilot (thankfully!) which can be used to reach the next navigation point, for example patrolling an airspace or just getting from A to B. The game also features the ability to speed up time until something worthy of your attention occurs; radio traffic, an enemy coming within a certain distance etc. Both of these reduce the amount of time you spend looking at blank space.
The visuals are both reasonably impressive and bland. The aircraft, tanks, buildings are all drawn with high enough detail, which can look great when you get up close and personal. On the other hand the ground tends to be quite ordinary, with the occasional forest or river etc. The maps are by no means just flat, in fact some are quite hilly, but they tend to be devoid of detail. This doesn’t detract from the game; after all, you’re trying to avoid smacking into the ground! When you score a kill you’re treated to a display as the aircraft explodes and scatters flaming pieces of wreckage here and there which leave their own smoke trail for extra satisfaction.
Most of the sound in the game is provided by the engine noise of your jet, the on-board computer and any weapons fire that happens to be going on. The majority of these noises are your bog standard sound library recordings which do their job effectively. There isn’t any background music in the game although the main menu does sport quite a funky piece of background music.
There are a few niggles to this game. Besides the bland landscape, the cursor can disappear when you’re playing using the e-mouse option, which isn’t a great big problem unless you flip your aircraft and aren’t sure if you should be moving up or down. There also seems to be a problem with the timing of scripted events and how these are presented to the player. For example, when taking off, other aircraft seem to have a constant speed rather than be accelerating and they can take-off before they receive clearance to do so.
The most obvious ommision people will notice is the lack of a gripping story line – missions just roll on one after the other with no attempt to tell a story in-between. This lack of a story makes the game fun but not something you feel compelled to play because you’ve just got to know what happens next. Some games grab you with the story line and you just have to play on – Max Payne and Halo are good examples.
This game does feature a multi-player element. There are two basic game modes: free for all and team games. The free for all just lets everyone have a go at blowing each other from the sky while the objective in the team game is to destroy the other team’s base. These look fun, just like the vehicles in the Halo mutliplayer, but I couldn’t find an internet server I could join – probably due to the fact this is a pre-release copy of the game.
All in all, this is a pretty solid game and if you liked the first one you’ll get more of the same. However, without a gripping story line you’re more likely to come back to this every once in a while when you feel like a quick zip around in a magnificent flying machine. Worthy of a look if you own a joystick or have played this type of game with your trusty mouse.