Pre-ordered a PS4? (Read our PS4 review if you haven't.) Or maybe you’re going to take your
chances with retail stock, and try to grab one after Christmas. Either way, if
you have any experience of console launches whatsoever, you already know that
if you land a machine in the next couple of months, you’re pretty quickly going
to run into a conundrum. And that conundrum is the inevitable new-console
rollercoaster drop of fun.
You know how it goes. Pre-release anticipation slowly
tick-tocks you up the track to launch day, leading to full-blown, midnight
launch excitement as you hit the top, which then irretrievably descends into
awkward deflation once you’ve played your favoured launch titles and settle in
for the long wait until the second generation of games turns up.
The opening of this new generation will be no different. Of
course, both Xbox One and PS4 have decent launch line-ups (obviously I’m
talking “decent for a launch line-up”, as we always must in these instances),
but in the latter case, if you don’t like sports games or FPS, and have an
irrational dislike of the Ubisoft logo, then you might be straight out of luck.
We could have a Hell of a sleeper hit on our hands.
But I might have a solution. A solution springing from a
most unexpected place. If, like me, you’re a hardcore but predominantly console
gamer, you might be treating the current claims of a free-to-play revolution on
next-gen with a degree of caution. I certainly was before Gamescom this year. But
then I played War Thunder, a PS4 launch game I’d paid very little attention to
before. And suddenly I was convinced that we could have a Hell of a sleeper hit
on our hands here.
War Thunder has all the tenets of a forgettable also-ran. It
has a generic name. It’s from a relatively low-profile Russian developer with
few known console hits. It’s a free-to-play war game whose monicker doesn’t
start with “World of”. But don’t worry about any of that. War Thunder, you see,
is being developed by Gaijin Entertainment, the people who brought us the excellent
surprise-hit plane shooter IL2-Sturmovik in 2009. That game excelled by way of
its deep but accessible air combat and brilliantly evocative atmosphere. War
Thunder inherits all of those attributes with gleeful aplomb.
It's meaty, tactile, and immensely playable.
For starters, there’s the excellent control scheme. Don’t be
put off by the flight sim’s reputation as an arcane system of dials, levers,
flaps and infernal micromanagement. War Thunder delivers meaty, tactile,
immensely playable air-combat while demanding the use of only one thumb and a
Its PC version--playable since its open beta launch nearly a
year ago--was designed to be playable entirely with a mouse and two throttle
keys. That motion-guided control scheme translates beautifully to the PS4’s
left analogue or track-pad.
With a separate ‘steering sight’ in addition to your plane’s
aiming reticule, you simply paint a flight direction across the screen and wait
for your plane’s flight path to correct in order to line up. It’s a pitch-perfect
mechanism, deliberate enough to allow proper time for tactical appraisal of the
battle zone, but immediate enough to impart immense arcade satisfaction. And
with battles consisting of vast clouds of skyborne metal comprising dozens upon
dozens of planes at a time, there’s no chance you’ll end up monotonously lining
up distant targets, as is often a pitfall of the genre. There’s always
something going on in the immediate vicinity, and it’s always fun.
It could bring unprecedented levels of epic.
But that’s literally only half the reason War Thunder is
great. You see the battle doesn’t end in the air. As the game’s devs cheekily
pointed out during my demo, where some war vehicle-based MMOs might give you
separate games for separate machines, War Thunder’s tank combat takes place on
the same maps as its air fights. And those maps are vast, currently maxing out
at 200km x 200km, but possibly getting even bigger in the future.
So now--or rather when the ground warfare update rolls
out--you’ll be able to partake in vast, multi-staged battles, between
staggeringly large armies fighting for air and land supremacy combined. With
the promise that objectives for both sections of the fight will be
linked--planes might take down the opposing side’s fighters so that their
bombers can soften up a town, ready for the tanks to roll in below--we could be
looking at some fairly unprecedented levels of epic in the coming months.
And it doesn’t stop there. Warships are also on the horizon,
and should evolve the game’s scope far beyond what it already promises. Aircraft
carriers, floating anti-air support, air-to-sea bombing raids… the potential is
immense. Think Battlefield, without the infantry combat, but playing out on
maps the size of some countries. And with the PS4 and PC versions enjoying
cross-play, you’ll have the entire, 3,000,000-strong PC community to play with
from day one. That’s exciting-as-all-hell right there.
Do me a favour and play War Thunder when you get your PS4. I’m
not expecting it to be your first priority when you fire up your shiny new
next-gen beast, but you should definitely give it a go. Given the
excellent-sounding long-term evolution War Thunder has coming, once the
delights of Killzone and Assassin’s start to wear thin, it should tide you over
handsomely until the second wave of AAA fun hits. And maybe even a good deal
longer than that.
And hey, it’s free. What have you got to lose?
You know that kid at parties who talks too much? Drink in hand, way too enthusiastic, ponderously well-educated in topics no one in their right mind should know about? Loud? Well, that kid’s occasionally us. GR Editorials is a semi-regular feature where we share our informed insights on the news at hand. Sharp, funny, and finger-on-the-pulse, it’s the information you need to know even when you don’t know you need it.