Wing Breakers: First Impression
Updated: Sep 22, 2022
Have you ever aileron roll a pair of flying cows off your wing while flying through a barn? Well, I have, and let me tell you, the guy in third place did not see that coming.
Wing Breakers is a combat air racing game that wholeheartedly embraces absolute chaos. It was designed from the ground up to be over the top, fast-paced, and a little overwhelming as players plow through the racecourses to race for first place. A few parts of this game stand out, in my opinion, so I'll be focusing on those.
Thanks to an offer from the developer, Gugila, I was able to fly in the absolutely wild skies of Wing Breakers days before its release on March 10th, 2022. Skyward Flight Media thanks the game's developer for pre-release access.
Air racing games that incorporate combat into their gameplay must always overcome the balance between fighting and racing. Why outrace the others when you can just shoot them down? Why bother out flying the competition if I can outgun them? It's a similar problem that racing/cart games have if the players are given too many weapons or power-up options.
In Wing Breakers, the balance of weapons vs. racing has been maintained. The damage output of bullets is limited enough that only multiple direct hits to an aircraft can destroy it - at least a dozen or more hits. Much easier said than done while flying in the chaotic environments of Wing Breakers. Using cannon shells to destroy non-player-controlled enemies, blowing up certain parts of terrain, and disrupting other racers by firing upon them is more useful than focusing on dogfighting the competitors. Guided missiles are relatively easy to dodge with an aileron roll or barrel roll, meaning that they're better used to catch unsuspecting rivals off guard during critical moments.
There are Power-Ups that can be acquired mid-race by flying through them, but not all are offensive weapons. Picking up more ammunition restocks a small number of bullets or a single missile, meaning that weapons cannot be reliably reloaded and used throughout the race.
Furthermore, the respawn timer for aircraft destroyed is relatively fast. In roughly three to four seconds, downed aircraft air restart a short distance away from where they were shot down or crashed.
Choosing to hang back and fire upon other racers is ineffective because of the inability to shoot down the entire field of competition and because the rest of the field will be flying at much higher speeds to gather points and complete the race. Players are better off flying for points and trophy placement than trying to become an ace in a race.
The most essential parts of racecourses are the rings and pylons that must be flown through. The green floating rings can be cleared by flying the aircraft through them or partially by dipping most of a wing through the ring's center. Occasionally missing these wrongs can be catastrophic as players may need to turn around completely to fly through a high-priority ring, allowing other racers to effortlessly pass them. This is a harsh penalty, but it keeps the racers focused on racing above all else.
The presence of traditional air racing pylons, as seen in something like Red Bull Air Racing, appears purely cosmetic at first. But specific pylons have players gaining further points only if they fly through them under certain conditions. For example, they may require the aircraft to be wings level, knife-edge passes, passing through at certain altitudes, or slalom style weaving from side to side. This curious attention to detail inspired by real-world air racing is welcome even in this extreme setting.
Even with all the shooting, bumping, and grinding between aircraft, the results that matter are time, points gathered, and who crossed the finish line. These are all ways to further counter players that would focus on combat over racing. Shooting down multiple aircraft in one race doesn't count for much if you still come in fifth.
Wing Breakers has a very arcadey flight model, but that's expected considering the type of flying being done in this game. To expect flight simulator type handling characteristics here would be a bit foolish.
Pre-mapped controls include keyboard-mouse, various gamepads, Steam's native controller configuration input, and two flight sticks - specifically flight sticks that only have a single USB. The default controls are the most accessible for anyone, even players new to flight, as they can fly the aircraft with one stick. For example, tilting a thumbstick left makes the aircraft perform a coordinated turn left. Controls more representative to actual flight can be toggled, giving players control over all control surfaces. Interestingly enough, both control schemes have their strengths and weaknesses, but players with simplified controls do not seem to have an obvious advantage in multiplayer.
There is a lot of collision with flying cows, racing pylons, bales of hay, piston-driven compactors that try to smash your plane to bits, etc. Because of this, the aircraft in this game are very sturdy, capable of plowing through hoards of combat drones and explosive barrels, but they do accumulate damage over time. Hitting the ground or a building at high speed will force a respawn.
There are currently six aircraft in the game, each with their own unique stats, including the amount of ammo and missiles they carry. As they are primarily civilian aircraft adapted for combat, the way weapons, hardware upgrades, and cosmetics are bolted onto the planes is rather comical - they fit the overall aesthetic well.
There is an abundant amount of slots for customizations for each aircraft. Categories include Upgrades (jet engines, wing modifications, etc.), Stickers (decals that can be placed almost anywhere), and Extra (smoke generators, bobble head cats on your horizontal stabilizers!). The hangar can also be visually customized with decorations that do not change its functions. If you really wanted to, you could put an obnoxious amount of decals and attachments onto an aircraft to really stand out in a crowd!
Aircraft and customizations are unlocked by increasing player rank and completing specific challenges, but the feeling of things being a heavy grind is avoided. There are eight skill levels in the Campaign race mode alone, each with up to 12 races that require players to do specific tasks. Just progressing through the campaign unlocks things without players having to replay a particular race repeatedly to eventually unlock a single item.
Aside from the racing, the significant feature that caught my attention is its track editor. Racecourses of any size and level of complexity are possible. The default racecourses were created in the same editor.
Rather than be included directly in the game, the editor is available on the game's official website using WebGL. The editor comes with two guides, the ability to place every in-game object anywhere, reshape terrain in any way - everything needed to make quality custom maps. Racecourses created in the editor can be playtested in game before being made available for download to all players that own Wing Breakers.
The track editor being hosted on the website is a pretty unusual choice. This makes it possible for people who don't own the game to create and upload their own tracks. Whether that's a good or bad thing remains to be seen, but this opens the possibility for hundreds of races to be uploaded in the long term.
Wing Breakers is not the type of flight game I usually find myself playing, but the impression it left on me was positive overall. The races are always fast enough to never feel like they're dragging on. The need to fly precisely to avoid danger is thrown aside with all the airborne livestock and aircraft wing slapping going on. There are plenty of moments that leave you giggling at how absurd things get, like coming in third place while your aircraft fireballs across the finish line. It was good to take a step back from the seriousness of flying and just have fun with it.
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.