Platform: PC, iOS
Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: Firaxis Games
Release Date: November 5, 2013 (PC); November 7, 2013 (iOS)
One good turn-based dogfighting game deserves another. At least that’s the theory behind Firaxis and 2K’s “Sid Meier’s Ace Patrol: Pacific Skies,” which takes the gameplay that worked so well in the original “Ace Patrol” forward in time to World War II and halfway around the world to the Pacific theater. Besides the setting, not much else has changed, which is great for people who haven’t played the first game, and not so swell for those who have.
Let’s assume for the sake of argument you’re in the former group. “Pacific Skies” puts you in command of a squadron of four World War II-era fighter planes from either the American or Japanese armed forces. Regardless of which side of the conflict you choose, the game challenges you to complete several campaigns made up of multiple missions based on famous real life battles like Pearl Harbor, Guadalcanal, and Midway.
The developers claim there are over 180 different missions, and maybe there are. But some seem to pop up repeatedly, so while there is some variety, it might not be as impressive as it first seems. They range from something as simple as summoning your best pilot to take out an enemy ace to sending out the whole squadron to destroy heavily guarded naval vessels.
Regardless of the mission, Meier and company do an excellent job of turning the decidedly non-turn-based art of aerial combat into something that works in a turn-by-turn format. The genius lies mainly in the interface: every move your plane can make in each turn is represented by a different arrow on the hex-shaped spaces on the board. Hovering over an arrow gives you information on how that maneuver affects your altitude and speed (generally speaking, flying higher gives you more options), and clicking on it executes the move. It works even better on PC than on mobile, where the greater precision of a mouse keeps you from climbing when you meant to dive.
Green arrows represent moves that include firing at enemy targets, which is done automatically and deals damage based on a number of factors that include the weapons your plane is packing, the skill of your pilot, and the difficulty of the shot. Wounded planes can catch fire, lose maneuverability, or even go down, but don’t worry—just like an old “G.I. Joe” cartoon, every pilot parachutes out safely every time.
Mission scores are awarded based on how successful you were in accomplishing your goals while taking the least possible damage in return. That keeps reckless tactics to a minimum, especially since damage carries over from one mission to the next within a campaign. Downed pilots become POWs and therefore unavailable for a bit, though they eventually succeed in their daring escape attempts. Apparently base security in the “Ace Patrol” world is set to the “Hogan’s Heroes” competence level.
Whether they’re shot down or fly home in triumph, pilots receive credit for their kills, eventually earning new sets of manuevers or special abilities. This is a good thing, as the enemy pilots learn more tricks too. Upgrades also gradually unlock for your planes, including increased firepower and durability. The final thing to look forward to is brand new planes, and “Pacific Skies” is slightly more effective than the first “Ace Patrol” at making the aircraft feel different in terms of their attributes.
Sadly, this differentiation doesn’t carry over to most other areas. Even with three decades passing between their settings, there isn’t much difference between the two “Ace Patrol” games. The aerial maneuvers, interface, progression, and presentation are all virtually identical, and while that means there isn’t much that’s new to learn, it also could make picking up the second game somewhat pointless unless you really want to fly planes from World War II instead of World War I.
Scratch that, there is one more reason to grab the sequel, and that’s the period-appropriate music. It’ll make you want to lindy hop or swing dance right at your computer for the PC version, though it’s not recommended for mobile gamers due to the risk of your smartphone or tablet flying out of your hands. The graphics are excellent as well, but again, that’s at least partially due to the fact that they look like they did last time out.
The lack of real evolution between “Ace Patrol” titles makes “Pacific Skies” a difficult game to rate. For first-timers, it’s an excellent strategic challenge full of the kind of thought and polish you’d expect from a product bearing the Sid Meier name. On the other hand, veterans are going to feel it’s largely a rehash, and that’s never a good feeling. We’ll just split the difference with the score and point out that you may feel it’s too high or too low depending on your specific circumstances.
+ WWII dogfights turned into compelling turn-based battles
+ Effective interface, especially on the PC version
+ Soundtrack and graphics fit the setting to a tee
– Very similar to the first “Ace Patrol”