Review: Project Wingman by Sector D2 and Humble Games
Updated: May 18
After many years of anticipation and a long development cycle, Project Wingman finally took off on December 1st, 2020. This game, which takes heavy inspiration from other flight arcade titles but primarily from Project Aces' Ace Combat franchise, has a lot going for it but at the same time there are some things that do need to be addressed.
As usual with my reviews I will separate this into several categories so that you, the reader, can formulate your own judgement as to whether this game is for you:
Introduction and origins
Environments, art style and UI design
3D assets and Textures
Day-one bugs/problems and the future
Is this game for you?
Thanks to Prov, Hueman, Ribbon-Blue and BillytheKid for their contributions to this article. Also, thanks to Humble Games for the press copy of the game, much appreciated!
DISCLAIMER: Humble Games gave us complete creative freedom over this review and the opinions that will be written are my own.
WARNING: This review will contain spoilers for this game's story. These will be contained in the STORY section of the review or when explicitly disclaimed.
INTRODUCTION AND ORIGINS
Project Wingman (PW) as a game has its roots all the way back in 2016 with the first 0.1.0 Alpha versions of the game. These, as its natural for very early WIP builds, were very rough but showed a lot of promise from the very beginning. After two years of development and various very interesting public demo releases, the developers decided to start a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter to fund the project in order to be able to develop a fully fledged-out game.
The team was a small group of three individuals, the most crucial of them all being RBD2, the main developer/art designer/sound designer/almost everything game dev related behind the game. He served as the driving force behind the project, being the one that started it all. Alongside him were FlyAwayNow, the Producer Manager, and Jose Pavli, the song writer behind the game's soundtrack. A small thing with very big goals.
Unsurprisingly, their goal of 35.000AUD was not only met but surpassed threefold with a total of around 115.000AUD having been raised by the end of the campaign. The demo version of the game which was tailored as a showcase for the Kickstarter campaign is still available. After two more years of final development and a couple of delays, the game finally dropped on December 1st, 2020 to very positive public reception.
Now, let's go look at the game itself.
ENVIRONMENTS, ART STYLE AND UI DESIGN
Even at the very start, with the first alpha builds of the game, PW has had a rather unique art style and art direction while also letting itself be inspired by UI layouts from other flight games.
The color pallet used seems to be more grounded, less flashy which lends itself really well to the somewhat prevalent bleakness of the environments.The game was built around Unreal Engine 4, which does lend itself to some absolutely stunning visuals if utilized correctly.
Environments are varied as well. From mountainous regions to deserts, oil rigs, lava deposits, cities and tropical islands. I think it is better if I show you some examples so you can judge for yourself (POSSIBLE LOCATION SPOILERS).
The UI is very stylish, opting for a sort of canted and angled look to its elements which blends well with the rest of the game while also allowing for a bit more viewing space for the player. I have some small critiques such as the use of post processing on the UI itself which can make it look fuzzy and unfocused. There is also the difficulty in reading some of the distant UI elements of the HUD such as the names on named Ace enemies.
One fact that I do like about the UI is that it is rather customizable, allowing the player to change its color, scaling and even the subtitle position on the screen. A good UI is one that gives the players all the information they need without getting in the way and this one surely accomplishes that.
It is also worth mentioning that the developers are still tweaking some aspects of the maps, which they have already done by giving a couple of maps a lighting re-work that fixed some of the complaints that the community had (patch 1.0.4C). This is something I will mention later in greater detail, but the fact that the devs are listening to the bug reports is very important.
Another very important aspect of this game is its soundtrack. Composed by Jose Pavli, this OST has a lot of amazing songs that fit the game very well. One of the best examples I can give is Mission 11's song, Showdown. It is a song that reminded me of one of the most famous songs from Ace Combat 04, Comona. But it also does not let the inspiration take control and defines itself very well. Have a listen:
The only factor that I will "critique" about the OST is that it sometimes gets a bit buried by the sounds of battle and the gameplay itself. The songs have delicate arrangements that end up lost by the factors I have already mentioned. But I sincerely love the OST and believe that its composer did a fantastic job, regardless of the shortcomings.
3D ASSETS, TEXTURES AND EFFECTS
This area is a hit and miss, a constant that will become apparent on other areas of the game. And please, do not get me wrong, as we have to look at everything with context in mind. This is a game that was made by a small team, and the word small there seems kind of huge. There are also budget limitations and certain things take priority, things which I will expand upon later in the review.
Aircraft external models and their textures are pretty spot on, they look sweet. The 3D models are very nicely rigged and animated, the control surfaces move with some weight to them and do not make exaggerated movements. The textures also look like they do belong on a post-apocalyptic mercenary group, having marks of extensive use and chipped/weathered sections that have not being touched up in a while. Overall, pretty neat.
This also applies to the enemy aircraft, although appreciating them in the heat of battle is quite the challenge. To me, the best part of this game's world-building is shown through the modeling and detail that was put into this game's most iconic enemies, its airships:
These behemoths fit into this world's aesthetic fantastically. The detail that was put into modeling these beasts should not be understated. But not everything can be sunshine and rainbows.
Every playable aircraft has its own 3D cockpit model. These range from pretty alright to obvious asset reuse. Don't get me wrong, asset reuse is very justifiable under certain scenarios as it allows developer to have a bit more time and resources that would be rather be spent on more critical areas. But something like what I will show next is not:
To the left is the F/C-16 and to the right is the cockpit of the Chimera, an original superplane prototype. To me this is nothing bad, more so when one can see that the Chimera was inspired by the F-16XL prototype. But it is undeniable that the Chimera's cockpit is nothing more than a F/C-16 cockpit that was tinted red and without the HUD frame. None of them look bad, to me this is just a missed opportunity that would have made the Chimera stand out a bit more.
What is a bit worse is that some textures are clearly being reused over numerous aircraft, with some of them being quite evident as it is the case of what I will call "the green circle screen". This is one of many textures that are present on several of the cockpits, but mostly on those that have multi function displays (MFDs). The worst of these cases is the one present on the Sk.27's right screen. Take a look for yourself:
It is clear that this texture was made for square screens. So grabbing it and enlarging it to cover the space of a rectangular screen just makes it look disproportionate. I have talked with several other people and most of them pointed out this to me as well, so I am not the only one that noticed it. I am sure that this is something rather easy to fix as it is a texture, so I do expect that the devs will fix it in the long run, at least when they have fixed some of the other bugs that deserve more attention. The cockpits are not the prettiest but they get the job done, I just wished that they were of the same quality and style as the external models.
Yet another problem that I have is with the quality of the ground textures. Sure, you won't be flying close or slow enough to the ground to notice it most of the time. But when it shows, it shows:
Coming back on a good note, let's talk about something more positive: the visual effects.
Explosions are wonderfully made and emit just the right amount of glow, making them illuminate the smoke that they produce. Here is an example taken by BIllyTheKid, who kindly provided several screenshots for us to use. As you can see, particles effects are pretty well done and the explosions have this "oomph" to them that make them satisfying to watch. A fantastic job, if you ask me.
STORY (SPOILER WARNING)
From a point of view of complete honesty, I have my reservations with some parts of the story. But let me start from the beginning, as it is important that we are on the same level of knowledge. The following recap is very rough, so a lot of subtleties will be lost:
You play as "Monarch", a mercenary working for the Sicario Mercenary Group, specifically for the Hitman Squadron. The game starts with you finishing the last part of a contract for a client (The Federation), which has you attacking another group of mercenaries. At the end of the mission, yet another group of mercenaries informs you that civil war has broken on the country of Cascadia as they seek independence from the Federation. So your boss, taking advantage of the situation, sends you Cascadia's way to join the Cascadian Independent Forces.
The story moves from point to point, introducing certain aspects of the world and the story as missions pass. From your antagonist to certain aspects of your own squadron mates. You face against the antagonist (Crimson squadron) several times, each time you leave an impression on them as the only mercenary that can challenge them. The war continues and your momentum is impressive, annihilating Federation forces. It was not until very late in the war that the Federation decided to go a bit "nuclear".
They cause a second calamity on the city of Prospero, leaving almost no survivors and causing a chain reaction that created a new uninhabitable zone on the continent. In the midst of the calamity, you fight another squadron of mercenaries that are trying to hunt you down, they know your real identities. The fact that they know who you and your squadmates are means that you will be hunted down by mercenaries and bounty hunters.
The Cascadian government offers you a deal, a deal that will make sure that your identity's reveal does not mean anything after the war, total protection. You survive through the calamity by hunkering down on an improvised airfield (which in actuality is an incomplete highway) until the worst passes. After two months, your squadron starts attacking the remnants of the Federation's army that are still alive on Cascadian territory, including Crimson squadron who you shoot down in its entirety. You make the Federation retreat until the fight ends during the final attack to retake Cascadia's capital, Presidia.
It was a long battle but little by little you take apart the Federation's forces until, at the last minute, a ceasefire is settled during a diplomatic meeting. Frustrated by the decision, you accept it reluctantly. It is at this time that the radar fills with more cordium missiles, the same ones that were used to destroy Prospero. Presidia falls and all of your allies are presumed dead (although some after you finish the game on Mercenary it's revealed that some survived). The only ones flying are you and the man behind the cordium attack, Crimson 1, who is flying a prototype aircraft. You proceed to have one final dogfight against him, besting him and shooting him down. Then, the credits roll, the deal was honored.
Now, to my opinion. This story needed more time and room to breath. It's pace is fast and leaves you no time to reflect on the actions of the characters, their motivations or their personalities. The game's lack of cutscenes of any kind (apart from one that sincerely does not really count as it is a single static image for a 4 minute long dialogue) really impacts the story. The game overly relies on in-mission dialogue to develop the characters, which is not good as much of the game has very intense gameplay that necessitates the player focus, making it a bit difficult to pay attention to the subtitles or even the voices.
Some of the game's characters come out as flat and shallow because of this, the best example being Crimson 1. Crimson needed more in-screen time to explain his motivations. His actions during the final mission have left many players, including myself, blaming him for ruining the pace and claiming that his actions blew the story out of proportion. If the game would have had some cutscenes, even static images à la Ace Combat 04, from Crimson's POV. That could have made the player understand his feelings on an out-of-mission setting, maybe even accomplishing on making the ending have a different impact on me and on many other's perspectives.
The destruction of Prospero felt impactful, it felt like it showed the Federation's true evil side. They were so desperate as to blow up the commercial hub of Cascadia just to stop the advancing Cascadian forces without even caring about the civilians or the consequences. But the destruction of Presidia, on the other hand, felt completely unnecessary. Moments like that have to be used sparingly, because the feeling of despair is one that has to be earned.
You had already seen the destruction that Cordium can cause, you saw your base in ruins. That was more than enough to prove that the Federation was evil. Presidia's fall felt undeserved, rushed or even questionable. Instead of feeling anger or despair from seeing it in that sorry state, I felt a deep sense of confusion and disappointment. I do believe that the game and its world have great promise, there is an evident amount of care that was put into the setting, but the execution behind the story hurt it.
This is where Project Wingman shines. It's gameplay is one of the best - if not the best - I have ever had the pleasure of experiencing on an arcade flight game. The sense of flight is very well represented and planes feel like they have weight to them. Is it realistic? No, and that does not matter. An arcade flight game is meant to be fun and to give the player a nice sensation of flight, and Project Wingman does that in spades.
Weapons feel fun to use, none of them being too gimmicky or difficult to use. My only complaint would be that the reticle for the unguided bombs is a bit hard to use as it does not really allow the player to judge depth. But besides that the most satisfying weapon to use by far is the gun, both internal and gun pods. The gun pipper is accurate and the time to kill is just right. Overall, I have no more to comment other than that they nailed it!
Last but not least, I want to talk a bit about the way Project Wingman handles special weapons (SP) because it is noteworthy. Unlike with other flight arcade games this one uses a "Pylon" system, allowing the player much more loadout freedom than they would have had otherwise.
Some aircraft have more freedom than others, but each one has their own unique way of handling certain SP weapons.
Speaking of aircraft, the roster will have a lot of familiar faces. It is ample enough to make the game feel like it does not lack variety but not enough to say that all the holes have been filled in the roster. The devs are planning on adding more aircraft down the line so be on the lookout for them!
The biggest gameplay feature that this game has is its ability to be played entirely with a VR headset, I will now quote another Skyward staff member, Ribbon-Blue, as he talks a bit about the VR impressions of the game (he will go in-depth with them on an upcoming article):
One very positive thing that virtual reality in Project Wingman does have going for it (intentional or not) is that by being forced to use cockpit view, players really can take in the visual style this game is pushing. There is a lot of weather detail and lighting that is missed when flying in third person or HUD views. The canopies actually have scratches and scuffs, missions like Eminent Domain became way more intense because of the absolutely overwhelming amount of weather.
Other missions that have low light or haze have more impact and do change the way you approach combat. I noticed myself actively avoiding weather in certain situations, looking for holes in the clouds to go through and really having to pay attention to my HUD when descending through the cloud deck to avoid colliding with terrain. VR being available in both Campaign and Conquest is a huge plus for this game. Even if it could be a slightly better experience in some aspects, I keep needing to remind myself this game was made by such a small team.
Do you want the thrill of the gameplay but none of the story? Then Conquest mode is for you.
Conquest mode allows you to "transform" Project Wingman into a rogue-like game. It is one of the best aspects of this game, to be honest.
You can conquer territory over the period of one run, gain points, arm your own personal airfleet full of fighters and airships. As you conquer the territories, your alert level will go up and with it, the difficulty. But, the moment you die or crash, it is game over. Your progress gets reset with only one exception: your unlocked aircraft and your "prestige points" which are nothing more than fancy credits. This game mode adds a lot of replay value to the game and makes the Project Wingman experience last a bit longer.
DAY-ONE BUGS/PROBLEMS AND THE FUTURE
It is important to mention that this game, at the day of its release, had an incredible amount of problems and complications. Some of them were not that severe but others were so bad that they made some people's games not even boot up correctly.
I personally did not encounter any game-breaking bugs but some of my friends encountered issues with their drivers, others had Unreal Engine 4 issues, others were able to boot up for some time and after closing the game and opening it again, the game refused to boot and crashed instantly until they moved it to a secondary drive. Other issues that people encountered ranged from enemies spawning underground, boss fights having unfair strategies and unclear mechanics, clouds tiling up and looking like waffles from up top, etc.
The only issue that I personally found, and ones that I still have, are severe UI scaling issues on 5:4 aspect ratio screens and severe slowdowns during certain scenarios. I have already reported this one to the devs. VR users are still having problems but some of the biggest issues have already been solved.
Project Wingman seemed to have launched very rough around the edges, with a lot of unpolished features. We do not know why it launched this way or why they moved forward the release date to December 2020 when they had stated that the game was going to release in 2021. I, personally, would have gladly accepted a delay or the already announced 2021 release window if it meant a more polished game at launch. Yet, here we are.
The devs have said that they are focused on bug fixing and that they are even working on adding more planes and features to the game. I sincerely appreciate this from them as it shows that they listen and that they do care about their game. Well done.
IS THIS GAME FOR YOU?
At an asking price of 24.99USD, Project Wingman has a lot to offer for a very low price. It is not a perfect game and some of its flaws are pretty apparent even to the most diehard of fans. I will just say this: Project Wingman showed that you do not need a big team or a big budget to make something great, all you need is the will to make it happen.
If what you want in a game is:
A replayable gamemode with hours of entertainment
A different experience than other flight games
A fully VR compatible flight experience
A game with modding potential
If you don't mind:
A story with room to improve
Some bugs and performance dips
That the game is not a simulator (not a flaw, but there are some people that only like sims)
If you agree with all of the above, then RBD2's Project Wingman is for you.
Again, thanks to everyone that helped me with this review and to Humble Games for the copy.
About the writer:
Santiago "Cubeboy" Cuberos
Longtime aviation fanatic with particular preference towards military aviation and its history. Said interests date back to the early 2000's leading into his livelong dive into civil and combat flight simulators. He has been involved in a few communities but only started being active around the mid 2010's. Joined as a Spanish to English translator in 2017, he has been active as a writer and content manager ever since. Twitter | Discord: Cubeboy #9034