Friday, May 23, 2014

Old School Box Art is Back!

Now that is a train!

Because bullet hell is for SHMUPs!

Believe it or not the actual game is rather cartoony

Brought to you by the fine owners Gamespot and Giant Bomb

Unsurprisingly, these guys went on to make the Blair Witch games

We recommend regular manicures for people who handle
constellations and star clusters on a daily basis 

Friday, May 16, 2014

Tier 2 Banzai!

Having provided tips, guidelines and a little bit of historical background information for tier 1 aircraft in War Thunder, I'm now moving on to the tier 2 planes.

The A6M2-N "Rufe" is essentially a Zero fighter that underwent a float plane conversion.  Overall, the performance is degraded by about 20 percent, which leaves players with a less than ideal dogfighter.  Personally, I found this to be my least favorite tier 2 Japanese plane in the game, but sadly it is a necessary stepping stone on the way to a proper Zero.  Like other float planes it can land at airfields quickly on domination maps.  As general recommendation for aircraft with this kind of armament use machine guns to damage opponents from afar then close in and finish them with cannons.

The Ki-45 Tonryu was called the "Nick" by the Allies, but in Japanese it was known as the "Dragon Slayer."  It's an accurate namesake given that this heavy fighter is outclassed by most single engine planes in a dogfight, nor does it particularly excel in a ground attack role.  What it does do extremely well though is shred bombers.  This shouldn't come as a terribly surprising revelation though since the Ki-45 saw the most success as an interceptor of bombers in real life.  In terms of advice, all I can say is climb using over-boost, find an enemy bomber and hope the rear gunner keeps any escorts away long enough to fill the target full of 20mm and 37mm cannon rounds.  The "tei" model of this aircraft has two of its 20mm cannons mounted at an upward angle making it well suited to attacking bombers from underneath.

Moving on to the A6M2 "Zeke" (or more famously the "Zero") should be a high priority for any Japanese faction player that wants to duel other fightercraft.  Historically, the Zero was one of (if not the) fastest turning military aircraft during the second World War due to to its extremely lightweight design.  The two wing mounted 7.7mm machine guns don't pack much punch, but the 20mm nose mounted cannons will make mincemeat out of most targets.  Ammo for these bruisers is pretty limited though so line up those shots nice and close before squeezing the trigger.  Also, don't hesitate to reload if you have a bit of breathing room.  In a one-on-one turn fight the Zero is practically guaranteed to win.  However, head on confrontations are far less certain, best avoid them unless the Zero has a substantial height advantage. Additionally, be prepared to do a lot of aerial acrobatics in a furball if you want to live for more than two seconds, because the moment an Aircobra or Yak gets the Zero in their crosshairs it's over.  Don't bother with bombs either since they handicap the Zero's one real strength - maneuverability.

The B5N2 "Kate" is a rather unique single engine plane in that it has no forward firing armament.  It's not particularly fast and its bomb/torpedo payload isn't anything special either.  I can turn surprisingly well though and it's very easy to land.  As far as I can tell this aerial oddity is meant to be used as a kind of kamikaze.  While I only had limited success actually ramming into other planes, ground strikes against closely guarded ships, bases or airfields were surprisingly effective despite concluding in fiery death moments after payload delivery.  The large experience point bonus attached to this plane also does a lot to encourage these kind of suicidal tactics.

The G4M1 "Betty" (like the Zero) had range far in excess of what most equivalent aircraft were capable of.  Sadly, that feature doesn't translate in any way, shape or form to the arcade battle mode of War Thunder.  On the other hand it's greatest drawback (also like the Zero), the lack of armor and self sealing fuel tanks, does apply.  Allies often referred to the G4M1 as the "Zippo," "Lighter" or "Cigar" owing to its tendency to catch fire with incredible ease when damaged.  In a bit of sad irony Betty aircrews had nearly identical nicknames for their planes in Japanese.  Needless to say it's a weak twin engine bomber, both in terms of toughness and bomb payload.  For best results in this green tinderbox stay over 5000 meters up and hit stationary targets from high above.

The Ki-61 Hein, or "Flying Swallow," is a unusual entry into the Japanese roster.  In the early parts of WW2 it was often misidentified as a German or Italian fighter, the latter of which earned it the Allied reporting name "Tony."  This Kawasaki Heavy Industries made aircraft had numerous reliability problems associated with its water-cooled engine.  Thankfully, this issue doesn't crop up in arcade mode.  In terms of firepower, variants further down the tech tree obviously dish out incrementally more punishment.  While not as fast turning as the Zero, the Ki-61 does dive a bit better. In addition to this it's one of the few Japanese planes that sports self-sealing fuel tanks, making to slightly less likely to catch fire than most other Japanese planes.

The Ki-49 Donryu (Japanese for "Storm Dragon," but referred to as the "Helen" by Allies) is a significant improvement over the G4M1 in terms of speed and maneuverability.  However, its defensive armament is a mixed bag by way of trading the 20mm tail cannon for two 7.7mm machine guns (one in the underbelly and the other replacing the tail cannon).  Overall this provides the bomber with fewer blind spots, but less stopping power when an enemy is attacking from behind.  Expect to get more hits, but fewer kills than before.  Bomb loads remain unchanged for all versions.  The upgraded Ki-49-IIa model which might not seem worth the time and effort to research since the only noticeable difference on the stat card is the tail gun getting increased to a 12.7mm weapon.  What isn't mentioned though is the addition armor protection and self sealing fuel tanks that make the Ki-49-IIa a bit more durable.

 It's interesting to note that Japan had a "Special Attack Unit" based in mainland China that specifically trained pilots to ram B-17 bombers with their Ki-61 fighter aircraft.  While called "kamikaze" by the Allies, the members of this unit did not think of themselves as such because they tried to bail out and parachute to safety or make emergency landings after successful collisions.  Perhaps the developers over at Gaijin Entertainment should consider awarding points exclusively to the Japanese faction for employing this tactic.  If nothing else it would encourage historical authenticity. 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014


H.R. Giger (February 5th, 1940 ~ May 12th, 2014)

Friday, May 9, 2014

Tier 1 Banzai!

It's no secret that Japanese planes are some of the least used in War Thunder (as of version 1.39 at least).  Generally speaking, the aircraft of the Rising Sun are under powered with unimpressive bomb loads (not to mention lightly armed and armored).  Needless to say you're probably going to be handicapping yourself when playing as Japan.  That said, there are some basic strategies and tactics that can be employed to give players of this faction a fighting chance.  Let's begin by talking about the tier one planes.

The Ki-10 or "Perry," as it was code named by the Allies, was a typical interwar biplane that saw limited action in Manchuria before World War 2 began in earnest.  By the time open hostilities began in Europe though it was largely obsolete and as such was used primarily for reconnaissance and training purposes.   In the game it's your typical lackluster reserve plane roughly equivalent to what other countries start off with.  The sooner it can be replaced the better.

The A5M4 "Claude" was the first ever monoplane fighter designed for aircraft carrier operations.  Gameplay-wise it's highly maneuverable and a good climber.  The fixed gear also makes it easy to land which can be a boon on domination maps.  What keeps this plane from truly excelling though is its rather pathetic armament of two 7.7mm machine guns.  Countless times I've pumped hundreds of rounds into the fuselages of bombers without any noticeable effect.  Aiming for the wings or engines occasionally nets better results, but don't expect to rack up very many kills despite getting numerous hits.  On the plus side all those hits do add up to a lot of research points, silver lions, and pilot experience.

The Ki-43-II Hayabusa (Japanese for "Peregrine Falcon") was officially labeled the "Oscar" by the Allies, but more often than not was referred to colloquially as the "Army Zero."  Hands down it's the best tier 1 Japanese aircraft in the game with twin 12.7mm nose mounted machine guns and the ability to maneuver with most other aircraft of equivalent rank (particularly when the combat flaps are engaged).  An optional loadout of up to two 250kg bombs makes this a formidable dive bomber able to destroy most ground or sea targets (although long reload times make repeated strikes unlikely).  Regardless, make this aircraft a research priority early on.

The F1M2 "Pete" was a hybridization of biplane and float plane used mostly for reconnaissance and, in real life, launched from special catapults mounted on the aft decks of Japanese cruisers and battleships.  At first glance its gutless engine, poor handling and weak armament of two front mounted 7.7mm machine guns, one 7.7mm rear facing turret and optional pair of 60kg bombs may seem a bit pathetic, but this plane does have two surprisingly effective roles.  For one, its slow airspeed allows players to destroy soft ground targets with considerable ease.  Couple this with the fact that it lands on airfields quickly by skidding on its pontoons, and the F1M2 can actually be bizarrely useful on most maps.  Best of all the rear gunner will sometimes help fend off attacks, just don't expect to enjoy much success in straight up dogfights.

The D3A1 "Val" is historically famous for playing a major role in the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.  Basically, it's an A5M4 that has a rear turret, air brakes and a couple of bomb mounts.  In play I found the "Val" to be a jack-of-all-trades, not really excelling at anything yet still able to fulfill pretty much any role with some degree of capability.  Overall, it's a good plane to choose at the beginning of a match although I would not recommend going head-on against any other fighters.

The H6K4 was code named the "Mavis" by Allies, but in my opinion "King Snail" would have been a far more apt moniker.  Covered in turrets and engines, this slow moving seaplane is probably the most durable Japanese aircraft in the game below tier 3.  It also carries the most bombs and torpedoes of any Japanese bomber below tier 4.  The 20mm tail gun gives this behemoth a bit of a stinger.  I was once able to get three aircraft kills in quick succession from defensive turret fire alone.  Try keeping enemy aircraft above and behind for maximum effect.  A word regarding Japanese torpedoes; they have the best characteristics of all the factions in the game so use them whenever there are worthy targets available (as an added bonus the H6K4 can carry two torpedoes at once!).  Don't be afraid to land this seaplane on airfields either.  You'll damage the belly of this beast in the process, but provided you survive the repair timer countdown seaplanes will re-spawn in the air nearby.

One final thing I want to mention has to do with bomb selection.  At first glance it appears that Japanese bombers have redundant choices when it comes to bombs of equal weight.  However, there are important differences in that one type of bomb is armor piercing while the other is high explosive.   Generally speaking the former is for attacking ships and the latter is best when bombing ground targets.  So plan accordingly for maximum effect on the battlefield.  I'm going to stop here, but look for beginners guide to tier 2 Japanese aircraft in the near future.  Until then...Sayonara!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Echos of the Past

I've been playing a lot of War Thunder recently.  So much so I'd be at it right now instead of writing this if it weren't for the fact that the servers are down for maintenance.  Regardless, playing a good old fashion combat flight-sim got me thinking about all the other dogfight themed games I've played in the past.  Obviously the graphics in War Thunder (or Rise of Flight for that matter) are leaps and bounds beyond older favorites of mine like Aces of the Pacific or even sci-fi titles such as Wing Commander and TIE Fighter (both of which have more to do with World War 2 aerial combat than you might initially think).  Yet in spite War Thunder's numerous improvements to the formula it still fails to scratch a certain itch for me.

What I'm getting at is a little hard to define but I'll try to describe it in terms of known quantities; it's like I'm craving for The Ancient Art of War in the Skies meets Air Power, sprinkled with a pinch of Steambirds and a smidgen of Sid Meier's Ace Patrol, all boiled in a mixture of Strike Commander, Wings of Glory and Pacific Strike.  What I definitely don't want is Sky Crawlers or Crimson Skies though.  The former is far too pretentious while the latter has some of the ugliest looking planes I have ever seen.  In other words I want a game that lets the player be both a pilot and administrator of a 1930s era aerodrome in which two nations are fighting a Battle of Briton style air war.

To be more particular, I like the idea of visually distinct factions by having pusher planes exclusively employed by one side while the other only uses tractor aircraft.  For easy identification of individual flying machines I'm rather fond of the World War 1 heraldry atheistic along with feudal notions of pilots being knights who swapped their war horses for fighter planes.  Bombers could be like siege engines, and fiefdoms divided by steep mountain ranges or fast flowing rivers.  Nobility could reside in lofty fortresses or sally forth in dirigibles under heavy escort.  Gameplay could take the form of sortie planning, aircraft procurement and pilot training.  Actual battles are a bit more tricky since they would need to bridge the gap between simulation (fly first, navigate second, fight third) and strategy (sun, altitude, numbers, ability, objective, fuel and armaments).  Win or lose, the results of missions could definitely be applied to a branching story line.

"Why do I want to fly round and round in circles shooting at a dude for hours again?" is a reductive question I've heard brought up regarding combat flight-sims, and while I agree that poorly executed concepts can suffer from repetitive tactics there is a huge number of things that can be done to keep the gameplay feeling fresh.  Variations in weather, terrain and time of day mixed with occasional changes of aerodrome location are just a few ways to avoid repetition.  Add to this other variables such as different basic mission types (recon, raid, scramble, intercept, escort, patrol, support, strike, etc.) and customized load-outs (rockets, bombs, torpedoes, cannons and machine guns) which can be further broken down by effects ranging from incendiary and tracer to high explosive and armor piercing.  Aside from opposing aircraft there's a vast array of potential non-flying targets (fuel depots, bunkers, transport vehicles [fuel/supply trucks], ships [capital and cargo], airfields, repair/maintenance hangars, rocket silos, war factories, ports [sub pens], trains and railroad nexi, army camps, bridges or viaducts, artillery emplacements, tanks, dams, road networks and so on) as well as ground based defenses to contend with (radar installations, barrage balloons, flack towers, search lights not to mention anti-aircraft guns).

For a long time flight-sims have been out of the limelight, but recently the future has been looking bright with Star Citizen and Enemy Starfighter on the horizon.  Even novelist Ernest Cline seems to be getting in on the act with his soon to be released novel "Armada" (due out July, 2014).  Sadly there still isn't much in the way of new developments in the alternate history front.  Regardless, I hope this new generation of dogfighting video games will ride high on VR headsets rather than crash and burn in 3-D.