Preview: Take to the skies, as endless as they may seem, in Air Conflicts: Vietnam

I'm not a huge fan of flying games. Be it simulator or arcade, they're just not my cup of coffee (I dislike tea). While Air Conflicts: Vietman – the third installment in the Air Conflicts franchise developed by Games Farm – doesn't necessarily change my feelings on the genre, I'll admit I did sit there and enjoy my time playing it.

In Air Conflicts: Vietnam, the franchise moves on to, well, Vietnam obviously. Helicopters are introduced to the franchise for the first time, combined with fast-paced jets and the first targeting systems that were implemented. As young U.S. Air Force pilot Joe Thompson, you'll have the newest planes and helicopters at your disposal. The single-player campaign is linear with some very lite RPG elements. As you progress in the game, you gain levels, allowing you to increase your and your squad's abilities and air combat skills. The first campaign missions serve as a tutorial for maneuvers with both plans and helicopters. You'll learn the ins and outs – from evading and flares to sidewinders – of all the types of vehicles.

During missions, it won't just be Joe Thompson out there. You have a squad of up to three other pilots, each in their own fighter jet or helicopter. There are two ways to utilize your squad: one is to just switch to your other squadron pilots when you run out of ammo from dogfights or missing bombings; the other way is to take out enemies with a squaddie that's better equipped for it, clearing the way for Joe Thompson.

air conflicts: vietnam helicopter

What's good is that you can switch your squad at will, so if one is damaged severely, you don't have to risk getting him blown up. The pilots in your squadron can die, and when that happens you lose them forever. So that pilot you have leveled up most of the game could either get killed in action or go MIA if they get shot down. If they go MIA, at the end of the mission, you'll have a chance to try to find and rescue that pilot. Otherwise, you'll have to replace that experienced pilot with someone fresh.

That's all nice and dandy, but what's going to make or break a game is how it plays and looks. Let's start with the visuals and performance. Since Air Conflicts: Vietnam is a mid-price title, I don't expect the most gorgeous game ever. That's being said, there were some noticeable framerate issues, and you would see trees/environment rendering and popping into view. Explosions don't pack the punch that you'd expect, either.

But the planes themselves look nice. There are more than 20 vehicles, and each one accurately portrays their real-life counterpart. And when you're in the cockpit view, you can really get sucked into the dogfights you'll find yourself in. There is one cinematic view, however, that's just plain awful and doesn't serve a purpose.

air conflicts: vietnam helicopter cockpit

As for the gameplay, this is not supposed to be a sim. There's some strategy involved in combat, but it's an arcade action flying game through and through. Planes and helicopters will definitely handle differently. Once you get past the fact that there are some wonky things you can do and that it's not supposed to be the most accurate flying game, it becomes a bit of fun. Targeting can be a little frustrating, but maneuvering is a breeze. Just get past the fact that you can land in rivers and drive around and you'll be golden.

While there are Vietnam-inspired tunes that sound like the songs your hear in every Vietnam war movie, they're unlicensed. They capture the sound and spirit, but they're not songs you'll know. That said, they can get stuck in your head. The voice acting, on the other hand, is just bad. But what's more awkward is when the voice actor says “Agent Orange” and the subtitles read “Agent Purple.” I'm assuming they'll get this fixed before the game launches… because I don't know what Agent Purple is. Maybe it has something to do with Prince.

air conflicts: vietnam plane

If you feel like just goofing around and fighting, there's Instant Battle mode. Unlike the campaign, where you can only use American aircraft, instant battle lets you use any type of aircraft. You can choose any vehicle – jets, amphibious, attack and utility copters, propeller planes – and set up the scenario you want to battle it out in. Choose a map, the time of day, visibility, the type of enemy you face and how many of them you face. Then modify the hardpoints on your aircraft to give you a fighting chance. It's just a fun way to mess around without having to play the campaign. One note, though: Don't fly upward. While the battlefield has an invisible wall around it, there's no ceiling. You can just keep going infinitely. I found that very odd and hope that's not present in multiplayer.

And that brings us to multiplayer, which will arguably be what this game is bought for. Up to eight players can play online in deathmatch, team deathmatch and capture-the-flag. We didn't get to play the multiplayer firsthand, but I was told capture-the-flag has players making bombing runs. We'll have to wait and see.

Air Conflicts: Vietnam isn't an amazing game, but there's fun to be had. It's a mid-price title, and you can tell, but just playing around with the game for a few hours provided some entertainment – and remember that I really dislike flying games. There's more to see from this game before it releases, and I'm eager to see how the multiplayer is.

Air Conflicts: Vietnam releases October on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC.

You can follow Senior Editor Lance Liebl on Twitter @Lance_GZ. He likes talking sports, video games, movies, and the stupidity of celebrities. Email at [email protected]