Based on the popular brand of models, Airfix Dogfighter lets you pilot detailed, miniature versions of World War II aircraft through a large, 3D-rendered house. Fly for the Allies or the Axis, each with a home base in a different room of the house. Dogfights take place in the yard or throughout a house full of curios, knick-knacks, canisters, and decorations, many of which can be destroyed or contain special power-ups.
Airfix Dogfighter puts you in the role of a kid's airplane model come to life. You'll fly around the house (and even stray outside from time to time) battling against your enemies in a classic Second World War set-up. There are two campaigns, one for both the Axis and Allied powers with ten missions each. The game takes an arcade approach to physics. Although your planes can travel (at scale) several hundred miles per hour, they can also maintain pretty good flight characteristics at a more modest 70 or 80 miles per hour. The game also eases aiming trouble by including a slight auto-aim feature that assures you'll hit a target if you're pointed in the general direction.
The 14 planes, while not offering the same variance that you get in most flight sims, do have some significant differences in performance. Each plane is rated on a scale of one to four in four areas -- speed, control, armor and fuel. Fortunately there's enough of a difference between a two and a three for you to distinguish between the two. For instance, the Stuka has a control rating of one and turns much more slowly than the Typhoon, which has a control of two. Similarly, the Black Widow with its armor rating of four can take much more punishment than the Hurricane with its puny one in armor. I was kind of irritated that so many of the Axis planes have exactly the same performance characteristics. For instance the Fw 190A is a carbon copy of the Fiat G50 (although you score big points for including an Italian plane) and the Komet is exactly the same as the Me262. In addition to those planes you can also fly the Mustang, Spitfire, Dauntless, Bf109, Zero and, my personal favorite, the Hellcat. And if you're counting the number of planes I mentioned to make sure it adds up to 14, you really should step outside and get some fresh air.
But you don't start off with all of those planes at your disposal. You have to earn them through the missions. From time to time you'll be given a mission to retrieve a new model kit and a set of blueprints. These, like all the other power ups in the game are located in vases, jars, or enemy vehicles. I was a little mystified that the final mission in both campaigns opened up new model types. Great, what am I supposed to do with these now that the game is over? Go back and redo some of the other missions I guess. Whatever. Planes aren't the only vehicles in the game, either. You'll have to contend with tanks, jeeps, submarines, battleships and aircraft carriers. For the most part these guys are on the opposing side but you'll occasionally have to perform escort or guard duties for your own vehicles.
As further evidence that this is an arcade game, Airfix Dogfighter includes numerous power ups. These are located all over the house and are often hidden inside breakable objects like vases, plates, jars and mugs. You'll need to shoot these objects to release the power up inside. Possible power ups include repair kits, extra fuel and ammunition. You can also get weapon power ups. Each ten weapon power ups you collect upgrade the destructive power of your weapons. Apart from the basic cannon, you can also pick up numerous secondary weapons including bombs, rockets and guided missiles. Later in the game you'll even be able to use lasers and atomic bombs against your enemies (although the atomic bombs didn't seem nearly powerful enough and are only available to the Axis powers).
The campaigns are really cool and, although short, are mildly challenging. They take you through all the room of the house and through a number of mission types. You'll have to sink German subs in the bathub or fight off waves of enemy bombers as they try to take out your base in the attic. A base assault on the garage is complimented by a scramble mission where enemy bombers burst in your bedroom window and try to take out your airfield. And once you blast through a window and take a trip outside, you'll know you're in gaming heaven. I'm sort of ruining the surprise that you might experience the first time your chief asks you to chase an enemy plane into the yard, but it's damn cool.
So I said I wouldn't start off with the sappy reminiscence. Instead I'll finish with it. I don't want to play the old man here or anything, but Airfix Dogfigher did bring back a lot of memories for me. Making scale models wasn't a huge part of my childhood -- I was more into throwing my sister down the stairs than in painting tiny decals on my Grumman F6F Hellcat. But I did make a few models in between trips to the child psychologist. Later in life, during college, I really got into modeling -- so much so that I even know what flash is (it's the little crap that doesn't belong on the piece you just cut off of the tree). But you don't have to dig models necessarily -- if you were ever one of those kids who thought that their toys had a secret life of their own (and who among us isn't?) then Airfix Dogfighter totally capitalizes on that sentiment. And it does it way the hell better than 3DO's Army Men franchise.
I know that some people have criticized the game for not really having any context -- you know, like why all this is happening? Like the way that the Army Men games involve some dimensional warp to a world where the toys become real. For me, that's unimportant. As a kid I never really thought that far into things; there was just this sense that the toys could really get up and do these things on their own. That's context enough for me. I don't need some sort of bizarre meteorite or cosmic ray to animate the toys for me; I did that with my own imagination and I think the game's total dodge of the setup works perfectly well.
So the game wins big points on sentiment, concept and gameplay but it loses when it comes to long-term appeal. I finished up both the campaigns in about 5 hours and, although there was a lot of fun packed into those five hours, it was over far too quickly. The multiplayer might have ultimately redeemed the game but, alas, there's not really that much multiplayer support. You can have eight players in any given fight but there's no server search feature in the game. Unless you know someone who wants to play, you're screwed. Also in the multiplayer, you don't have total freedom to run about the house.
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