The Infinite Zenith

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Category Archives: Project Wingman

Project Wingman: Reflections on A Virtual Reality Experience

“VR is so immersive, and when it works, it draws you into the story in a way that is truly unique and powerful.” –Doug Liman

When Project Wingman is launched in VR mode with Oculus Link, and one is in possession of an Oculus Quest, the resulting experience is unparalleled – Project Wingman was developed with virtual reality in mind, and unlike Ace Combat 7, offers full support for every mission in the game, from the opening mission to the final duel against Crimson One. Within moments of donning the headset, I found myself immersed fully in the Cascadian conflict. While I was lacking a dedicated HOTAS or even a controller, muscle memory allowed me to utilise my keyboard for flight, Upon entering my first mission, I found that the ability to shoulder check and freely look around may seem extraneous, this ability soon became an integral part of my gameplay as I look around to keep an eye on enemy fighters and missiles on my six. Behind the cockpit of a multi-million dollar combat aircraft, surrounded by panels of sophisticated controls, the landscape surrounds me as I fight to keep my gunsights trained on an enemy fighter. A short burst of 20mm cannon fire later, my foe detonates, and I fly through the wreckage. Although I know it’s a simulation, for a fraction of a second, I faintly feel the flash of heat from the explosion. However, there’s no time to celebrate the kill – my warning indicator lights up, and I glance down at the radar. A bogey has just launched a missile straight at me. I immediately bleed off my speed and break left. To my surprise, I’m not experiencing motion sickness: I’m comfortably seated, and my eyes are on the horizon. Fifteen minutes later, the mission’s completed: the Cascadians have finished evacuating Presidia, and I take the headset off, thoroughly impressed with just how smooth everything was. I’ve long been looking for an arcade air combat simulator for my headset, and while the Oculus Quest’s app store did come with a wide range of apps, the most impressive of which is SUPERHOT, I’ve longed for a chance to fly the skies, Ace Combat style. No dedicated app offering this specific experience exists for the Oculus Quest, and while there are some apps that come close, their experience feels decidedly limited. As such, Project Wingman‘s VR capabilities and Oculus Quest represents a chance to see what an arcade air combat experience is like – it is a gripping experience that takes things up a notch, to the point where one could say that it is the next best thing to Top Gun.

Virtual Reality technology has always represented a curious subset in video gaming – the technology had gained a resurgence of interest when Oculus VR launched a Kickstarter to build a virtual reality headset in 2012. The concept of virtual reality is not new: Sega VR had been exploring VR technology back in 1991, but primitive display technologies meant that they never took off. Oculus wasn’t doing anything particularly novel, but they had come during a time when displays were beginning to approach a point where they could render sharp images with a refresh rate approaching the limit of what the mind can perceive. Their early device was cumbersome and unwieldy, being little more than two screens strapped to one’s face. By 2015, the second iteration of the Oculus Rift had improved the resolution and refresh rate, making it a viable tool for experimental use. As a graduate student, I utilised the DK2 to create a 3D environment for my biological visualisations as a part of my thesis work, and towards the end of my programme, I would attend a Virtual Reality conference in Laval, France. Here, I had the chance to try the HTC Vive – this headset was leaps and bounds ahead of the Oculus Rift in capabilities. With room-tracking cameras, the headset was able to reliably respond to controller movements, and the high-resolution display allowed me to play something like Arizona Sunshine with ease. However, the drawback was that setup was especially cumbersome: one needed an entire room to set the environment up for usage, and the headset still needed to be tethered to a computer. Both Oculus and Valve would come up with competing headsets for use in the coming years, but Oculus would pull ahead with their revolutionary Oculus Quest, a wireless headset that came with built-in room tracking cameras. The Quest represented a major leap in the technology, and in practise, it proved to improve accessibility to VR in a way previous headsets could not – one was no longer tethered to a computer, and while lacking in processing power (the Quest has its own onboard hardware rather than counting on a computer’s hardware), it offered unparalleled freedom. While unable to play more demanding games on its own, the Oculus Quest opened VR up in new ways. When Oculus Link was introduced, this was the final piece of the puzzle in making VR accessible in an unprecedented way: one uses their desktop to stream the video feed over to their device wirelessly, providing the best of both worlds. Being able to play Project Wingman this easily shows how far the technology has come in a decade, and while we’re still a long way from the NerveGear in Sword Art Online, at the very least, I can now fulfil a childhood fantasy of hopping into the cockpit of a warplane and blowing stuff up with it, just like in movies such as Top Gun.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • What both Ace Combat and Project Wingman do particularly well is the reproduction of details in all of the different cockpits for each of the aircraft available in their respective games. When playing in VR mode, Project Wingman understandably locks players into the cockpit view. Previously, I only played Ace Combat and Project Wingman in third-person mode, since that allows me to maintain a better awareness of my surroundings and respond to threats more effectively.

  • Sitting in the cockpit itself gave me an idea of how much spatial awareness pilots need to have: parts of the canopy can block one’s view of the airspace, and this was actually no different than when I first learnt how to drive: in video games, I have a much greater sense of comfort when playing in third person, and first person feels really constraining. Over time, one does end up learning tricks for estimating, with great consistency, where their vehicle is. However, my experience is with cars, rather than combat aircraft, and it did take some getting used to.

  • Remaining inside the cockpit made me appreciate the designs of certain cockpits over others, and here, I attempted a mission with the F/E-18, which has a relatively spacious canopy and good visibility. The frame around the HUD is light, so I can see more of the area in front of me. When I played my first mission, I crashed into a ground target because I’d grossly miscalculated my position: from a third person perspective, I can see clearly where my plane is, but this information is absent from a first-person perspective.

  • Once I got used to deriving information off the HUD and looking around, flying became much easier, and I really got to appreciate the subtle details that were placed into Project Wingman. When one flies through clouds or rain, water droplets and streaks appear on the canopy. They’re actually visible in this screenshot here, and similarly, sharp-eyed readers might also spot reflections from inside the cockpit in an earlier screenshot, as well. Similarly, small scratches can be seen on the canopy itself: these details first appeared in Battlefield 3 and impressed players greatly, showcasing just how much the Frostbite Engine was capable of rendering.

  • For my VR experience, I’ve chosen to play the earlier missions, where dogfights are less intense, and therefore, less likely to induce motion sickness – against Crimson One, there’s a plethora of aerobatics one needs to pull off in order to survive, and this might be a little much to handle for me – the most intense VR experience I’ve had until now was SUPERHOT VR, which has players stand in-place. While seated in a comfortable chair, and with my eyes focused on the horizon, things haven’t been too bad, but making sharp-turns and loops could be quite taxing.

  • For my second mission, I’ve gone with the F/D-14. The visibility in the cockpit is reduced compared to that of the F/E-18 because the frame is larger, and this makes it tougher to spot foes directly ahead. Seeing the complexity in each cockpit is a reminder of how much training it takes to effectively operate combat aircraft – video games are able to abstract out everything into a few buttons on a keyboard, or a HOTAS, because modern aircraft are designed so that most of the plane’s functions can be done without the pilot ever taking their hands off the throttle and main control stick.

  • The remainder of the switches and buttons are analogue circuit breakers for manually restarting systems that are a part of the aircraft, operate the landing gear, and communications equipment. Similarly to cars, aircraft have gauges for things like airspeed, altitude, turn coordination, fuel levels and the like, while more advanced aircraft have what are known as a glass cockpit and display the information on screens. The sheer sophistication in aircraft mean that a flight simulator for aircraft can cost tens of millions per unit, and even the most advanced flight simulator games cannot match the real deal in terms of detail.

  • Much as how first person shooters reduce the act of reloading a firearm to pressing the “R” button, arcade air combat games simplify controls significantly so players can immerse themselves in the story. I admit that operating every switch and button will be overwhelming, but having spent the past eight years playing Wolfire’s Receiver, being made to be mindful of every single step in reloading a handgun made me appreciate how much complexity there is in everything.

  • This would in turn heighten my awareness that every occupation has its nuances: this is why I tend to be understanding of mistakes that are occasionally made. There is exactly one occupation I do not count to be meritorious of this respect, but I will leave it to readers to determine what exactly this is, and back in Project Wingman, I remark that the single toughest part about the cockpit-only view was that it was tricky to keep an eye on my aircraft’s status: normally, I have an entire HUD that gives me all of the information I need at a glance.

  • Inside the cockpit, everything is condensed onto the HUD UI, and the biggest piece of information I found less accessible was the hull integrity. Ironically, while I tend to take more damage in VR than I otherwise would, I’ve never actually crashed or been shot down yet – I imagine that this would be quite terrifying. A subconscious fear of having this happen meant I flew with more caution than I otherwise would, which was a nice touch.

  • While I’ve yet to unlock every aircraft in Project Wingman, I now have most of the planes available to players early on, including the MG-29. In most arcade air combat games, I tend to go with American planes owing to their familiarity, and because American aircraft are built with survivability in mind. This means that compared to their Russian equivalents, American aircraft are generally superior in weapons capabilities, ergonomics and maintainability. By comparison, Russian jets emphasise durability and ease-of-production. In-game, these differences are not quite as apparent, but overall, I would probably be more comfortable behind an American fighter.

  • Project Wingman‘s MG-29, the in-game equivalent of the MiG-29, is a solid all-around fighter for the mid-game, with good performance in all of its categories and providing hardpoints for a mix of air and ground weapons. I ended up kitting the MG-29 out with multiple lock-on anti-air missiles here to simplify things – in practise, while being able to carry a good mix of weapons means having versatility for missions one has no knowledge of, once a player has finished the game, one can begin tuning their loadouts and optimise it for the mission at hand.

  • The deep blue skies in Project Wingman never grow old for me, and while missions give the most in terms of excitement, like Ace CombatProject Wingman also offers a free flight mode where one can fly around a map without the demands of shooting down enemy forces. Free flight modes are the single most enjoyable way of enjoying VR, and one can completely kick back without worrying about being shot down. In the absence of any foes, small details in the map can be appreciated.

  • One other thing I particularly enjoyed in VR was flying through explosions after gunning down enemy aircraft. In real life, one would never fly into a wreckage: pieces of fuselage can damage one’s airframe with the same viciousness as an exploding missile or 20 mm rounds. Project Wingman excels in this area – wreckage can one-shot players, and I found this out the hard way when playing through the game for the first time. To avoid this, I tend to bank and move away from destroyed aircraft now as a reflex: Project Wingman‘s lack of checkpoints makes the game very unforgiving.

  • With a VR headset, flying above the clouds and seeing the deep blue skies above felt even more immersive than it had when playing Project Wingman conventionally. When on an airplane, I’m particularly fond of looking at the scenery below and wondering what a routine would look like for the folks on the ground. On the ground, it’s also fun to gaze skyward and wonder what destination a plane is headed towards.

  • In reality, I’m not a big fan of flying because the lower cabin pressure causes some discomfort for my stomach – in recent years, I’ve taken to drinking flat beverages like water and apple juice, which has a tangible difference. VR eliminates this and lets me to enjoy flying without those challenges. Here, I’m rocking the Sk.25U for the assault on the communications facility. Thanks to the Gulf War, deserts are synonymous with ground attack missions, and while Project Wingman has no A-10 Thunderbold, the Su-25 Frogfoot offers an equivalent experience; strafing ground targets with its cannon is immensely satisfying.

  • The weather and lighting conditions in this mission is reminiscent of the weather in Calgary during the summer – back in March, I wrote of wishing to experience this mission on a hot summer’s day. However, I’ve not yet played this mission on a day where the thermometer rose above 25ºC; since the move, I’ve been busy capitalising on the weather to take walks around the new neighbourhood, visiting the local mall or browsing books at the local bookstore. I will likely revisit this mission on a day when I’ve finished tending to the housework, and it’s a shade too hot to be out and about.

  • At this time last year, we’d broken several temperature records as a result of the heat dome that had settled over interior British Columbia. The temperatures reached 35ºC, and I vividly recall heading out to get my second Pfizer dose under sunny skies. After taking the vaccine, I became quite tired and proceeded to spend a quiet Canada Day resting up. This year, heat is less of a concern; it’s been relatively mild in my neck of the woods, and the hottest days so far have been quite comfortable.

  • Having said this, the new place is a ways better equipped to deal with heat: we have air conditioning for when things get really hot, but the first line of defense is the fact that we have energy-efficient windows, which prevent radiant heat transfer. Because air conditioning is very power consuming, we’ll likely leave it off except for days where things rise above 32ºC, and for now, I am rather looking forwards to playing this mission on the sort of day where I could look outside and see identical weather from my window as I do on my screen.

  • We’re rapidly approaching the end of June now, and this means Machikado Mazkoku: 2-Chōme will be wrapping up. I will be writing about what my thoughts are for this series before the summer season kicks off. The Steam Summer Sale is also under way now, and while I’ve hit a sort of gaming saturation, a few smaller games have caught my eye. I am looking to purchase Routine FeatFirewatch and Симулятор Одиночества В Русской Деревне (“Simulator of Loneliness in a Russian Village”): my interest in these loneliness simulators comes from the fact that these act as very cathartic experiences that stand worlds apart from my usual games.

Having finished Project Wingman back in April, I’d unlocked about a third of all the aircraft. However, I’ve not even touched the conquest mode yet, which is where the fun is supposed to really begin in Project Wingman. Before I look into conquest mode, I aim to unlock all of the aircraft – of note is the PW-Mk.I, Project Wingman‘s super-plane, and the SP-34R, a fighter equipped only with guns. If the description for these aircraft are to be believed, these aircraft would fundamentally change the way one plays Project Wingman and turns Monarch, already a fearsome pilot, into an unstoppable monster. The developers have indicated that they are looking at adding more aircraft into Project Wingman, and even working in previously unfinished missions. New content for a game is always exciting, and I’ve long found that the promise of new content is always an incentive to finish things up so one has a clean slate for when an update does become available. Beyond this, it would be nice to cut my teeth with the conquest mode: this mode is supposed to be endlessly replayable and is a true test of a player’s skills. It is clear that there is no shortage of things to do in Project Wingman, and having now tried the VR mode out, I am quite impressed with how well things work. Beyond the initial work of opening Oculus Link, connecting my headset and then running Project Wingman for Oculus, the game runs out of the box without further effort. Project Wingman thus sets the bar for what Project Aces must accomplish with their next Ace Combat title – unlike Project Wingman, which was developed by three people and a budget of around a hundred thousand dollars, Project Aces has teams of talented developers and millions in budget. There isn’t really an excuse that VR levels need additional resources and effort to craft, now that we’ve seen how games can be made to work flawlessly in both traditional screens and with VR headsets. This represents a very exciting possibility, and at present, the anticipation for both Project Wingman‘s update and a new Ace Combat title is tangible.

Project Wingman: Dethroning Crimson One and Avenging the Fallen At The Endgame

“They say it was three men.”
“Bullshit. How could three men do this?”

―Radio Chatter in Kaffarov, Battlefield 3

With the Federation’s supply routes in disarray, Cascadian forces move to retake their capital city, Presidia, before the occupying Federation forces have a chance to fortify their positions. The Cascadians launch a joint operation with Sicario, swiftly destroying their air forces over the city. Meanwhile, the Eminent Domain takes on the Federation fleet stationed in Presidia’s port. Hitman team assists the Cascadian forces in sinking the Federation fleet, and, having now established both air supremacy and neutralising whatever naval forces remain, the Cascadian ground forces capitalise on the chaos to advance and capture strategic locations. The Federation forces find themselves pushed back to the Port Authority building, but before they can be surrounded, the Federation government manages to negotiate a ceasefire with Cascadia. Cascadian forces are ordered to stand down and allow Federaation soldiers to evacuate, bringing an end to the war. However, some Federation forces refuse to accept this, and collaborate with the now-rogue Crimson One to detonate Cordium warheads throughout Presidia. The entire city is levelled, and along with it, the whole of the Cascadian navy is sunk. Piloting the experimental PW-Mk.I, Crimson One engages Monarch in a mano-a-mano duel. Driven mad by the loss of his squadron and the resulting damage to his pride, Crimson One attempts to utilise the PW-Mk.I’s overwhelming arsenal in a bid to kill Monarch. Despite being outmatched technologically, Monarch manages to evade Crimson One’s weapons and deals enough damage to the PW-MK.I’s Cordium engines, causing the plane to explode and kill Crimson One. Before he dies, Crimson One warns Monarch of his own mortality. Although Cascadia ultimately wins the war and inspires other nations to secede from the Federation, much of their own nation now lies in ruin, and the survivors must grapple with the millions of casualties resulting from Crimson One’s final act of defiance. Monarch lives to fight another day, although the cost of this operation lingers long after Monarch downs Crimson One in a titanic battle of one-sided indifference. With this, Project Wingman‘s campaign comes to a close, and I was left with an unparalleled experience, one that speaks both to the capabilities of Sector D2’s excellence and the Unreal Engine.

Having now beaten Project Wingman, it becomes clear that this game is the ultimate love letter to Ace Combat, albeit with several critical changes. In three key areas, Project Wingman actually surpasses Ace Combat. The first of these is the weapons and loadouts that are possible. Aircraft are permitted up to three special weapons in some cases, greatly expending their versatility. Ace Combat limited players to only a single special weapon type per aircraft, and this in turn made aircraft highly specialised of a certain role. If a plane could only carry anti-ship missiles, it would only be valuable on missions with anti-fleet operations. Similarly, carrying a tactical laser would reduce one’s ability to shoot down larger numbers of individually weak foes. Project Wingman has no such limitation: one can carry a mixture of weapons for anti-air and anti-ground combat alike, allowing them to remain effective in any situation. For instance, were a player to fly a fighter into a mission with large numbers of ground targets, having bombs would provide an additional option beyond the standard missiles. The guns in Project Wingman are also better thought-out compared to their Ace Combat counterparts; the integral cannons are more powerful, but different planes actually come with distinctly different cannon types. Most planes come with the M61 Vulcan or an equivalent 20 mm cannon, but the Sk.25U is equipped with a 30 mm cannon. With a lower firing rate and capacity, each 30 mm round does considerably more damage. Further to this, there’s four different kinds of gun pods, each with a specific use-case, and the guns find applicability in situations where missiles are less effective, making them a true part of the game: it takes skill to make full use of the guns, and Project Wingman encourages players to make full use of their aircraft’s capabilities. Finally, Project Wingman‘s presentation of devastation is nothing short of impressive: entire maps show the cost of large scale warfare, as forests burn and buildings crumble. Of course, Ace Combat has its own strengths. The progression system is deeper, with more options for aircraft, and there is significantly more mission variety. Similarly, Ace Combat is also better polished. However, the fact that Project Wingman gets so much right speaks volumes to the competence and creativity of Sector D2’s three-man team, showing that one doesn’t need a multi-million dollar budget to put together a memorable and engaging experience.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • In Project Wingman‘s final act, Monarch returns to the Cascadian capital of Presidia for one final titanic clash against the Federation’s remaining forces. For this mission, I’ve opted to fly the F/S-15 again: it’s the most advanced aircraft I could afford entering the endgame, and my goal is to ultimately pick up the PW-Mk.I, the ultimate aircraft in the game. Until then, the F/S-15 has proven to be more than adequate: the mission to re-take Presidia is a combination of both air-to-air and air-to-ground combat, and efficient ammunition use is key here.

  • In a way, this mission represents the culmination of all of the experience a player has accrued in Project Wingman. By this point in time, I’ve completely adjusted to the missile mechanics in this game: while it took a little getting used to, once I acclimatised, the missiles of Project Wingman are reliable and effective. They’re most useful against foes approaching one head on, or, if one is flanking their enemies, then they work best between 1200 and 1600 metres. Any further, enemy planes will be able to dodge them or deploy countermeasures, while at closer ranges, the missiles won’t be able to track.

  • The F/S-15 is able to carry a ludicrous amount of multi-target missiles: if the first two special weapon slots are outfitted with these missiles, players will be able to lock onto up to ten targets simultaneously. This gives the F/S-15 the ability to clear out entire squadrons in seconds, although the extremely large volleys mean that if one isn’t careful, their entire store of missiles could become depleted very quickly. Here at Presidia, I was finally able to try out how a prototype aircraft handles in dogfights, and it becomes clear that the higher cost for prototype aircraft is for a reason.

  • While the F/S-15 is the most inexpensive prototype in Project Wingman, it still surpasses all of the previous aircraft: it accelerates and can maintain a top speed comparable to that of the interceptors, while at the same time, possesses handling traits befitting a fighter. Aircraft in Project Wingman are well-balanced against one another; prototype planes tend to have good all-around traits and excel in all roles. Interceptors have great acceleration and top speeds, while fighters are highly manoeuvrable. Strike aircraft carry weapons suited for anti-ship combat, and attacker aircraft have a large number of hardpoints capable of carrying a range of anti-ground weapons.

  • Multi-role aircraft perform well in both anti-air and anti-ground operations, and prototypes fit into the spectrum as being extraordinarily powerful multi-role aircraft. Strictly speaking, prototype aircrafts are not necessary for beating the campaign: the standard missiles and integral cannons in any plane are enough to get one through any mission. This was especially true in Ace Combat games, where players could complete entire missions, even on higher difficulties, without relying extensively on their special weapon stores.

  • The use of the stock missiles and gun is a trait I call the “stock weapons paradigm”: this is a concept that dates back a decade, and it states that any well-balanced game will be designed such that a player will be able to do just fine with the starting weapons a game provides them with. This came about in Team Fortress 2, when I noticed that the default weapons were really all one needed. In some games, like Agent Under Fire, weapons are clearly tiered, and the endgame weapons are definitively more powerful than the weapons found early on. In a balanced game, weapons all fit specific roles, and one should be able to do well enough with what’s available to them from the start, whether it be the start of a match, or the start of one’s journey through a progression system.

  • Planes in Project Wingman all handle slightly differently and carry different special weapons to give them an edge under certain circumstances, but overall, a competent pilot will be able to make any plane work with their default loadouts. This speaks to the excellent design in the game, and accounts for my wish to go back through the campaign a second time so that I can unlock the remainder of the aircraft available: I’m particularly keen on flying the F/E-18 again. For now, I’ll return the focus to whittling down the Federation’s remaining airships. Despite their railguns, downing airships are old hat at this point, and their presence is hardly intimidating now.

  • During this operation, I was blowing things up left, right and centre: even this late into the game, the visual effects for destruction look superb, and I found myself admiring my handiwork every time a plane or airship was shot down. At this point in time, I’ve become versed enough so that I’m not slamming into wreckage of destroyed aircraft, but there have been occasions where I will be strafing an airship with a M61 Vulcan, only to smash into it because I neglected to check the distance indicator. During combat, enemy combatants can be closer than they appear, and this really gives a sense of how scale can be misrepresented in the skies.

  • It suddenly hits me that the pressure waves in Project Wingman are much more visible (and a little more rudimentary) than their counterparts in Ace CombatAce Combat 7 has fair-looking pressure waves, but for me, it is actually Ace Combat: Assault Horizon that had the best-looking pressure waves from an explosion. There, explosions created a subtle lensing effect. I would imagine that Ace Combat 7 simply increased the emphasis on these blast waves so they’d be more visible, but the end result was that explosions look a little less realistic. In Project Wingman, there is no lensing, and no refractive effects from explosions.

  • Ace Combat: Assault Horizon was my first Ace Combat experience, and while it was a fun game, looking back, it was also quite unlike anything I would later play: the game’s use of “Dogfight Mode” took a lot of the control away from players, and the fact that there were multiple perspectives meant the overall story felt more disjointed. However, Assault Horizon‘s being on PC did mean that for the first time ever, I had a chance to really experience an Ace Combat game for myself, as opposed to watching YouTube playthroughs from other players.

  • Project Wingman is often referred to as a “poor man’s” Ace Combat. Hving now gone through the game in full, Project Wingman offers a tangibly unique and enjoyable experience such that I would say that it is a worthwhile experience for any Ace Combat fan, and similarly, anyone who’s wondering if Ace Combat is right for them could gain a modicum of insight if they go through Project Wingman. Had Ace Combat 7 not released on PC, Project Wingman would’ve been the definitive answer to players looking for an Ace Combat-like experience, but I’ve found that for the most enjoyable and complete experience, one would do well to give both a whirl, since both Ace Combat and Project Wingman have their own distinct strengths.

  • There isn’t one game that is decisively better than the other. Project Wingman excels with its weapon mechanics and design, as well as its ability to portray the scale of each battle, while Ace Combat overall provides a more polished experience, deeper progression system and mission variety. The perfect arcade combat game would therefore allow players to tune their planes like in Ace Combat 7 and equip a much larger array of special weapons, showcase battles of a grand scale and vary up the mission objectives while at the same time, having full VR support as Project Wingman does.

  • With this in mind, I am curious about what the upcoming Ace Combat title is going to be like: so far, all I know is that it’s the eighth instalment in the series, and producer Kazutoki Kono has stated that it’s going to be their biggest game ever. I wonder if Project Aces’ team would’ve seen Sector D2’s Project Wingman and saw what alternatives were possible; an Ace Combat game allowing players to vary hardpoint configurations and perhaps even feature different types of guns would be a major improvement on an already successful approach, furthering the level of depth to dogfighting in Ace Combat.

  • While the guns in Ace Combat tend to be more generic, later iterations of the game feature faster-firing guns for fighters and slower, harder-hitting guns for attacker aircraft. By Ace Combat 7, American aircraft utilise the M61 Vulcan, while Russian aircraft use the GSh-30-1. The guns do handle differently, but the differences are not as pronounced as they are in Project Wingman, and overall, the guns have a similar DPS. In general, guns play a large role both Project Wingman and Ace Combat, being an essential part of one’s arsenal, but the mechanics in the former are a bit more sophisticated, giving guns slightly more specialised scenarios where they are most effective.

  • According to the history books, the difference between American and Russian aircraft guns are simple: American designs favour the 20mm calibre because it’s light enough to be mounted on an aircraft without compromising handling, has a high enough rate of fire to ensure a target is hit, and good ballistic properties. On the other hand, a 30mm round can carry more explosives, so a few hits would be devastating. Differences in methodology resulted in different weapons, and I’ve found that, at least in Project Wingman, the faster-firing guns are more effective in dogfighting, whereas the slower-firing guns are better for strafing ground targets.

  • Once the air battle over Presidia is won, the focus shifts over to the Federation’s remaining navy forces. Since I was flying the F/S-15, I simply switched over from the anti-air missiles over to the anti-ground missiles and pounded the fleet into oblivion. The multiple lock-on anti-ground missiles proved more effective against static ground targets than they do against ships: while each missile is capable of knocking out a ship’s weapon component with ease, each missile can only deal damage to its target, and ships in Project Wingman only go down from direct hits to its main structure.

  • As such, if one were to get a lock onto a ship’s weapons, they’d destroy only the weapons. This would demand that one circle around and hit the ship again in order to sink it. For this reason, anti-ship missiles are exceedingly powerful in Project Wingman, and balanced accordingly so one isn’t sinking ships left, right and center. A reasonably experienced pilot will be able to optimise their runs so that they aren’t reliant on anti-ship missiles when fighting fleets, and indeed, the basic gun and missiles is, more often than not, enough to take out fleets of enemy ships on short order.

  • Like Ace Combat, particularly skilled pilots can fly though some features on a map that would be counted as foolhardy or unwise. In the middle of a battle, one is so focused on the objective that stunts aren’t likely to be the first thing on their mind. Doing this sort of thing is usually reserved for the free flight mode, which Project Wingman does offer, and while I’ve indeed pulled off these stunts in Ace Combat 7, my priority now remains focused on finishing off Project Wingman. Flying stunts are far easier to achieve than some would suggest: after Ace Combat 7‘s launch, TV Tropes’ “Imca”, a charlatan who claims to be from Osaka, suggests that he only took damage in Ace Combat 7‘s campaign twice and “flies through the wires of suspension bridges for fun”, implying that only Japanese players had the skill to perform trick manoeuvres.

  • Said individual has a propensity for acting like a big-shot at Tango-Victor-Tango’s American politics (despite supposedly hailing from Japan) and military threads. Imca’s latest round of fabrications include claiming that he owns a Tesla. Going from a rule of thumb, which suggests that one can afford a car that is equal to or less than 35 percent of their annual income, Imca would need to be pulling in around 135000 CAD per year (assuming we’re going off of the price of the entry-level Model 3, which costs 47000 CAD). Someone who “[plays] way more video games than westerners do and have more practise” and spends their time at Tango-Victor-Tango’s forums is unlikely to be dedicated to their career and advanced it far enough to make six figures, so either Imca is exceptionally poor with money management, or is being untruthful.

  • Fabrications always fall apart upon scrutiny, and while anonymity online makes lying as easy as breathing, I make it a point to never exaggerate my experiences and exploits, whether they be related to video games or reality. This is why I don’t have any objections to admitting when, in a given game, a certain area gave me particular trouble. In Project Wingman, a few missions did present to me a bit more trouble than usual (especially the ninth mission), but overall, my experience with the campaign was quite smooth, and I never died from sustaining too much damage from enemy fire.

  • Project Wingman does not have checkpoints, so deaths are particularly unforgiving: dying sends players back to the start of a mission, and while missions are of a moderate length (usually, 15-25 minutes), losing that amount of progress can be incredibly frustrating. This forces players to really keep an eye on their hull integrity and fly in a way as to minimise damage: making full use of the flares and keeping an eye on missile indicators, as well as taking care not to fly into the path of enemy aircraft or their burning wreckage. In fact, I’ve died more to colliding with enemy air combatants than I have from missile damage or gunfire.

  • In the end, after clearing out everything in the skies, on the ocean and on the ground, the Federation begins to realise they’ve been beaten, and a ceasefire is declared. This is the outcome that players were hoping for, being a close to what was ultimately a meaningless and brutal conflict. However, the astute player will have spotted that the battle for Presidia ended without a showdown with a fanatic foe in an über-powerful aircraft. Almost right on cue, the skies fill with a bright flash of light moments later, and when the dust settles, Presidia is in complete ruin.

  • The culprit is none other than Crimson One, who’s managed to acquire the PW-Mk.I, a super-plane whose capabilities surpass anything that Monarch had previously faced. Crimson One promptly uses the PW-Mk.I’s universal burst missiles to shoot down every remaining combatant who’d survived the Cordium detonations, intent on squaring off against Monarch, whom he holds personally responsible for the world’s evils. Besides the burst missiles, the PW-Mk.I is armed with multiple railguns and a plasma launcher.

  • For this fight, Crimson One’s attack patterns are broken up into four phases. In phase one, he only utilises the burst missiles, and these can easily be evaded, even without making use of flares. In the second phase, Crimson One adds railgun fire into the mix: his aircraft comes with multiple railguns, and if these impact simultaneously, Monarch will be devastated. By phase three, Crimson one utilises the plasma orbs, as well. Owing to the PW-Mk.I’s unmatched mobility, missiles are all but useless against him, and to this end, one will rely almost exclusively on their guns.

  • An aircraft with gun pods will have an easier time of whittling down Crimson One’s health: even the less manoeuvrable aircraft, one can still keep up with Crimson One and train their guns on him. Keeping up with him at close quarters can be tricky, but in order to engage, Crimson One will fly off and make some distance, and this provides players with a window to attack. Crimson One will spend the entire fight badmouthing Monarch, and while this is hilarious in bringing to mind the sort of trash talk that Aaron Keener treats players to in The Division 2, the choice of words suggests that Crimson One is someone who’s now fighting purely for revenge, having lost everything as a consequence of the player’s actions.

  • Moments like these serve to remind players that in war, there are no victors: there is a macabre truth to what Crimson One is saying, and even if Monarch does shoot him down here, it won’t change the fact that millions of lives were lost during the Cascadian conflict. Here, I narrowly dodge a railgun round from Crimson One: unlike the railgun turrets seen earlier, Crimson One can fire multiple rounds at players with every shot. In spite of the gap in technology, however, this fight never once felt impossible. I simply broke off my engagement when he was firing and capitalised on cooldowns to get my shots in.

  • This final boss fight was about as thrilling and challenging as the fight against Mihaly in Ace Combat 7: while Crimson One might have an incredibly sophisticated aircraft that puts all of the other aircraft in the game to shame, the fact that Monarch is able to go toe-to-toe with Crimson One is yet another reminder that technology notwithstanding, it’s ultimately the pilot that makes the difference. In the end, I beat Crimson One without too much difficulty, bringing the campaign to an end. At this point, I unlocked the player version of the PW-Mk.I: it’s the most expensive aircraft in the game and will likely take some time to unlock.

  • Besides replaying the campaign to unlock all of the aircraft (primarily for completeness’ sake), Project Wingman also offers two more avenues for replayability. The first is the conquest mode, which is a procedurally generated collection of missions where players must fight off wave after wave of Federation aircraft to secure Cascadian territory. Along the way, one can purchase new aircraft and even upgrade the reinforcements that come to assist them. Death is permanent in this mode, although one’s unlocks carry over, and this gives one a chance to really test their skills in a more open, sandbox mode. I imagine that I’ll start this mode once the summer arrives; May is going to see me revisit several iconic games, like Titanfall and Go! Go! Nippon!, as I reminisce about upcoming milestones.

  • The other avenue is VR: since Project Wingman has complete VR support, I would be able to free flight or revisit older missions using my Oculus Quest headset. My previous desktop lacked the CPU and connectors for such an endeavour, but with my new build, I anticipate that I should be able to utilise the Oculus Link setup. If Project Wingman‘s VR mode proves viable, I would be in a position to consider Half-Life: Alyx – my GTX 1060 60 GB is capable of running the game, and this would allow me to continue my Half Life experiences.  Overall, Project Wingman is a very impressive experience, and I have no problem recommending this as the definitive experience for what independently developed games could be like; with the right skill set, such games can easily rival triple-A titles in quality.

  • As it is, Project Wingman is a worthwhile experience for both Ace Combat fans and folks looking to try out the arcade flight combat genre. I’ve heard that a major update is in the works for Project Wingman, which Sector D2 is suggesting will add new weapons, introduce previously unavailable aircraft and perhaps even bring in some new campaign missions. All of this is worth writing about, and while my Project Wingman campaign experience is in the books for the present, I have a feeling that I am going to be returning in the future to discuss my experiences with the game’s super-planes, VR missions and conquest mode. The time is also nigh to return to Ace Combat 7: during my playthrough a few years back, I ended up unlocking the Strike Wyvern, and I picked up the DLC which gives me access to iconic super-planes like the Falken, so I’m now curious to see how my experience changes when I’m rocking the best planes in the game.

The very fact that Project Wingman exists speaks volumes to how much a competent team can do with the tools available to them: despite lacking the resources available to a Triple-A studio, Sector D2 was able to not only put together a polished and smooth experience, but they created a game that rivals the quality of something that ordinarily takes an entire team of developers, graphic artists, voice actors, composers, sound engineers and QA testers to accomplish. In fact, Project Wingman exceeds expectations because Sector D2 was able to implement a complete VR experience within the game. To put things in perspective, Ace Combat 7 only had a partial implementation of VR, providing the experience only across three levels. What Project Wingman is able to achieve is therefore a show to large studios that standards are increasing, and that as the technology becomes increasingly sophisticated, expectations correspondingly increase: having now seen what a three man team can do with a small budget, one must wonder why larger studios, with their increased human resources and funding, cannot put together stable, content-rich and fun games when three people, working with just north of a hundred grand (Canadian dollars) were able to assemble a title that plays well, immerses players entirely and possesses features that are absent in games from much larger teams. Project Wingman represents independent development at its finest, and with Ace Combat 8 on the horizon, expectations are now especially high; both Ace Combat 7 and Project Wingman have shown that the arcade flight combat simulator genre is still alive and well. Having now seen what’s possible in these games, it is fair to expect that a successful title must tell a compelling story, immerse players in a world that’s rich in details, provide a deep progression system that makes replay and customisation worthwhile, and above all, give players the feeling that they can single-handedly change the course of a conflict, much as Project Wingman and Ace Combat‘s past ace pilots have done. In the meantime, Project Wingman‘s thematic elements remain strong for a game whose strong suit is allowing one to fly cool aircraft and blow stuff up in cool places: it speaks to the futility of war, and how regardless of one’s intentions going in, even a desire to go good and fight for what one believes in can become distorted and twisted as one witnesses horror upon horror. Although not quite as direct as how Ace Combat presents its themes, Project Wingman nonetheless is successful in presenting a coherent story. In response to the question I posed about mercenaries, I find that Project Wingman is suggesting that at the end of the day, one should not be consumed by their ideology and continue to do what’s right so long as it doesn’t cost them everything. As Monarch, one gains the sense that while Monarch is successful in this assignment, there are things that they will need to live with in the aftermath of a conflict that has cost so much.

Project Wingman: Turning Tides and The Federation’s Fall Towards the Penultimate Act

“Responsibility walks hand-in-hand with capacity and power.” –J.G. Holland

Upon returning to their base at Rowsdower, Hitman team prepares to land, but immediately find themselves under fire from Klara Rask and a flight of rogue mercenaries. Monarch is able to shoot down these mercenaries and secures the airspace. While Hitman team had intended to leave Cascadia since their assignment had been completed, another squadron persuades them to stick around. Two months after the Cascadian Calamity, Hitman team participates in a strike against Brite Fortress, one of the Federation’s remaining bases. Upon dealing a crippling blow to Brite Fortress, the Federation deploy two Super Tauruses-class land battleships in an attempt to wipe out the attacking Cascadian and Sicario forces, but both end up being destroyed. Later, while assisting in an offensive to take back the Cascadian city of Prospero, Hitman team encounters Crimson team. Monarch single-handedly shoots down all eight pilots, including their leader, Crimson One. The Federation is pushed onto the backfoot, and Cascadia takes the initiative to destroy the Federation Navy so that they can create a naval blockade around Presidia. The Federation Navy proves no match for the combined Cascadian-Sicario forces and are utterly wiped out, paving the path towards taking back Presidia and liberating it from Federation control. Here in Project Wingman‘s penultimate act, the game continues to find ways of surprising players. The missions are slightly shorter now as the game prepares for a titanic operation to liberate the Cascadian capital, and in the process, players have a chance to shoot down Crimson team for themselves, as well as square off against yet another novel kind of foe in the land battleships. However, even though the Federation lays its most powerful remaining cards on the table, this is no matter: sustaining loss after loss has meant that with every passing operation, the Federation is backed into a corner, their chances of victory becoming increasingly slim.

By the time of the strike against what remains of the Federation Navy, it is clear that they have lost the war, even if they’ve not formally sued for peace just yet. Unlike the Federation players squared off against early in Project Wingman, with their vast fleets and capability of filling the skies with railgun fire and aircraft, the Federation here is beaten, broken and exhausted. The ships they have remaining lack the firepower of the vessels they once fielded, and the amount of air cover they can bring to bear is a far cry from what they previously had the power to muster. Gone is the confident and aggressive dialogue: Federation pilots and sailors alike speak with fear whenever Monarch and Hitman team appear. Some soldiers begin doubting what they are fighting for, and wonder when the war would come to an end. Historically, the aggressors in a war have come out worse for wear; Sun Tzu had stated that in war, a quick victory is preferred to a lengthy battle of attrition, as the instigator’s advantage lies in an early momentum. If the aggressor can be forced into a protracted conflict, the defenders usually gain the upper hand because mentally, they are prepared to resist, while the aggressors lose morale, having been denied a swift end to the conflict. Here in Project Wingman, the Federation completely underestimates the resilience of both Cascadians, and the force multiplier they have in Hitman team. Motives determine the outcome: Cascadians are fighting to preserve their very existence and prevent their natural resources from being utilised for conquest, while the Federation is determined to control Cascadia for their own gain: to continue harnessing the power of Cordium to dominate and subjugate. It is therefore unsurprising that people would be so opposed to such an action, and even the Federation’s own soldiers express their doubts that conquering and crushing Cascadia would be helpful towards them.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Upon returning to base amongst a burning world, a familiar voice rings in my ears. Project Wingman isn’t going to allow Monarch a peaceful landing as hostile mercenaries take to the skies in a bid to shoot down Hitman team for cash. Last I wrote about Project Wingman earlier this month, I was using screenshots from my old machine, prior to my move: I had been looking to at least get through three quarters of the game before moving day itself, and I’d been successful in that, having just survived the Cascadian Calamity event.

  • It’s been almost a month since moving day now, and I’ve finally begun settling in to the new place, enough to find a bit of extra time in evenings to take to the skies as Monarch and continue with my campaign against the Federation forces. For games like Project Wingman, the new desktop I’ve built doesn’t even break a sweat and delivers excellent framerates, much as my old machine did. However, it is with titles like Battlefield 2042 and Halo Infinite where the processor is making a difference. Although I’m still feeling the effects of the hard drive failure from a month earlier, I’ve recovered most of my music and the travel photos that I’d backed up to the cloud.

  • The most vital documents, like tax slips, were stored on a separate hard drive, so fortunately, those were not lost. At this point in time, I’ve settled in to using my new rig to about the same extent that I’ve settled in to the new place. Thus, I continued with my journey in Project Wingman, and immediately found myself in a confrontation with mercenaries. Lacking the patience to deal with them using the F/D-14, I ended up switching back over to the Accipiter and outfitted it with an all-guns loadout, allowing me to make short work of my foes.

  • In a matter of minutes, Frost and her wingmen are shot down, leaving me to wrap the mission up. Because autocannon rounds are much harder to dodge than missiles, they prove to be an incredibly valuable asset in missions where there are boss fights. Even if I were to equip the F/D-14 with my usual loadout, for this mission, I would’ve had enough ammunition in my integral cannon to shoot them down. With the rogue mercenaries down, Hitman team prepares to land, pick up their belongings and leave, but when Stardust, another squadron commander, appears, Galaxy is persuaded to stick around and listen.

  • Two months later, Hitman Team find themselves stationed at a different base. For this mission, I decided to pick up the F/S-15. This prototype aircraft is among the most powerful I’ve flown: it has a much looser steering than previous aircraft, accelerates and decelerates much more quickly, and is able to carry a good all-round loadout of anti-air and anti-ground munitions. Compared to ordinary aircraft, prototype planes are significantly more expensive, and the most powerful prototypes have fixed loadouts. The F/S-15 allows players to select their preferred weapons for three slots, and entering the next mission, I ended up going for a different weapon in every slot, giving me capability against all targets, including elites.

  • The seventeenth mission marks a turning point of sorts in Project Wingman in that this is the last point in the game where the Federation is able to deploy large numbers of foes and superweapons. The level opens with a large number of ground targets, and here, the F/S-15’s anti-ground missiles come in handy. Although I’m only able to fire four at a time, compared to the six available to me were I to take the Sk.25U, the F/S-15 more than compensates with the fact that it’s a faster, more manoeuvrable aircraft with considerable anti-air capabilities as well.

  • The wisdom of saving up for a reasonable prototype aircraft soon became apparent as I tore my way through the mission, utilising my munitions to wreck havoc on all targets in the ground and skies alike. Being able to accelerate swiftly, close the distance between an aircraft and tear it up with my guns makes dogfighting even more intense than it had been previously, and I suddenly found myself wondering if I would now have the power to square off against Crimson squadron in mission six. Against surface targets, the F/S-15’s manoeuvrability meant that I was able to evade even railgun shots.

  • The seventeenth mission thus became an immensely enjoyable romp to destroy all targets under the evening skies. From a visual perspective, Project Wingman is able to convey the scale of every mission through the amount of stuff happening on screen, whether it be electrostatic discharges resulting from geothermal activity, railgun rounds leaving ionised beams in the sky or condensation trails resulting from aircraft exhaust and missile fire. Despite the sense of being overwhelmed, Project Wingman never puts players in unfair situations: the aircraft players have access to are all capable of getting the job done.

  • The lightning effects in Project Wingman are impressive, and here, I fly close to a bolt while in pursuit of an airship. Lightning resulting from volcanic activity is the usually consequence of volcanic ash creating static electricity through triboelectric charging. Since there’s no active eruption, and therefore, no ash, one might suppose that the lightning seen here is the consequence of fractoemission, which occurs when heat breaks up rocks. Regardless of the mechanism in Project Wingman, the lightning is meant to show a world torn apart by hubris.

  • By this point in Project Wingman, airships are old hat: despite sporting an impressive amount of firepower, and becoming increasingly powerful as the game wears on, the trick to downing them remains unchanged. Having access to increasingly powerful aircraft corresponds to being able to target multiple weapons on a given airship and then eliminate them by firing on their superstructures. Destroying airships is easiest when using the anti-ship missiles, but these have a very long reload time, so it’s easiest to get comfortable with strafing an airship with multi-target missiles, ordinary missiles and even guns.

  • At the mission’s second half, the land battleships begin appearing. Despite being lumbering vehicles that are easy to hit, they bristle with weapons: attacking them from the top is tricky because they are armed with railguns, anti-air cannons and surface-to-air missiles. To avoid heavy fire, the strategy I adopted was to allow my weapons to lock on, fire, break away and then go for another run. The F/S-15’s performance and loadout meant that this was a viable method, and in this way, I was able to whittle down the land battleships’ arsenals.

  • Once their weapons are gone, land battleships become slow targets that one can pick apart at their leisure. While some reviewers had written that players would be fighting “mecha” during the course of Project Wingman, this is, strictly speaking, untrue: a mecha is usually biomorphic in nature, and the land battleships are more similar to vehicles. Listening to the dialogue that occurs during combat, the Federation calls these land battleships “old” prototypes, implying that they were constructed long ago, and it was only in their desperation that the Federation pulled these out of storage.

  • Small cues such as these speak volumes to how poorly the war is going for the Federation, and yet again, I find myself impressed with how much Project Wingman is able to do through just radio chatter. Even without cutscenes and fully-animated characters, Project Wingman presents an unexpectedly immersive and well-written story for a game whose primary aim is to fly cool aircraft around and blow stuff up. Here, I finish off the last of the land battleships with my machine gun pods to wrap the mission up.

  • With the Federation’s final base in ruins, Monarch returns to base and prepares to land under the evening’s last rays of light. Landing in Project Wingman is similar to what it was in Ace Combat: one only needs to line themselves up with the runway, reduce altitude and then bring their aircraft to just above stalling speed. Precision isn’t too high, since the aircraft will often drop out of the air and onto the runway. Easing back on the velocity until the plane stops will then bring these segments to a close. I’m especially fond of the facility Hitman team is operating out of here: a secluded base with a full-fledged runway wedged into a ravine.

  • While Prospero lies in ruins, Cascadia has determined that the location remains of strategic importance: it is to act as the staging area for mounting a full-scale counteroffensive on the battered and diminished Federation forces. Only a handful of Federation units remain in the area, so there’s actually not too much difficulty for Hitman Team during this mission’s first phase: unlike previous missions, there are a comparatively small number of ground units, and air targets are similarly fewer. Ordinary missiles will do the trick for this mission, but going from the briefing, it felt a little strange that the assignment would be so straightforward.

  • Because the Federation appears unable to muster forces quite to the same extent as they had previously, I imagined that this would be the setting for a confrontation with elite pilots. To this end, I brought the Accipiter and its gun pods to the fight: although the Accipiter is unable to equip the heavy gun pods, which fire high explosive round that can decimate enemy aircraft and ground targets alike, the medium gun pods it can equip fire 20 mm rounds, leaving it a viable choice for dogfighting. The canister gun pod represents an interesting weapon: it fires flechette rounds in a cone-like pattern and can deal as much damage as the heavy gun pods.

  • The erupting volcano in Prospero reminds me a great deal of Mount Fuji: both are stratovolcanoes, and here, the distinct conical profile of Prospero’s mountain can be seen. Having expended only a small amount of ammunition and missiles on the targets in Prospero, the wisdom of bringing the Accipiter to this mission soon became apparent: Crimson squadron arrives, and at this point in Project Wingman, it should be clear that there is no more need to pull punches: Crimson squadron has survived everything until now, even the destruction of the Federation’s other forces.

  • With their prototype aircraft, Crimson squadron is quite resilient against missiles, so having the Accipiter’s gun pods mean a much easier fight. The integral cannon other aircraft carry work just fine, but in a game where gun ammunition is finite on all difficulties, having reserve gun ammunition becomes helpful. Despite rocking the VX-23 and Sk.37 aircrafts, prototypes with high mobility, I was surprised that the Accipiter was able to keep up: once a Crimson squadron aircraft ends up behind my sites, sustained fire from the gun pods and integral cannon can quickly rip up their aircraft.

  • The key to winning dogfights against elite enemies in Project Wingman is therefore considerably different than what it was in Ace Combat: in Ace Combat 7, beating Mihaly simply entailed hitting his aircraft with missiles. However, here in Project Wingman, enemy elites make liberal use of flares or a special component known as the AOA limiter, which allows aircraft to perform high-G turns and post-stall manoeuvres. At close ranges (under a thousand metres), missiles become useless against elites like Crimson team, but guns remain effective.

  • It was with the Accipiter and its guns that I was able to wipe out the entirety of Crimson team. I wound up trying the canister gun pod out: the spread means that it’s quite wasteful at range, but on the flip-side, if all its shots connect at shorter distances, it can quickly shred enemy aircraft. Having extra ammunition to spare meant I was able to use the canister gun pods on what I imagine to be Crimson One: when elites show up in groups, their aircraft are not named, so the dialogue would suggest that no matter which order one destroys these elites in, story-related characters tend to last the longest in a fight.

  • The final mission against what’s left of the Federation fleet really drove home how far they’d fallen: all they can conjure up against Cascadian forces are a handful of light cruisers, frigates and a single aircraft carrier. Meanwhile, Cascadia brings airships armed with railguns to the fight, and with Sicario in their corner, the Federation navy stands no chance at all. For this mission, I ended up picking the Accipiter. Besides its gun pods, the Accipiter has access to a solid range of unguided anti-ground munitions. My personal favourites are the unguided triple bombs and small unguided rockets.

  • Bombing moving targets requires a bit of finesse. but when things line up, even the smaller bombs can be quite devastating. I’ve typically stuck to small bombs because one can carry more of them (at the expense of blast damage), and the triple-volley bombs cover a larger area, allowing more targets to be struck. Having looked at various aircrafts in Project Wingman, it is possible to carry a single large bomb which has a very large blast radius, but this comes at the expense of longer reload times and limited carrying capacity.

  • As it was, using the Accipiter’s rockets and small bombs proved more than sufficient to destroy what remained of the Federation fleet. On the topic of fleet destruction, I’ve been keeping abreast of current events, and given the nature of the mass media, I will remark it is exceedingly difficult to ascertain what is actually going on. This is why I tend to leave politics out of my discussions in general; without a complete picture, one cannot even form an informed opinion of what’s going on, because the media only portrays things in a way that favours whatever their narrative is.

  • For something like what happens in Project Wingman, then, it would be equivalent to the Cascadian media over-reporting on their successes over the Federation, whereas the Federation are more likely to downplay their losses. Because it is not possible to get a clear picture of what actually occurred, civilians in Cascadia and the Federation alike would have no idea how well, or poorly, the war is going at a given point. Nowadays, the problem is exacerbated by social media and so-called KOLs; when everyone is given the platform and audience they need to play make-believe and act like an expert, the amount of noise increases.

  • For folks who count on assessing multiple viewpoints to draw a conclusion, things can therefore get a little rowdy. On the other hand, people who do not have the time to sift through everything may be given the (mistaken) impression that one particular perspective, or narrative, holds true. I’ve noticed that this is becoming an especially prevalent problem at AnimeSuki; names like mangamuscle and ramlaen dominate all political “discourse”, and this talk has displaced even the anime discussion there. I fail to see the merits of such conversation, especially when there is a stubborn refusal to consider other sides of the coin. As it was, seeing the same sentiments, and same dubious sources being shared repeatedly offers nothing of merit; all it does is create an environment where critical thinking is not tolerated, and one where hatred is encouraged.

  • As it is, I have no intention of participating in such lunacy; the key to avoid being convinced of one’s own correctness is to appreciate that we are unlikely to get a complete picture of any news related to foreign affairs, and therefore, tread cautiously wherever such news is concerned – it is sufficient to keep one’s thoughts to oneself and not share/retweet news on social media. Conversely, things are considerably more black-and-white in Project Wingman: as Monarch, players can see plainly what the Federation’s been doing, and what both Hitman team and Cascadia have done. Here, I open fire with the unguided rockets on a Federation cruiser and cause it to explode spectacularly with a single volley.

  • One of the challenges I had entering the nineteenth mission’s second act was the appearance of the Federation navy’s second fleet. Having expended quite a bit of my ammunition already, I wondered if I had enough left in the tank to take on the marked targets. Missions like these demand that players purchase aircraft beyond the trainer planes one starts out with on the sheer virtue that all of the other planes in Project Wingman can equip more weapons, and therefore, possess the endurance to actually finish these missions.

  • The second Federation fleet includes an aircraft carrier that will deploy a number of F/D-14s into the skies, plus a handful of larger battleships armed with railguns. This represents one final hurrah for their forces: although the railguns are an impressive-looking weapon, they are easily dodged, and the plasma trails they leave immediately telegraph their position. In the end, I had just enough unguided rockets and bombs left to handle the fleet. The writing’s on the wall at this point, and the fact that this mission takes place during a sunset accentuates the fact that the Federation’s twilight has arrived.

  • This mission therefore has a bit of a finality to it: fighting the weakened Federation shows that the Cascadian conflict is almost at a close; at this point in time, only two more missions remain on the plate, and with the Cascadians now on the doorstep of their capital, I imagine that the final missions will entail taking back Presidia and bringing an end to what was ultimately a meaningless conflict, albeit one that allows players to fly cool aircraft outfitted with an array of cool weapons into battles over exceedingly cool locations.

  • It goes without saying that I’ve had an immensely enjoyable time with Project Wingman: the journey to complete this title has spanned a comparatively short two months, but even now, it is clear that I’m going to get a great deal of replay value out of this title as I work towards unlocking all of the aircraft in the campaign, and begin trying the conquest mode out, which is an endless mode that pits players against Federation forces in procedurally generated missions. Conquest mode is something that looks like it will give Project Wingman nigh-endless replay value, and together with the fact that this game has full VR support, I’m genuinely impressed with how many surprises this game possesses.

Having now brought the war back to Presidia’s doorstep, it does appear that all that’s left to bring the Cascadian Conflict to a close is one final, decisive defeat of the remaining Federation forces that still occupy Presidia. In the time since Project Wingman has begun, I’ve had a fantastic time with mastering the basics, and in this time, I’ve also accumulated enough funds to purchase the F/S-15, a prototype F-15 with an obscene number of hard points, excellent manoeuvrability and solid performance in both anti-air and anti-ground operations. With the F/S-15, I was able to flatten the Federation’s land battleships, although for other missions, I stuck with the Accipiter, which has proven to be an immensely fun aircraft to use owing to its ability to equip gun pods and a solid array of anti-ground weapons. In most games, late-game weapons and equipment tend to overshadow what’s available early in the game, and this progression is meant to give players more capabilities as they become increasingly learned with mechanics. However, the end result of this is that early-game options are rendered obsolete. In Ace Combat, early aircraft have a much more limited payload and reduced manoeuvrability compared to planes unlocked later on, so it becomes more difficult to use them in later missions. Conversely, here in Project Wingman, all aircraft have similar basic weapon capabilities, and while their handling traits differ, they differ in a way so that the endgame planes take considerably more skill to use effectively. The F/S-15, for instance, feels much more loose than does the F/D-14 or T/F-4 (one feels as though they could lose control and slam into the ground), and a careless pilot could empty out its multiple lock-on missiles in a heartbeat. However, pilots accustomed to the flight mechanics can take advantage of this to easily get behind other planes, and careful ammunition management allows one to effectively use the F/S-15’s weapons without running out. The planes in Project Wingman grow with the player, and in exchange for asking players to first acclimatise to the game’s mechanics, Project Wingman entrusts greater power to pilots with more experience. The basic planes work very well throughout the game, and as one improves, they are conferred access to the tools that make the process smoother.

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.

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.