By: Jeff Cater
War Thunder is a free-to-play title for PlayStation Plus users in Europe that brings a fresh breeze to the otherwise land-locked game selection. It takes place in World War II, the height of aerial combat. Choose a faction, grab your leather cap, and take to these lead-filled skies.
While using a joystick would be infinitely more comfortable, Gaijin did a wonderful job making the Dualshock 4 a competent and comfortable alternative. Your weaponry is assigned to the shoulder buttons and triggers, which makes letting loose a volley of bullets and rockets easy, and the superb thumb stick sensitivity makes evasive maneuvers a simple affair.
L2 actually does not fire a weapon but does provide somewhat of an aim-assist or lock-on feature to better keep track of your winged foes. Controls are also customizable to an extent, but the default setup is very effective and comfortable.
While the planes and ground units look extremely polished and filled with detail, the landscape and foliage absolutely reeks of 2005 with blurry textures and flat trees. This might be a bit of a stretch for a description, but the ground looks like it was taken directly from the 1999 turn-based strategy game Combat Mission.
Fortunately, the attention given to the various aircraft is amazing! Damage can be clearly seen, and the effects, such as smoke pouring off of your engine, invite a trailing, voluminous black plume. Explosions are also nice and hearty, and you’ll definitely get a good fill of them during your playtime.
War Thunder also has a great sound department, everything from the hum of your engines to the screeching pops of bullets being riddled across your canopy sound absolutely spot-on. The effects are indeed impressive, but the lack of an impactful soundtrack tends to let the gunshots and rockets whizzing by get a little bit grating and repetitive.
At the time of this writing, the mode selection for War Thunder on PS4 was a bit lacking compared to its PC ancestor. Pressing square will jump you into a quick match, and navigating the menu (the only challenge of the game that ISN’T someone shooting at you) will let you play some campaign missions for any given side. Otherwise the game is largely just a big dogfight with some objectives shoehorned in here and there, such as impeding the progress of a land assault or the destruction of a military base.
While the objective gameplay wears a bit thin quickly, matching wits against the live opponents is great fun and the real meat of the game. Seeing what aircraft other players have unlocked is fun as well, as each faction has an extensive list of planes to research and unlock.
To unlock planes and upgrades for them, you can save up Research Points from playing, or purchase Silver Lions (the game’s currency) to get a leg up on the competition. Gaijin has also made it so building up your fleet won’t break your bank either, as a large stock of effective planes can cost about $5-10.
That being said, you don’t NEED to make any purchases to be an effective pilot or to have fun, as mostly everything can be unlocked via grinding Research Points into your account. What the best part about that is that it’s a damn fun grind!
As the pool of dogfighting games is incredibly shallow, War Thunder has most definitely crowned itself both Marco AND Polo and sits as the current genre King. Once other gameplay modes are added I doubt you could find more value in something free anywhere.