This historically-based PC game from flight-sim specialists Third Wire sends virtual pilots to the skies above Vietnam, for a series of missions set between 1964 and 1973. Players will participate in re-creations of the Rolling Thunder campaign and the Linebacker II operations, including the B-52 Christmas season bombings of Hanoi.
Desktop pilots haven't had much chance to mix it up with enemy MiGs over the skies of Vietnam. The World War II and modern eras have been done to death but, apart from MiG Alley, there haven't been too many flight sims that cover the intervening years. Thankfully Wings over Vietnam, a sort of descendant of 2002's Strike Fighters, finally brings the air war of Vietnam to PC sim fans.
There are three campaigns here based on different operations during the war. The aerial bombardment campaign known as Rolling Thunder takes place between 1965 and 1968 and tasks players with launching the controversial non-retaliatory strikes against the North. The two Linebacker campaigns involve stopping the NVA incursions into the South. Gamers will get promotions and thorough stat tracking as they progress through the campaigns. Gamers will also have the option to jump into instant action missions with a wide variety of setup factors.
The plane list is impressive. Flying for the USAF, you'll have the chance to pilot three varieties of the F-4 Phantom as well as the F-100 D Super Sabre and the F-105 D Superchief. The Navy and Marine Corps have their own versions of the Phantom and can also pilot two kinds of A-7 Corsairs, three versions of the A-4 Skyhawk, and the A-6A Intruder and F-8 E Crusader. Other friendly planes in the sky include the B-52 Stratofortress and B-57 Canberra.
Against these formidable craft, the enemy will launch a wide varities of MiGs. There are three types of the MiG-21 Fishbed as well as the MiG-17F Fresco and MiG-19S Farmer." The inclusion of flyable versions of the enemy aircraft in a campaign setting would definitely increase the appeal of this game but at least they've managed to include those planes in multiplayer. Since you also have the option to set up cooperative multiplayer missions, you can even get a sense of what the campaign missions might have been like if played from the other side.
Flight modeling is relatively good. The planes all feel like they have a real weight and the sense of thrust and power is substantial, particularly as you bleed off speed in the turns. I confess I'm not as familiar with the flight characteristics of the Vietnam era planes as I am with those from World War II (like I said, there aren't many other comparable sims) but there's a nice range of performance across the different plane types.
Vietnam was probably the last theater that required visual range for all combats. As a result, the combat here seems much more personal than it does in games set in later years. You'll be able to see each of your enemies and get off a lot more cannon shot at them than is possible in sims set in a more modern era. Unfortunately, it seems that all of the missile types, both radar and heat-seeking, seem to hit their targets with a greater degree of accuracy than they ought.
The game's graphics share the same strengths and weaknesses of Strike Fighters. The plane models are fantastic. Viewed from the outside you can see the individual rivets and seams. There's even a lot of weathering on the skin that keeps the planes from looking like they just rolled off of the assembly line. Moveable control surfaces add another level of realism to the game. Cockpit instrumentation is reasonably good by the standards of the genre.
Though the ground looks good from high up, flying nap of the earth shows that the terrain could use a lot more life. There's a lot of variety in terms of the shape of the terrain but the scarcity of 3D objects makes flying close to the ground a fairly dull experience, particularly when flying over Hanoi.
The worst thing about the ground is that the collision is non-existent. It's bad enough that you can fly right through the tan buildings that dot the landscape but even worse, you can dive straight at the ground and escape completely unharmed. Seeing your F-4 Phantom turn into a 50,000 pound sled completely kills the realism. On the plus side, it makes carrier landings a lot less tricky; if you overshoot the deck, you can just scoot along the water and make another pass.
But that doesn't mean that there's nothing to worry about down there at 0 AGL. Unlike Strike Fighters, Wings Over Vietnam features numerous ground based anti-air defenses. SAM sites and AA guns prove to be almost as big a threat as the MIGs you find in the air. For some reason, the tracer fire from the AA guns is very flat. This is even more distracting given the natural appearance of the tracer fire from your plane's cannon.
The sound of the cannon is pretty satisfying. When you hold down the trigger and hear that ripping sound, you'll get a real sense of the power behind it. The same is true of the plane's engines and afterburners. You'll find that the other sounds, like the wind rushing by the canopy and the plane's warning sounds and radio chatter tend to stack on top of one another so that they're hard to separate.
There aren't many choices if you're looking for a game that simulates the air war during Vietnam. But even though Wings of Vietnam is pretty much the only game of its type in town, it still falls short in some key areas. The game's stability is the biggest strike against it. There's already a patch out to bring the game in line with Strike Fighters' Service Pack 3. Without installing this, the game is susceptible to frequent crashes.
When you do get into the meat of the game, you'll find that it's an enjoyable experience. The range of planes is pretty good and the flight and combat modeling straddles the line between hardcore realism and ease of entry. It's not a standout in the genre, but the rarity of the theater makes it an attractive game for sim fans.
People who downloaded Wings over Vietnam have also downloaded:
Wings over Europe: Cold War Gone Hot, Whirlwind over Vietnam, Mig Alley, Pacific Fighters, Strike Fighters: Project 1, Jane's USAF, WWII Tank Commander, U.S. Navy Fighters Gold
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