Posted on 20 Apr 2020 by Jay Shaw

Worlds at War

The Defence

Developer: Muddy Pixel
Publisher: Muddy Pixel
Genre: Action, Indie, Simulator
Platform: PC
Review copy: Yes
Release date: 09 Mar 2018

The Prosecution

OS: Windows
CPU: Intel Core i5 4590
AMD FX 8350 GHz
VGA: Nvidia GeForce GTX 970
AMD Radeon R9 290
HDD: 40 GB
DirectX: 11
Controller: Full
Mod Support: No
VR: Yes
FOV Slider: No
FPS Lock: 120+
OS: Windows
CPU: Intel Core i5 5675C
AMD Ryzen 5 GHz
VGA: Nvidia GeForce GTX 980Ti
AMD Radeon RX 480
HDD: 40 GB
DirectX: 11
Controller: Full
Mod Support: No
VR: Yes
FOV Slider: No
FPS Lock: 120+

Worlds at War is currently an Early Access release, as such many features are incomplete and developer Muddy Pixel are still working on polishing the game, as such any technical issues we comment on may or may not exist in a future version. Also, the game is playable in VR or on a monitor, due to us not having the hardware we played in the latter mode.

Worlds at War puts you in the shoes of a fighter pilot, usually aboard one of the world’s last few surviving aircraft carriers in the midst of an alien invasion of Earth. Missions have some variety but largely your goal is to shoot down the alien ships, whatever size they may be, and keep your carrier and other ships alive through an unrelenting alien onslaught.

Worlds at War is a sim-lite, meaning it’s not quite IL-2 but also not quite Ace Combat – the flight mechanics won’t have you messing with switches or fuel mixtures or anything like that but you will have to be mindful of airspeed, how sharp manoeuvres affect your lift, and how not to throw your aircraft into an unfortunate flat spin after getting a bit carried away. You’ll also have to keep an eye on ammo and fuel. We found the flight model to be quite unforgiving; without a joystick or mouse control to provide gentle, steady input your plane will constantly rub up against air resistance while turning and run into issues. We tried using a light touch on analogue sticks but honestly couldn’t get a feel for keeping the planes airborne with one. While we wouldn’t like to suggest the model is broken, it certainly favours the mouse in our experience and that’s a crying shame because we don’t have runway length mouse mats.

That said, many flight games feel either unresponsive or jittery and imprecise when played with a mouse and keyboard but Worlds at War has managed to make it feel good. It’s far from perfect but it does feel very usable. If you don’t have a joystick or pad, that’s no reason to be put off in this instance. We can’t comment on how well the game handles VR controllers, unfortunately, but we expect the experience would be similar to a gamepad if the analogue sticks are used.

The left display might as well say "you're fucked."

Rather unique for a sim-lite type flight game however is the aliens. Enemy vessels come in various sizes from small drone types all the way up to massive city size capital ships. Radio chatter from the carrier group is constant and keeps you informed on what’s coming next but in the heat of the moment it’s entirely possible to get surprised when half way through a wide turn the looming shape of an alien capital ship breaks through thick cloud cover right into your flight path. The aliens are often dead-set on their objectives and most of their ships will ignore you most of the time. They will defend themselves and take shots of opportunity on your plane as you zip by; lazily turning in behind a formation of enemy ships is just asking for their turrets to shred your plane.

Being caught on the deck of your carrier under bombardment is visually quite exciting. Slow moving bolts of energy (we’re just going to call it blaster fire from now on because it’s very much like Star Wars blasters) rain down and form large explosions on impact, alien ships strafe past low enough that you could hitch a ride with a good jump, and aircraft drop from the sky on both sides. Taking off under fire is tense and exciting; seeing the damage alarm just as you’re reaching the end of the runway and glancing at the cockpit display to see you took a hit to the engines makes hitting the ramp a moment of exciting uncertainty.

Each aircraft has multiple points it can take damage and each one will affect its performance in different ways. Taking damage to your engines will lower your thrust and potentially kill them altogether while damaged ailerons will leave you stuck pitching up. A damaged gun will even cause it to misfire or behave erratically. All this sounds great, but it’s time for our first major negative – it’s too easy to take a hit and not realise until things start going wrong. Comprehensive player feedback is important in a flight game; a loud sound and warning message would be the bare minimum. There is the in-cockpit alarm but it’s hit and miss, we’d bet money that it’s only gone off in maybe fifty percent of instances where we’ve taken a hit.

Things can get pretty intense when the aliens start to gain the upper hand.

Player feedback is also lacking in the visual and audio departments. There’s plenty of radio chatter telling you when aliens are incoming but it can be hard to tell the situation around your plane. No doubt in VR you could just easily look around but on a monitor you’re effectively blind – there is a free look button but when you’re using the mouse for manoeuvres it’d be stupid to stop and look around. Some of this could be mitigated with better instrumentation; an Ace Combat style map/radar toggle would let players keep an eye on the big picture without giving up any control. Something like this would also help keep track of the large amounts of power-ups scattered across the battlefield, these can range from points to repairs and it’s hard to tell what you’re getting until you’re half a second away from picking them up. Additionally, louder enemy weapons and impacts would go a long way to helping. They’re firing blasters, and while the science doesn’t exactly exist to say what they’d sound like, it is a huge bolt of energy that would surely make quite the bang as it tears through a fighter jet or helicopter.

Controls in general are also an issue at the moment. Walking around on the carrier deck is awkward and uses the throttle and yaw controls as though your human avatar is also a plane. We applaud Muddy Pixel for keeping the controls simple but we feel like two control profiles (one for on-foot and one for in vehicle) would go a long way to making the game feel more inviting and polished. We’ve also experienced a couple of instances where controls stop responding mid-turn but we can’t honestly say whether this is a bug or the flight model behaving as intended – either way you can be in the middle of a turn with plenty of speed and suddenly find your upper wing yearning for the sweet sweet touch of the floor. It’s possible to fight this but for a second or so it feels like the roll and yaw controls are having no impact whatsoever.

For general flight the sim-lite aspects work well but when you try for some acrobatics things get a little weird. Reading the patch notes from just before we got the game we learned that planes now had thrust vectoring for more advanced manoeuvres so we started gentle. A simple wing-over turn felt like we were steering a brick and the airspeed loss once the rudder was applied felt a little too extreme. The in-game fighter is a Su-35, a supermaneuverable aircraft capable of seemingly physics defying moves when compared to older aircraft. We decided to put these to the test by starting with a J-turn which went off pretty well but felt like it took far too much airspace to complete without losing control. Without much hope we tried to pull off Pugachev’s Cobra, a favourite manoeuvre of Russian aerobatic teams in their Su-27s, and it predictably ended in us just nosing up and stalling – as it should – but we’d gained 1000 feet in altitude before this happened – as it shouldn’t – however the post-stall behaviour of the aircraft was modelled well enough and the nose came back down of its own accord. A failure for the move perhaps but a win for Muddy Pixel’s understanding of the aircraft’s unique handling.

Warning: Clouds may contain building sized space ships. Enter at your own risk.

While it’s still early access, there’s also no story. You’ll just take place in a handful of missions spread across three maps and an incredibly basic tutorial. Some mission types are more fun than others; defence stands out because you can have multiple spawns and stay in the fight until your carrier is destroyed. Recon puts you in a helicopter and tasks you with staying within a set distance to another chopper but we couldn’t get enough of a feel for the helicopter flight to stay close enough for more than four or five seconds. Salvage has you racing against the clock to pick up power-ups for points. Furball is an aerial dogfight, and counter-attack is similar but against a giant enemy mothership that looks like it stepped right out of Independence Day. Many of these mission types could benefit from tweaking; more respawns by default for furball and counter-attack would go a long way to making them more palatable. Defence would benefit from just respawning the player aircraft along with them as you can just hijack an AI aircraft off the runway and get airborne anyway so it feels silly and pointless. Recon would benefit from less strict distance limits, perhaps a timer that allows you to be out of range for ten seconds, or simply changing to a waypoint system.

We’d be lying if we said we haven’t had a blast with Worlds at War, we’re even going to keep playing it. Right now the game feels like a rough product; a freshly cut blank out of a CNC machine that needs filing, tapping, and chamfering to make it hit quality standards. With the layer of dust blown off, a smoother player experience, and a good amount of polish, there’s a solid game to be had here. That’s all in the future though and we can only recommend the game at the moment if you can look past the jank and have a lot of patience for its particular quirks. We really hope Muddy Pixel sticks with their project because they’ve obviously got a talent for this genre, we don’t even like horde mode and we had fun with the defence missions, and we’d love to revisit the game again in six months or a year and see where it’s at.

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