The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games and life converge

Project Wingman: New Aircraft and The Edge of An Apocalypse At The ¾ Mark

“If you use weapons of war to bring about peace, you’re going to have more war and destruction.” –Coretta Scott King

When Cascadian and Federation forces clash over the Bering Strait, both sides are determined to seize victory and continuously send in reinforcements, resulting in a massive aerial battle. The tides turn for Cascadia when Sicario appear: with Hitman Team in the fight, Cascadian forces manage to repel the Federation aircraft, and even forces Crimson team to withdraw. As the Federation become increasingly desparate, they begin to turn towards volatile Cordium super-weapons, prompting Sicario to begin investigating Icarus Armouries at Harkema Industrial Park. Here, Hitman team faces off against a new prototype aircraft operated by Klara Rask, although Monarch manages to shoot her down. With the revelation that the Federation has amassed their task forces in Sawaiiki, Cascadia prepares to mount an offensive against this fleet in Wai-Mami Port. The entire fleet is destroyed, resulting in a strategic victory for Cascadian forces. The Federation thus begins a withdrawal of their forces, but when the Cascadians begin a pursuit, the Federation creates a forest fire as a distraction. Despite this, together with Hitman team, Cascadian forces deal the Federation yet another blow. With the Federation now on the backfoot, Cascadia prepares to re-take the city of Prospero, and while their efforts are successful, out of desperation, the Federation deploys cruise missiles tipped with Cordium warheads, utterly annihilating Prospero and creating a chain reaction with nearby Cordium deposits, setting off geothermal storms and violent earthquakes. Other nations condemn this attack, and amidst the chaos, Hitman team survives the devastation and are ordered back to base. With the Cascadian Conflict reaching its most intense points, it becomes apparent that Hitman Team’s contributions are, in the vein of Ace Combat squadrons, single-handedly turning the tide of the war at its most critical junctures and transforming a difficult situation into one where there may yet be possibility of victory. This feeling lingers right up until the Federation employ Cordium weapons, unleashing hitherto unseen destruction.

It is in the sense of scale that Project Wingman truly differentiates itself from Ace Combat. Battles seemingly span entire maps, with missile locks and contrails filling one’s screen. Taking one’s attention off the air to focus on a ground target may be just as risky as breaking off a lock on a ground target to deal with an airborne foe as both airships and ground emplacements lock onto Monarch. When the Federation retreats, they set an entire map on fire to cover their tracks: as fires burn out of control below, the skies are filled with smoke, accentuating the amount of destruction the Federation is willing to cause. Similarly, when the tide of battle turns against them, use of Cordium-tipped cruise missiles transforms a city into a smoldering ruin. In showing just how large everything in Project Wingman is, the game absolutely succeeds in conveying just how devastating warfare is. This aspect totally and completely immerses players into the chaos of flying, creating the impression that it is only a combination of skill and luck that one’s able to stay airborne long enough to complete their assignment. In this area, Project Wingman surpasses Ace Combat, whose engagements are, by comparison, smaller in scope. Creating what is jokingly referred to as a “target rich” environment impacts player immersion, but it also accentuates the idea that mercenaries like Monarch and Hitman Team are more foolhardy and daring than conventional forces: it takes a specific mindset in order to take to the skies and fight overwhelming odds with naught more than a plane and a heart full of determination. In making the most of its environment, and the things that can be portrayed, Project Wingman shows how less is more, and how efficient use of the assets available can tell a gripping story without expenditure on expensive character models and cutscenes.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • The eleventh mission sends Monarch straight into the middle of a fierce air battle: in this mission, there are no ground targets at all to speak of, so I ended up going purely with the multiple lock-on missiles to maximise the amount of firepower I could bring to bear against large numbers of conventional foes. There’s simply so much going on that engaging everything is impossible, but being able to lock onto multiple targets at once with fire-and-forget ordnance does make things a little easier. The goal of this mission’s first phase is to thin out enemy numbers.

  • To really accentuate the size of the battle, aircraft contrails and missile exhaust from allied and enemy forces alike can be seen crisscrossing the skies. This particular aspect of Project Wingman is particularly impressive, and since the vapour trails are rendered using particle systems, they are relatively inexpensive from a computational perspective. As such, without putting a great deal of strain on the GPU, Project Wingman can still render impressive-looking battle sequences players will find themselves in the middle of.

  • Another thing that impressed me was the fact that the early-game aircraft remain highly viable even during in later missions. By this point in time, I’ve flown the F/D-14 almost exclusively owing to its solid acceleration and handling traits. While it’s less effective in an anti-ground role, its speed and mobility makes it a reasonable choice dealing with air and ground targets alike: I’ve found the F/D-14 to be a good all-around plane that leaves me ready to handle whatever a mission sends in my direction, and this means, instead of spending credits on upgrading my aircraft constantly, I can get through most missions with this plane.

  • The term “furball” is used to describe dogfights of high intensity, arising when multiple engagements arise in a relatively small airspace, creating a great deal of chaos. The etymology of “furball” stems from the cartoon portrayal of great, dusty balls of violence when characters fight, leading fur to fly, and from what I’ve read, the term became popular after the Persian Gulf War’s air combat situations in January 1991. Ace Combat has a number of these situations, and as memory serves, Skies Unknown particularly excelled in creating these scenarios: besides missions where the Arsenal Bird and its drones were present, the final battle at the Lighthouse space elevator also stands out.

  • In the eleventh mission’s second phase, Crimson team appears. Like the elite squadrons of Ace Combat, seeing the same squadrons return in Project Wingman creates a feeling of rivalry and animosity amongst players, that there exists a force of equivalent skill which one must deal with eventually. Unlike their appearance during the sixth mission, Crimson team’s aircraft can actually be engaged now, and armed with the F/D-14, I found myself dealing appreciable damage to their fighters. Against elite squadrons, guns actually work better than missiles: concentrated fire will quickly bring down even the tougher planes, whereas missiles will tend to lose their targets, resulting in prolonged fights.

  • I’ve found that missiles can still be useful in boss fights; by locking onto, and firing on an elite enemy, this forces them to go defensive, and subsequently, one can manoeuvre into a better position for making use of their guns. In this way, even Crimson team can be managed. With this being said, depending extensively on missiles isn’t ideal, since Crimson team can still dodge missiles more effectively than do ordinary foes. The mission ends when five of the eight Crimson team aircraft are shot down.

  • I decided to pick up the Accipiter, a multirole aircraft capable of hovering: it’s modelled after the AV-8V Harrier, the only successful V/STOL aircraft ever deployed. The first generation Harriers were developed in the 1960s, and a second generation Harrier was rolled out in the 1980s. Although not seeing any extensive combat operations in reality, Project Wingman‘s Harrier, the Accipiter, is a surprisingly effective aircraft in dogfights, being able to track enemy aircraft very well. With six hard points, the Accipiter is no slouch in firepower, either: one can carry an impressive load of anti-ground ordinance into battle with them.

  • The Accipiter’s biggest draw, however, is the fact that all of its hardpoints can be configured to mount machine gun pods and canister pods. Because boss fights pit Monarch against highly manoeuvrable foes, foes that can effortlessly evade missiles, one’s cannons become indispensable against elite enemies. Knowing that I was going to take on a Federation-held research facility gave me the sense that I might square off against prototype aircraft here, so I determined that this was the time to pick up the Accipiter and become comfortable with its handling traits.

  • Despite kitting myself out for a boss fight, I ended up equipping rocket pods in my last slot, seeing as there was going to be a nontrivial amount of ground targets to strike at in this mission. During this mission, the Federation deploys railguns, and amidst the night setting, the plasma trails each shot leave behind really stand out. There’s an unusual beauty behind these shots, which particularly stand out because it’s so dark, and at this point in Project Wingman, one cannot help but wonder if Monarch will be able to get into the cockpit of an aircraft carrying a railgun of its own.

  • To help players out, the minimap will display the trajectory of railguns before they fire, allowing one to evade before sustaining any damage. Because I am a novice to Project Wingman, I’ve been playing on the lowest difficulty so I could get used to things, and with everything turned down, I am finding a very laid-back experience overall. Like Ace Combat, I will be returning in the future to revisit the campaign on normal difficulty and work towards unlocking all of the aircraft possible. For now, however, I have found that the F/D-14 has been sufficient for most of the levels, and in cases where more specialised aircraft are required, the Accipiter and Sk.25U seem like they’d be more than enough for these roles.

  • In Ace Combat games, I make it a point to unlock the F-15E Strike Eagle as soon as I can: it’s a reasonable all-around aircraft that can handle the vigours of most missions, and then in conjunction with a good anti-ground aircraft, I’m more or less set for the endgame. Project Wingman, on the other hand, has seen me be moderately successful with an earlier unlock, and it suddenly hits me that a skilled pilot should, in theory, be able to hold their own with even the early-game aircraft, provided they understand their aircraft’s traits.

  • This is something one of my best friends is always fond of in a given Gundam series: watching mass production machines is typically a disheartening affair, since they’re slaughtered whole-sale by named individuals, but every so often, a skilled pilot can do some real damage with a mass production machine. In Gundam SEED Destiny, a flight of Murasames destroy the Chaos Gundam over Berlin, and in Gundam Unicorn, a lone Stark Jegan pilot gives Marida Cruz and her Kshatriya trouble. At the end of the day, what matters is operator skill: as Char Aznable had famously stated, a superior machine has limits when going up against a superior pilot.

  • The thirteenth mission proved to be remarkably enjoyable for the fact that it was a ground attack mission: the operation entails launching a full-scale offensive against the Federation port, where a large portion of their airship fleet is currently moored. Because of the sheer number of ground targets in this mission, and the fact that the major air targets are the lumbering Federation airships, I decided the time had come to pick up the Sk.25U, which is modelled on the Russian Su-25 Grach (better known over here as the Frogfoot). The Frogfoot is the Russian counterpart to the venerable A-10 Thunderbolt; in reality, the Su-25 has a smaller profile, has better manoeuvrability and a greater top speed, while the A-10’s larger size gives it a more impressive payload.

  • Overall, the A-10 Thunderbolt is superior in terms of offensive firepower, but the Su-25 is no slouch, either. Although perhaps not the tank-buster that the A-10 is, the Su-25 is a respectable aircraft in its own right, and so, while Project Wingman lacks its equivalent of the A-10, the Su-25 equivalent, the Sk.25U remains a fair anti-ground aircraft. Its integral 30 mm cannon is devastating against ground targets, and it can carry an impressive array of bombs, anti-ground missiles and unguided rockets, as well as heavy gun pods and anti-ship missiles.

  • The tradeoff for all this firepower is manoeuvrability: the Sk.25U has the flight characteristics of a construction brick, and it is ill-suited for dogfighting. However, against airships, the Sk.25U’s anti-ship missiles are absolutely lethal. It was in this mission that I discovered for myself how powerful the anti-ship missiles are: a single missile can take out an airship with a single shot if targeting the hull, and despite its slow reload time, the missiles are an absolute asset to have. Together with the anti-ship missiles, I ended up carrying the anti-ground missiles and an additional heavy gun pod, having found that the 30 mm rounds could make short work of almost anything.

  • This mission marked the first time I’d actually used the multiple lock-on anti-ground missiles in Project Wingman: previously in Ace Combat games, I preferred unguided rockets or unguided bombs, since aircraft were quite restricted in how much special ordinance they could carry. However, Project Wingman is incredibly generous with its payloads, and I spent a large portion of the mission locking onto four targets, pulling the trigger and watching as four explosions simultaneously occurred. For the idle airships on the ground, I found that hammering them with the Sk.25U’s 30 mm gun was enough to destroy them.

  • I’ve not played enough Ace Combat to tell the difference, but in Project Wingman, the difference between a 20 mm M61 Vulcan and the 30 mm Gryazev-Shipunov GSh-30-2 dual-barrel auto-cannon is immediately noticeable: the fire rate is much lower, but the damage behind every shot can be felt. I would very much have liked to pilot an A-10 Thunderbolt equivalent here in Project Wingman; the A-10’s GAU-8/A Avenger is one of the most powerful guns ever to be mounted on an aircraft (to the point where it’s fair to say that they wrapped an aircraft around the Avenger), and I would’ve loved to have sent a blistering hail of 30×173mm rounds at my foes on the ground in this game.

  • As it was, the loadout I picked for this mission proved more than adequate, and I had a superb time destroying foes: the choice to carry anti-ship missiles meant that the remaining airships in the skies can easily be knocked out, and by the time the mission ended, I found myself with a superb payout from the sheer number of ground targets destroyed. For the time being, my plan looks to be to unlock the top aircraft first, and then work my way backwards into the earlier aircraft until I have a complete collection. Having said this, spending so much time with the earlier aircraft means gaining a solid understanding of how things generally work in Project Wingman, and this wouldn’t be possible were I to depend on a super-plane’s abilities exclusively.

  • The fourteenth mission is a return to the F/D-14 and WSO President’s dulcet tones providing periodic updates for me as I carry out my mission: from a mechanical perspective, this mission simply entails engaging and destroying all Federation forces. However, the mission itself stands out because of the forest fires that are burning uncontrollably on the ground below. It was really here that I began wishing to try Project Wingman‘s virtual reality component out; unlike Skies Unknown, the entirety of Project Wingman has VR support.

  • Since I’ve got an Oculus Quest (compliments of F8 2019), all I’d need to do is install Oculus Link and Oculus PC. My new desktop is ready to roll for Oculus Link, so I’m actually quite curious to know how well things will handle. The bottle at present is going to be my GPU, but my other components should be good to go. My previous computer lacked the USB-C ports needed for this, so I’ve only ever used the Oculus Quest as a standalone headset, but Oculus Link represents an exciting chance to greatly extend what I can do with my headset. Up until now, I’ve primarily played SUPERHOT VR and used the Wander app for helping with anime location hunts with the headset, so being able to potentially play Half-Life: Alyx and Project Wingman in VR would give my headset new life.

  • Even if the process proves to be less-than-optimal, the Oculus Quest has represented a fantastic platform to play with: in particular, being able to explore the world in Wander, and camp with Rin and Nadeshiko in Yuru Camp Virtual has allowed me to “travel” without leaving the comfort of home. While I’m still settling in after the move, my mind is already wandering towards thoughts of travelling in the future. Besides a road trip into the mountains, I admit that it would be quite nice to visit Japan again (I’ve caught myself daydreaming about visiting Takehara, or perhaps enjoying the luxuries of a ryokan. In lieu of travelling, I’ve been watching travel and adventure shows instead.

  • Of late, I’ve come across a travel content creator, awkventurer, who does a solid job of highlighting some of the more out-of-the-way Japanese attractions. In a manner similar to Rick Steves’ Europe, awkventurer shows her experiences in Japan’s more local, less touristy places. From her profile, she’s a Canadian expatriate who fell in love with the country and now showcases places that are worth checking out. I typically don’t watch travel vloggers or similar, but awkventurer is an exception to this rule: her videos both are a sort of Rick Steves’ Europe experience, and remind me of a time from a decade earlier, when things were simpler: she reminds me of an old friend I knew who had moved Japan in order to do something similar, although since my failed kokuhaku with said friend, we’d not been in touch.

  • While browsing for awkventurer’s Japan content one evening, I came across a Reddit thread in which she was asking for PC-building advice. The criteria had been for a desktop that could do Adobe Creative Suite work, with 1080p60 gaming and Twitch streaming on the side. Several of the builds from Redditor advice, from my point of view, was vastly overpriced for what awkventurer was looking to do with it: most expensive was the setup that user Millillion came up with, which came out to a total of 3215 CAD. The internet is a powerful asset (I was able to do a few DIYs around the new place after moving in thanks to the availability of tutorials online), but there is no substitute for expertise, and I certainly wouldn’t count myself competent in home maintenance yet.

  • I will, with a hint of smugness, remark that my new desktop is about 30 percent faster but cost only two-fifths of the Reddit-recommended builds (before the addition of a Lovelace GPU), and it is clear that, while Millillion may have seventy thousand points of Reddit karma, this is someone who overestimates their knowledge and ends up over-building machines, leaving people who take their advice with greatly under-utilised hardware. My best friend remarked that such occurrences aren’t uncommon, where people gain the most from hardware only when they take the time to learn the limits of both their capabilities, and their hardware. This is why games like Project Wingman start players off with the weakest aircraft, and why in Gundam, pilots start out with Gundams equipped with only basic weapons: a beam rifle, beam sabre and shield is all one needs.

  • Giving players the best equipment from the start would take away from the learning journey one would embark on, and similarly, giving an inexperienced Gundam pilot an obscenely overpowered machine makes little sense from a narrative perspective: the pilot would come to rely entirely on their machine’s power and fail to mature as a result (someone who can’t tell when to switch off the beam rifle for a beam sabre will not likely perform well with funnels). Of course, for people such as my best friend and myself, we also take pride in pushing our hardware to its absolute limits and see what’s possible using inferior or weaker gear. The analogue of this in Project Wingman is flying the T/F-4 into the endgame missions, and while I’m positive a good pilot could very well go toe-to-toe with Crimson One in a T/F-4, the problem the trainer aircraft face is their payload capacity.

  • In missions with a larger number of foes, the trainer aircraft and their inability to carry a larger number of special weapons means that ammunition will run out. Purchased aircraft, like the F/D-14, are better prepared for things, and here, I begin the operation to take back the Cascadian city, Prospero. While Cascadian ground forces seize the airport, Hitman team defends the skies above. This mission is set on a smoggy evening, and the goal in the mission’s first half is simply to whittle down the Federation forces on the ground, and in the skies.

  • By this point in time, airships are merely just large targets, and players will have become quite familiar with destroying their armaments first before attacking the hull. Hitman team’s presence allows the battle to greatly favour the Cascadian forces, and this mission is where the Federation demonstrate the extent of their desperation: once all of the Federation forces are destroyed, cruise missiles begin appearing en masse. However, these are no ordinary cruise missiles, and while players can attempt to destroy them, their numbers are overwhelming.

  • Moreover, these cruise missiles are tipped with Cordium warheads: upon impact, they detonate with a blinding flash of light and rend the ground, creating a chain reaction in the Cordium deposits below. Such moments do much to instill in players the sense of desperation against insurmountable odds, and again, I found myself impressed at how much Project Wingman was able to convey in its story through communications dialogue and in-game mechanics. While there are some who hold that a socially-relevant themes and emotional connection is essential to a good story, I disagree: even clever use of game mechanics can be enough to specifically show players certain ideas without breaking immersion.

  • As the Cordium-tipped missiles impact with the ground and create a chain reaction in the deposits buried below, the entire landscape begins melting as the heat of reaction makes its way to the surface. Finally, the ground ruptures, creating what becomes known as the Cascadian Calamity Event, a second geothermal disaster that creates tectonic upheaval. In this way, Project Wingman shows the consequences of attempting to harness powers that our science and technology have a minimal understanding of, as well as how even the most determined individuals cannot always prevent disaster, no matter their intentions or resolve.

  • In the hellish skies following the Cascadian Calamity Event, the skies are filled with ash, and clouds rain lightning onto the ground below. The entire operation is called off, and while Cascadian forces have sustained crippling losses, Hitman team and their AWACS, Galaxy, manage to survive the inferno. Without a clear idea of how extensive the damage is, Galaxy orders Hitman team back to base so they can regroup and assess the situation. At this point, I am entering Project Wingman‘s endgame, and while it’s been an incredible journey thus far, I have a feeling that what lies ahead will be quite rivetting indeed: Crimson team, for one, still remains at large, and I anticipate a titanic fight against them in what is sure to be a test of my skills.

Having now passed through the three-quarters mark to Project Wingman, it is clear that with Sicario’s contributions have proven instrumental in slowing the Federation invasion. As Ace Combat had done before, Project Wingman‘s outcomes show how the right individuals in the right place, at the right time, can create a knock-on effect on the events unfolding around them. In this case, by striking at key Federation sites while they are vulnerable, Cascadia and Sicario are depriving the Federation of their ability to fight. Other operations demonstrate to the Federation that Cascadia is not willing to give up so easily, and that any gains on the Federation’s part will only result with unacceptably high costs. In this way, Project Wingman hints at the fact that a numerical advantage alone does not guarantee victory, and similarly, a war’s instigator has, historically, been more likely to be vanquished when they underestimate the defender’s willingness to fight down to the last person and stand their ground, pushing the attackers to increasingly desperate measures. Use of Cordium weapons has shown that, while the Federation’s ability to fight is decreasing constantly, they are willing to resort to extreme means of achieving their aims. Sun Tzu’s Art of War suggests that one should always leave their foes with a way out: if they see no way out, they will have nothing to lose and fight to the death. With all of these elements present in Project Wingman, I am very excited to see how the game’s final quarter unfolds: Crimson Team still remains a threat, and the Cordium weapons pose a nontrivial threat to the world of Project Wingman, so I am anticipating that Sciario’s goals will align fully with Cascadia’s; in classic Ace Combat fashion, the objective now becomes clear, to prevent the Federation from utilising these weapons at scale and potentially triggering a second Calamity.

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