They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. If that's true, Project Wingman may possibly be some of the most blatant flattery I've ever seen. There are no two ways around it: everything about the game just screams "Ace Combat fan game." That doesn't have to be a bad thing though, especially when there are so few people attempting to follow in Ace Combat's footsteps. So does Project Wingman dethrone the ace, or is it shot down?
Right from the start, I can't help but make comparisons in almost every single feature of the game to Ace Combat. This even comes down to the story. Taking place on Earth about 500 years after an apocalyptic event that altered the political and geographical landscape, (basically, exactly like Ace Combat's Strangereal) you play as Monarch, a pilot for a mercenary group known as Sicario and very obvious expy of Ace Combat Zero's Cipher. When a war begins to brew between the country of Cascadia and the Federation that it is trying to get independence from, Sicario is hired by Cascadia to help them win the war for a solid payday. It's all fine, but there's nothing really that noteworthy about the game's plot. It gets you from mission to mission without much trouble, but other than that there's very little to say.
To do all of this war-winning and money-making, you'll pilot an advanced jet fighter in various missions where you must shoot things. The gameplay itself is rather arcadey, not attempting to have super realistic jet controls. Instead, it's closer to something like, well... Ace Combat. I know these comparisons are going to start getting old, but within minutes I realized the games look and played absurdly similar. That doesn't have to be a bad thing though, especially if Project Wingman tries to put its own spin on the formula. However, very quickly I realized it wasn't going to be doing so.
Before each mission you'll get a quick briefing which gives you a good idea of what to expect, then you'll pick an airplane and loadout. Each airplane can equip a few different special weapons such as bombs, rockets, multi-lock missiles, radar-controlled missiles, and more. However, there isn't really that large of a variety of weapons, and I realized I was still using the same weapons at the start of the game that I was using at the end. It mostly made me wish there were a few unique weapons to change up the loadouts, and it becomes frustrating when 3/4ths of the way through the game you get to see enemies with railguns but you can't get one of your own.
All of this makes Project Wingman sound like a bad ripoff, and in a way it is, but that doesn't mean there isn't fun to be had with its efforts.
Once you're loaded up, it's off to battle. Most of the missions are pretty simple, having you do little more than enter a combat arena and destroy all enemies marked as targets. If you play Project Wingman back to back with Ace Combat 7, the lack of mission variety becomes rather noticeable. Where Ace Combat will throw you in escort quests, stealth missions, having you scan targets, and more, Project Wingman just has you shoot people until you win. That's not a bad thing; the meat and potatoes of this style of game are shooting people, but sometimes you want to see something a little different. Even missions where you think you'll see a change, such as a briefing mentioning that you have to go alone to avoid radars, just immediately become "kill all enemies" once it begins.
One of the few ways Project Wingman attempts to mix this up, hilariously also aping from Ace Combat, is through boss fights. These bosses provide encounters like squadrons of ace fighters and... well that's mostly it. Another problem with repetition, most boss fights are simply teams of four to eight airplanes that have health bars and better AI. Instead of taking two missiles to bring down, they take six. Otherwise, they're just other jets. As the game advances, you do get to see a few more variations, such as a jet with a multi-shot rail gun, but there's nothing like the drone-deploying mega-ships or the submarines armed with shrapnel missiles.
All of this makes Project Wingman sound like a bad ripoff, and in a way it is, but that doesn't mean there isn't fun to be had with its efforts. So few games try to follow Ace Combat's style that it's nice to see one attempt it. The aforementioned fights can still be intense, especially when you have several jets zipping around firing missiles at each other. There's always a sense of satisfaction of managing to bring down some particularly bothersome foe, and there's no feeling like watching his burning airplane fall into the ocean. Every single time I launched a multi-lock ground target missile, watched them fly forward, then dive bomb into enemy ground targets, I grinned. These are the moments when the campaign hits its peak.
The one place where Project Wingman tries to set itself apart from its contemporaries comes from Conquest mode. Playing closer to a roguelike, you'll run randomized missions using money to buy loadouts. As you complete levels you can use the money you make to buy other airplanes to join you in battle, and once you die, a chunk of your total score is turned into prestige points that you can use to buy new airplanes to pilot. If you really enjoy Project Wingman's combat, then it's a solid way to spend more time with the game, and certainly better than a throwaway multiplayer mode that will mostly be forgotten after a few weeks.
The other major unique point is that the entire game can be played from start to finish in VR. Much like how VR works for many games, this certainly makes the game better if you already like it and worse if you don't. I've always found VR to be a multiplier, making good games better and bad games worse, and Project Wingman certainly isn't an exception to that in any way. If you have VR and enjoy this style of game, you're in for a treat.
VR or not, the game always manages to look rather pretty. Sure it may not hit the level of ultra-realism you would see in a AAA game, but everything in the world looks solid and I had no problem sinking into the game's setting. In particular, I could watch jets fall out of the sky while burning up all day. The soundtrack is also pretty great, punctuating the fights with the exact kind of dramatic music that it really needed.
However, taken as a whole package, every time I played more of Project Wingman my thoughts kept wandering back to "man, I really wish I was playing Ace Combat right now." It's certainly not a bad game, but it's also one that feels like it's just trying to be another instead of its own thing. If that's okay with you, check it out, and be sure to try conquest mode. It may be worth taking to these skies.
TechRaptor reviewed Project Wingman on PC using a copy provided by the publisher.
- Manages to Nail Being an Ace Combat Fan Game...
- Satisfying Combat Moments
- Conquest Mode is Clever
- Really Pretty
- ...Maybe a Little Too Well
- Extremely Reptitive Mission Structure
- Low Weapon Variety
- Forgettable Story