The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games and life converge

Project Wingman: Navigating An Escalating Conflict At The Halfway Point

“When you have once tasted flight, you will forever walk the Earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.” –Leonardo da Vinci

To degrade the Federation’s war-making capabilities, Hitman Team strike at a Cordium extraction facility they’ve captured. Monarch faces off against the Federation’s elite squadron, Crimson Team and only barely manages to flee. Cascadia later secures a prototype Federation battleship, Eminent Domain. This warship has unparalleled weapons and mobility rivalling that of a destroyer. Hitman Team is tasked with providing air support for Eminent Domain and repels both Federation naval and air forces alike. In desperation, the Federation launches cruise missiles to destroy the ship, but Hitman Team succeed in shooting down these missiles, allowing Eminent Domain to rendezvous with Cascadian coast gaurd vessels. Hitman Team subsequently sorties to intercept Federation transports over the Zhirov Air Corridor, where they down multiple Federation aircraft and even an elite Federation unit sent out to intercept them. Despite the carnage, Hitman Team avoids civilian casualties: the airspace in the Zhirov Air Corridor is busy with commercial flights, and Hitman Team managed to exercise caution when engaging their quarry. Ahead of a major offensive to shut down the Federation’s Solana Communications Array, Monarch is deployed on a solo mission to disable Federation anti-air defenses. This clears the way for Sicario to launch an attack on this joint Cascadia-Federation installation; Hitman Team handles close-air support in addition to striking several key facilities, in turn allowing Sicario to capture the entire installation and take it offline. This has a knock-in effect in shifting the course of the Cascadian Conflict: the Federation lose most of their communications advantage and become disorganised, allowing allied forces to take back Federation-occupied land. Meanwhile, as Federation mistrust of Cascadian natives grow, their command replaces most of their armed forces with non-Cascadians, prompting these soldiers to join the Cascadian independent forces. Thanks to Hitman Team, and Monarch’s contributions, the Cascadians are able to prevent the Federation from winning strategic battles, speaking to something that has long been a part of the Ace Combat series: the right team in the right place can shift the tide of an entire war.

Having now had the chance to unlock several more aircraft in Project Wingman, it becomes clear that this game’s single strongest point is the fact that, unlike Ace Combat, aircraft can equip multiple special weapons. While this had been known to me since the alpha demo and when I’d first started, the options available with respect to special weapons allows players to define how they wish to approach a given mission. For instance, the F/D-14 has three sets of hardpoints for special weapons. As an interceptor, the F/D-14 initially sounds like it’s best suited for long-range anti-air combat: one can equip long-range semi-active radar-guided missiles and multi lock-on missiles and dedicate their arsenal fully for anti-air engagements, allowing one to pick off targets from a distance. However, the second and third special weapon slots can also equip unguided bombs for anti-ground operations. In missions with a heavier anti-air component, selecting a single set of semi-active missiles and a pair of multi lock-on missiles allows one to snipe planes at a longer range or target multiple foes at once. Missions with a larger anti-ground component can be handled by doubling up on unguided bombs. In this way, the planes that one picks can be configured to fare better in missions even where its type might not be as suited. The F/D-14, for instance, is versatile enough for dogfights and ground attack missions despite being best used for longer-range engagements. While one might be left at a disadvantage based on their loadout, Project Wingman doesn’t punish players for which tools they choose to carry with them into a mission; instead, the game rewards players for knowing their tools and managing their arsenals well. In doing so, Project Wingman sets the expectation that, with sufficient skill, one could use their aircraft in scenarios that, at first glance, leave players at an incredible disadvantage, but in spite of this, a determined pilot can still come up successful nonetheless. This sort of freedom, to approach a mission however one likes, is one of the key strengths in Project Wingman, and in the end, while one’s choice of aircraft and special weapons can make a difference, at the end of the day, whether or not one stands triumphant boils down to how well they know their aircraft and the basic weapons, which should not be underestimated.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Last time, I’d just finished with providing air cover for the Cascadians as they evacuated their capital city, Presidia, and I’d picked up an F/C-16 to dogfight more effectively. Here in the sixth mission, the F/C-16 remains a viable option: I outfitted it with a combination of unguided bombs and multi lock-on missiles for efficacy against both ground and air foes. Despite being a fighter, the F/C-16 actually is capable of carrying anti-ground ordnance, making it a feasible choice for missions where there is an anti-ground component.

  • Flying through the Apodock Fracture in the Yellowstone area, there’s a combination air and ground targets to deal with: the goal of this assignment is to destroy the Federation’s ability to extract and process Cordium in the area. One remark I particularly liked was the fact that the Cordium storage facilities destroyed each cost more than the total payout Hitman Team receives for their mission. The mercenary piece to Project Wingman is very well done, giving insight into the faceless characters that Monarch flies alongside.

  • Because mercenaries are individuals who fight in conflict not for a cause, or under a flag, but for financial gain, they are not protected by the terms of the Geneva Convention. Given what has been said about Sicario, it stands to reason they are true mercenaries, rather than being a private military company – the latter are still regulated by governments to some extent. As mercenaries, dialogue often has Hitman Team and their handlers mentioning money as the chief reason why Hitman Team and Sicario’s other pilots operate. In the beginning of Project Wingman, things are cut-and-dried as Hitman Team simply take on whatever assignments their contractors provide.

  • Assuming this to be the case, there may come a point in Project Wingman where things get sufficiently tricky so that Hitman Team and Sicario might begin to wonder what they’re fighting for – one longstanding question fiction presents to mercenaries is the idea that, while a group might be immensely successful at what they do, if the world is reduced to ashes after a conflict, does the money a mercenary earn have any value? From a literary perspective, this is a question that I’ll have to answer after giving it some thought, although there’s always been something intriguing about how mercenary groups work. To this end, it might be time to go ahead and revisit Titanfall 2 again: the Apex Predators are a mercenary group that the IMC hire out, and their leader, Kuben Blisk, has a very interesting world-view, one that is worth looking over again.

  • During the strike at Federation Cordium processing equipment, one flies over exposed fractures, sites of intense volcanic activity. On my first attempt to take down the core to one of the processing units, I did a mini-tunnel flight, and the heat must’ve damaged my plane, since I exited that manoeuvre with a fourteen points less hull integrity. After that, I locked onto the core, fired and flew upwards. I eventually managed to destroy all of the required targets, which are designated as “priority” in-game. Once this is done, Crimson Team appear. They’re an elite Federation Squadron, and Project Wingman has them take on the fearsome ace squadron role that Ace Combat games feature.

  • At this point in the game, Crimson Team cannot be easily defeated by missiles: Project Wingman will tell players that for now, the only option is to escape and evade their fire. Being the sort of person I am, I ended up attempting to shoot Crimson Team down by using my guns and focusing on one aircraft. During the dogfighting, I only took minor damage from enemy guns, and given enough time, I might’ve succeeded – I managed to whittle down one of their plans to around a third health, although it was getting late, and I had work the next day, so I determined it was more time-efficient to change my strategy and high-tail it out of there.

  • Aircraft in Project Wingman are either single-seaters or two-seaters: functionally, having a WSO does not impact one’s performance on a mission, although for some segments of the community, having Prez around is a game-changer owing to the additional dialogue players can hear. For the mid-game, I opted to go with the F/D-14, a two-seater interceptor with solid all-around statistics. It is the best two-seater available in Project Wingman and after purchasing it, I found myself an aircraft that handled modestly well in an anti-ground role owing to the fact that the F/D-14 can equip iron bombs.

  • The seventh mission has Hitman Team engaged in anti-ship combat to protect a stolen Federation vessel; but unlike the vessels of Ace CombatProject Wingman‘s ships feature Cordium-powered railguns. Project Wingman‘s railguns are immensely powerful despite not having the same projectile velocity as traditional railguns: using Cordium as a power source, these railguns accelerate an incredibly dense projectiles to high speeds, dealing massive kinetic damage upon impact. The glowing plasma trails that these railguns leave aren’t just for show, as even flying near them can deal damage to one’s aircraft.

  • Like airships, naval vessels must have their weapons destroyed before one can damage its hull, unless one were to use anti-ship missiles, which are purpose-made for sinking ships. In Ace Combat, anti-ship missiles were only really useful in naval engagements, and in conventional anti-ground missions, the missiles’ lower blast radius made them less effective at clearing out groups of targets. Project Wingman extends the utility of anti-ship missiles by making them able to lock onto airships, as well.

  • After trying my hand at the multi lock-on missiles, which I equipped to two slots for this mission, I found that a single volley would consume one unit of ammunition regardless of how many missiles were actually fired. As such, to make the most of these missiles, it made the most sense to allow for the appropriate number of targets to be acquired before firing: these multi-target missiles have below-average tracking capabilities and should be used when flying head-on towards foes, or when attacking them from the sides.

  • The F/D-14 proved immensely fun to operate – unlike the F/C-16, it comes with a maximum of three special weapon slots, giving it a solid range of options. One could have a pure anti-air loadout with just MLAA missiles, or equip semi-active long-range missiles to pick off distant foes, and fill the remaining slots with unguided bombs. The F/D-14 has the ability to equip triple-volley bombs, which drop three smaller bombs in place of one large bomb. Each individual bomb does less damage than a single larger bomb, but the advantage is that damage is spaced out over a larger area – circles indicate the area the munitions are expected to hit.

  • Towards the end of the mission, the Federation launches a volley of cruise missiles in a last-ditch attempt to sink the Eminent Domain. To intercept these missiles, I flew high above the storm clouds, revealing a stunning blue sky: this mission had been a stormy one, with heavy rain and frequent lightning strikes. Unlike Ace Combat 7, where lightning could temporarily disable an aircraft’s electronics, lightning in Project Wingman is cosmetic, and in real life, aircraft routinely deal with lightning strikes – it would be worrisome if aircraft lost their functionality for seconds every time a bolt of lightning hit it. Once I finish dealing with the missiles, the mission draws to a close as Eminent Domain comes into Cascadian hands.

  • Preparations for the big move are almost done now, and looking back, I’m glad to have taken the time to plan everything out properly, as well as get ready over a longer period of time, rather than try to rush everything and do things all at once. Back in Project Wingman, I utilise the semi-active missiles to shoot down a more distant foe: with superior lock-on distance and tracking, provided one keeps their target inside the circle, these missiles can reliably destroy targets from a much greater range than ordinary missiles, although the downside is one must keep their target in this circle in order for the tracking to work. The eighth mission is entirely around anti-air combat, and I ended up equipping both the semi-active missiles, and the multi-target missiles.

  • This mission actually brings back memories of the Project Wingman demo: I believe this is a refined version of one of the scenarios that were featured, although in the full game, things are a bit more involved and polished – there are large civilian airships that, if one should damage them, result in a mission failure. Multi-target missiles can lock onto them, too, so one must exercise caution before pulling the trigger, and this single aspect altered the way Project Wingman handles. Each mission has its own intricacies that make it more involved than a simple search-and-destroy operation, and it is this variety that keeps Project Wingman fresh.

  • Lighting effects in Project Wingman‘s final product have been improved from those of the alpha, and the eighth mission has players fight under stunningly beautiful skies, worthy of those I took my Sunday walk under. Once the skies are cleared of Federation fighters and the transport aircraft they’re defending, an airship and a pair of prototype aircraft appear to the party. By this point in Project Wingman, the airships become old hat; in the absence of dedicated weapons like anti-ship missiles, which can lock onto the airship hull itself, one can quickly soften up the airship with multi lock-on missiles to destroy its armnaments.

  • Once the anti-air guns and missile emplacements are destroyed, airships actually go down relatively quickly. At this point, it’s actually better switch back over to standard missiles for the task: multi lock-on missiles in Project Wingman are designed such that each target can only be targeted by a single missile at a given time. This is likely a mechanic to prevent players from setting loose six missiles on a single target, which would be absolutely devastating. I chose to destroy the airship first owing to its lower manoeuvrability, leaving the two F/S-15s in the skies.

  • A quick look at the F/S-15 finds that it’s a cross between the F-15B ACTIVE and F-15S/MTD, the latter of which is an experimental variant of the F-15 with thrust vectoring, which allowed it to pull off impressive feats, such as taking off with speeds as low as 70 km/h and requiring only a landing distance of 500 metres. Project Wingman‘s F/S-15 is further buffed by having a total of fourteen hard points, ten of which can be assigned to multi lock-on missiles. Whenever doing boss fights, I tend to stick with the guns: elite aircraft are uncommonly manoeuvrable and drop flares to break missile locks often, so it’s rare to deal damage to them via missiles.

  • I don’t mind admitting that mission nine, softening up Federation anti-air defenses ahead of a major operation, was the toughest one for me, and there came a point where I wondered if I should purchase a better aircraft for anti-ground combat: this mission is set in a mountainous region, and targets are hidden in valleys behind mountains. As such, anti-ground missiles would be valuable, especially since this mission doesn’t have too large a number of aircraft to deal with. For me, the toughest part of the mission actually came from slamming into destroyed enemy AWACS planes after destroying them: on a few occasions, I had completely forgotten that some of the priority targets were actually AWACS rather than standard jets, and after destroying them, I instantly died.

  • This happened several times, and a part of me had wondered if I’d be able to complete this mission in a timely fashion. In the end, I did manage to pull through without needing to buy new aircraft of changing up my weapons setup: the F/D-14’s combination of multi lock-on missiles and triple-volley unguided bombs had proven more than sufficient for missions with a mix of anti-air and anti-ground  combat. The ninth mission’s surprise to players comes two-fold: firstly, this is a night mission, so visibility is reduced, and second, ground weapons are augmented by radar units: they have a much larger range than normal anti-air weapons.

  • Between the combination of spotting ground targets and lining up a run without sustaining heavy damage, the ninth mission introduces enough to keep players on their toes. While Ace Combat excels in having more mission variety, such as levels where one must destroy a quota of targets within a time limit, stay in a canyon to avoid anti-air defenses, or fly in a certain path to stay between gaps in radar coverage, Project Wingman has no such equivalent. This can give the impression that Project Wingman is limited in gameplay: all missions are purely focused on destroying all marked targets, and there’s no time limit to do so, giving one more breathing room.

  • In practise, however, the lack of mission variety is made up for by small nuances in every mission that pushes players to mix things up just a bit differently, without forcing them to fly in ways that can seem unintuitive or more challenging than anticipated. This means Project Wingman isn’t better than or worse than Ace Combat: things are different owing to how both games were developed, and in this way, small differences means that both games have their merits that make them both worth playing.

  • The last sets of targets are located on mountaintop bases, and tunnels actually allow for one to sneak through and surprise their foes on the other side. Sufficiently skilled pilots can navigate these tunnels without issue, although there is one caveat: the tunnels themselves are quite narrow, and smaller aircraft are best suited for such a stunt. During a mission, where the price of death is restarting the entire level, flying through a tunnel isn’t the best idea in the world. Instead, I’ll save this for a later play-through of the game, after I’ve had a chance to do a free flight and explore the maps.

  • That there is a free flight mode in Project Wingman should not be too surprising: besides Ace Combat: Assault Horizon, which lacked a mode that allows players to revisit maps without any enemy aircraft or objectives, Project Wingman does indeed come with free flight mode. Such a mode is welcome because it provides one with a quiet environment to get a feel for new planes unlocked, exploring what tight spaces can be flown through (like the tunnels in the ninth mission), trying out more outrageous stunts with a plane, or otherwise, just having a space for getting screenshots of their plane without worrying about being shot down.

  • Project Wingman‘s halfway point returns Monarch to a very familiar mission: during the alpha build, a desert ground attack mission had been featured as one of the three scenarios players could try out. By the full game, the context behind this mission is provided: this is Solana Communications Array, the communications facility the Federation have been using to coordinate their invasion forces, and because geomagnetic interference from tectonic anomalies interfere with regular communications, this installation becomes a massive asset for the Federation. Naturally, the deprive the Federation of this advantage, Hitman Team is set to destroy it in what Sicario describes as its biggest operation yet.

  • The tenth mission represents the versatility available to players in Project Wingman: although Solana Communications Array is a ground installation, which corresponds to the mission being suited for attack aircraft, there are actually a fair number of airborne foes, as well. During the course of this mission, several airships will appear, and the wisdom of having some anti-air ordnance becomes apparent. However, I did double up on the triple unguided bombs, which allowed me to easily destroy stationary targets on the ground, as well as any tanks that were showing up to fend off the Sicario and Cascadian forces.

  • Unlike the alpha mission, the completed campaign level brings railguns to the table. The visual effects in Project Wingman are stunning, and I love the plasma trails the railguns in this game leave behind after being fired. Although such powerful weapons would normally be able to one-shot something like an aircraft, Project Wingman is a bit more forgiving and treats railgun impacts like missile impacts. Railguns are marked as high value targets on the map and are a bit tougher than ordinary ground targets, requiring three to four standard missiles to take out (depending on whether or not one also strafes the railgun on their attack run).

  • Whereas Project Wingman‘s alpha build utilised the golden-yellows of a late summer afternoon, lighting in the final product appears more consistent with the early afternoon or late morning. This is, of course, a little deceiving: the mission briefing indicates that the strike at Solana Communications Array takes place at 1630 on the second of April. At around this time of year, the shadows are long as the sun begins setting, although this applies to my latitude: the Aitor Desert is likely set in Nevada, and in April, the sunset time is around 1900 PDT. I’ll likely see such skies as we get into July, although by then, I do imagine myself capitalising on the summer weather outside, versus replaying Project Wingman missions. While overall, I like the lighting in the release version, the evening colours of the alpha were quite fun to fly under, as well.

  • Although they are the easiest targets to destroy, there is something indescribably fun about blowing up oil tanks and watching the fireworks. To maximise my score, after all of the airships were destroyed, I set about flying over the communications facility and destroyed everything that was marked on my screen, deliberately saving a transformer for last so I could maximise the amount of time I had to take down everything. The F/D-15 proved remarkably capable – despite being an interceptor, it was more than able to fulfil its mission here.

  • Dropping bombs on the transformer, the last priority target, brought the mission to a close. With this, I’m now halfway through Project Wingman‘s campaign. Moving into the second half, I imagine that I’ll probably be able to field the F/D-14 well into the endgame, save a few missions, and while I will end up buying a few more aircraft to handle more specialised roles, my goal now is to complete the campaign and then replay missions to earn enough credits for the super-planes.

Whereas Ace Combat games feature a variety of mission types during their campaigns, from escort missions and evading enemy radars, to canyon and tunnel missions, Project Wingman‘s campaign missions are limited to one type only: destroy everything on the map, and then handle whatever elites or prototypes the Federation sends at the player. At first glance, this is to Project Wingman‘s detriment: a little variety helps to make every mission unique and memorable. However, in practise, while every mission tasks players with destroying stuff, what makes each mission exciting are small nuances that subtly change the aesthetic and feeling in each level. The sixth mission entails fighting off Crimson Team for the first time, while the seventh surprises players by having them fly above the storm to intercept cruise missiles. The eighth mission forces players to be mindful of their targetting, and mission nine requires players to carefully plan their approaches to destroy Federation anti-air assets placed in narrow ravines behind mountain ranges. The overall objective might be to simply hit all enemy targets, but these almost imperceptible differences, in conjunction with the fact that each mission has a distinct and vividly-rendered setting, leaves each mission feeling fresh, novel and engaging. This is yet another example of how Project Wingman has managed to do more with less, and as I move through the campaign, it is clear that the community’s calling Project Wingman a worthy alternative to Ace Combat holds weight. To the casual observer, Project Wingman could very well be a sequel-in-development to Ace Combat 7: despite a few rough patches with the visual quality in some places, Project Wingman looks great and handles even better. I remain very surprised, but impressed, that Project Wingman was put together by a single developer on a team of three: this game far exceeds expectations for what is possible with independent developments, and triple-A studios should sleep with both eyes open owing to the fact that excellent independent games like Project Wingman exist at all. If a team of three could put together and release a stable, engaging and well thought-out game of this calibre, there is little justification for why a team with tens of people and millions of dollars of budget cannot do the same.

2 responses to “Project Wingman: Navigating An Escalating Conflict At The Halfway Point

  1. kaidalikesanime March 12, 2022 at 01:37

    Oh wow this post was REALLY LONG I had to drink some water my throat dried up reading out loud. It’s impressive and I feel like I learned a lot from your extensive review. Thanks, I hope to read more of your long but really neat reviews

    Like

    • infinitezenith March 13, 2022 at 22:08

      I’m glad you were able to find this talk on Project Wingman an enjoyable read: since I’m halfway through now, there’ll be a few more posts coming out regarding this game (perhaps, even a talk on the VR aspects, if my machine can handle it). My content isn’t exactly meant to to be read aloud, though!

      Liked by 1 person

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