Aggressor: 'New Horizons' Looks to the Future
Updated: Oct 24, 2022
After almost a year of no significant news, the latest update for Aggressor is a bold step toward the game's future. After it launched into early access in August 2021, there were a handful of updates the following month, and there has been little to no activity since on Steam. This was not because the game was dead shortly after arrival but because of the developer's focus on a massive update focused on the next iteration of the game. On July 19th, 2022, the update was released and already more minor updates that have fixed, tweaked, and added content have followed.
We last spoke to Flashpoint Studios in an interview following its launch into early access in 2021. Update 1.1.6, the New Horizons update, is aptly named as the difference between the game in 2021 to 2022 is considerable. The primary focus of this update was to revamp the core of the game's systems to set it up for new gameplay mechanics and game modes coming to Aggressor in the next few months. Of the laundry list of updates from New Horizons and the quick follow-on updates, these are a few things that caught my interest.
The extensive revamp invoked a complete progress wipe from the previous build of the game, so a mandatory fresh start was an excellent opportunity to experience Aggressor's new build.
Returning players will notice the difference from the moment they leave the start screen. With a Command and Conquer-esque faction selection screen, the menu screen pops to life with moving backgrounds, basic but stylish buttons, background music, and placeholders for upcoming game modes. Design-wise, I suppose the general keyword would be minimalist with the menus being semi-transparent over the content in the background; they never really feel in the way. This is a minor point compared to gameplay, but the presentation has improved quite a bit.
Things that are harder for users to see on the front end center around core data structure making adding content faster, particularly with the yet-to-be-fully explained Aloft and Frontline game modes. Though there are general comments from Flashpoint Studios floating around their Discord server about what these modes could potentially be, waiting for official announcements on them may be the better decision. The addition of a Mission Builder also falls under this change, but I chose not to explore it too deeply for now because of its current experimental and unstable nature. Things like mission editors and mission builders are always of interest in the flight game genre, so that will be worth a revisit at a later date.
Single Missions has replaced the former "Campaign Mode" for now, at least until full single-player campaigns are introduced, which is a high priority according to the developer. The currently available training missions teach players the basics of how to fly in Aggressor, introductions to different weapon systems, and an air racing challenge which proves surprisingly valuable for combat with the amount of low-altitude turn battles players will inevitably end up in. Completing the training missions is the best way to gather large amounts of in-game credits in just a few sorties. These credits are locked per faction, so earning hundreds of thousands of credits for NATO won't carry over to the USSR.
Unlock progression is easier to understand with the aircraft tree better illustrated. Starting from the earliest aircraft in the tree possible, purchasing the base aircraft allows players to buy the next most advanced aircraft beneath it. Where aircraft variants are available, those can be purchased as an option, not a requirement.
Using the picture above as an example, purchasing the P-51N is the minimum requirement for buying the more advanced XP-80F. However, the purchase of the XP-51XR and XP-82T is optional.
The previous, unique roster of early and mid-Cold War aircraft and prototypes remains with new aircraft added. One of them being the "MGI-21 PD", an aircraft based on an obscure demonstrator of the MiG-21 Fishbed that demonstrated vertical lift and takeoff capabilities. Some aircraft have started to receive basic cockpits, which were wholly unavailable before. Even non-fighter types like strategic bombers can be analyzed using the Skypedia option on the main menu to view data about all aircraft in the game and their vehicle models.
The placement of weapons on each aircraft is rather extensive and free to interpretation. To the point that each weapon can be placed anywhere in the available stores areas and pylons of each aircraft. It's possible that more historically accurate restrictions will be put in place as development progresses, but for now, even the most hilariously unrealistic loadouts can be prepared. Instant Dogfight mode is the best way to try out all available aircraft and weapons without having to adhere to the aircraft tree.
Instant Dogfight continues to be the game mode that best represents what Aggressor is capable of at this time. It is the same large dogfight mode it became known for in August 2021, but with a higher degree of control over every detail. From weather, location, time of day, the position of the sun, and distance the battle starts to control of every detail of both allied and enemy flights. The options include aircraft type, weapons carried, and skill levels all the way down to their starting altitude and airspeed. Pushing this mode to its limit, it's possible to have an eight-faction battle, each faction having over 100 squadrons each. Whether or not the player's computer can handle that is entirely different, but know that it's possible!
Finally, the exact changes to Aggressor's flight model are harder to explain for positive reasons. With the introduction of the Rewired advanced input system and extra control options from Flashpoint Studios for changing the input sensitivity, setting dead control zones, and smoothing axes.
The initial pop-up screen asking the player about their preferred control method is an excellent reminder that multiple controllers can now be supported. Still, as always, taking the time to create and adjust your inputs as your preferred controller allows is highly recommended. All of these new extended control options are a net positive for the game, but be prepared to set aside time during flight training sessions just for setting everything precisely the way you want it.
So far, what has not changed gameplay-wise is its within visual range combat focus. Even with heat-seeking, semi-active radar, and active radar homing missiles now entering its roster with countermeasures to boot, most engagements end with high-energy maneuvers and watching opponents having pieces of their aircraft blown off just a plane length or two away from the player. The addition of an actual gun reticle has been a simple but excellent quality of life improvement. With no lead indicator, old-fashioned World War I and II style gunnery makes up the bulk of combat between the occasional missile launch.
After a long period of checking in on this game somewhat regularly, I'm happy with the New Horizons update, the minor follow-on updates, and new activity from the developer on the game's Discord server. If you haven't given Aggressor a play in a while, now is the time to jump in and get involved.
About the Writer
Aaron "Ribbon-Blue" Mendoza
Co-founder of Skyward Flight Media. After founding Electrosphere.info, the first English Ace Combat database, he has been involved in creating flight game-related websites, communities, and events since 2005. He explores past and present flight games and simulators with his extensive collection of game consoles and computers. Read Staff Profile.