This futuristic flight combat sim challenges aces to save humanity from the genocidal intentions of an invading alien race. Players take the role of a crack pilot in a desperate time, and climb into the virtual cockpits of advanced, heavily armed aircraft to take out marauding aliens both on land and in the sky. A total of 18 different craft become available throughout the game. Planes can be armed from a selection of 16 weapons, ranging from high-tech to sci-fi and include torpedoes, guided missiles, and plasma guns. The game's control schemes are designed to accommodate both arcade-style action and accurate flight simulation. In addition to the campaign mode, up to 48 players can fly the same skies online, over the Internet or a LAN. Like the contemporary helicopter combat sim Fair Strike, Encore's Echelon was crafted by a Russian studio (MADia) and published outside of the U.S. by Buka Entertainment.
Set in the same far-flung 24th century as Echelon, Echelon: Wind Warriors is a planetary-based aerial combat sim that features 18 exotic-looking warplanes. Each of these hover-capable aircraft boasts unique handling and performance characteristics - from nimble to ungainly - with individual mission goals ultimately determining which you fly at any point.
The background canvas is huge. The primary continental battle theater stretches for hundreds of miles in every direction, and the wildly diverse topography is consistently attractive in spite of the recycled Echelon graphics engine. Virtually everything on the landscape is destructible, which adds to the fun as you gleefully blast scores of enemy air and ground targets into pixel-dust with all of the guided missiles and plasma weapons that your aircraft's hardpoints can support.
A linear 40-mission campaign lies at the heart of the single-player game. This protracted engagement boasts enough depth to keep you aloft for weeks. Aerial dogfights and stealth reconnaissance missions intermix freely with tank- and ship-busting sorties. The enemy AI poses a challenging fight at every turn. Your wingmen will also carry out their assignments without constant babysitting, and the sense of accomplishment that you'll feel at the conclusion of some of these multi-phase marathons is quite palpable.
Unfortunately, many of the missions are so difficult that you can easily get stuck for hours replaying them over and over in a frantic bid to advance the campaign. A save-as-you-go feature would have worked wonders here, but regrettably, you can save the game only upon successfully concluding a mission.
Should these campaign tribulations wear you down, Wind Warriors also ships with a handful of standalone and training missions, a basic mission editor, and a hiccup-free Internet multiplayer component (supporting up to 32 players in both head-to-head and co-op modes). Co-op ground-attack missions are a particular delight.
The game sports a clumsily implemented mouse-control feature à la Freelancer, but it's too awkward to be of any real use. Joystick-equipped gamers will definitely find the going much smoother.
Mouse-control issues and gameplay imbalances aren't the only glitches. A broken autopilot feature regularly flies your machine into mountains or other aircraft. A non-stop stream of foul-mouthed invective from your AI base commander also weakens the gaming experience. (Hey, I can swear with the best of them, but the obscenity-laced dialogue seems to have been scripted purely for shock value.)
However, it's easy to forgive the game its occasional sins. Especially with all of the rich content and distracting pyrotechnics that it has to offer.
People who downloaded Echelon: Wind Warriors have also downloaded:
Eurofighter Typhoon, F/A-18 Operation Desert Storm, F-16 Aggressor, F-22 Total Air War, Echelon, F-22 Lightning 3, Darkstar One, F-22 Raptor
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