Jane’s Attack Squadron
Come fly World War II’s unfriendly skies (and kill a few Hun while you’re at it)
Well, at least it’s here. That’s probably the best way to sum
up the release of Jane’s Attack Squadron, one of the most eagerly anticipated World War II combat flight sims — of two years ago.
Originally developed for EA by Looking Glass Studios, the game (and, for that matter, the entire Jane’s franchise) appeared to be near-extinct when Looking Glass folded in early 2000. That’s when Xicat and Mad Doc Software swooped in out of the blue to rescue not only the game and the Jane’s brand name, but also a goodly number of the original Looking Glass development crew.
So was Attack Squadron worth the reprieve? Well, maybe. The game is unquestionably an entertaining and unique WWII prop sim in its own right, with a welcome focus on tactical and strategic strike missions over straight dogfighting. But its aging graphics engine clearly shows through at times, and its rather simple game design can’t compete with that of genre-defining titles like IL-2 Sturmovik.
In addition to a surprisingly thin collection of training sorties and single missions (only five of each), the game also offers a pair of short, scripted campaigns set on the European western front between 1943 and 1944. Although no traditional pilot career is available, you can fly for either the Allies or the Germans from behind the controls of 15 aircraft, ranging from nimble Spitfire and Messerschmitt fighters to heavy B-24D and Ju-88 bombers (in which you can also man the gunner and bombardier stations).
Unfortunately, there’s no provision to change your aircraft, weapons loadout, or waypoints before each mission. Unless you opt for the eight-person multiplayer game (peer-to-peer or via GameSpy) or a custom Quick Mission, you’re pretty much at the mercy of the programmers’ imagination here.
Thankfully, the strike, escort, and interception missions have some variety. Enemy AI is quite challenging most of the time, often employing advanced vertical maneuvers and tactics to keep you off their tail. They have an unfair advantage here, however, because their planes (regardless of type) have a much superior climbing ability that lets them soar out of your reach with impunity, leaving you to recover from an unexpected stall whenever you try to pursue them. And while stalls are quite commonplace, a somewhat basic flight model means that spins and advanced torque effects are all but nonexistent.
Attack Squadron does ship with a Mission and Flight Model Editor, but it still seems odd that the Mad Doc crew wasn’t able to get major problems right on its own. (The developers have already released a patch to address the AI aircraft physics.)
Two things that Mad Doc did get right are the game’s superb sound environment and elaborate damage effects. Everything from the evocative, period-specific background music to the spirited radio chatter and creaking wings of a Spitfire in a high-G turn are reproduced to perfection. And the game’s intricate damage modeling — which allows your plane to sustain everything from minor fuel leaks to full-on wing separations — is equally impressive. In fact, these two features alone almost make up for Squadron’s flat-as-a-board terrain, low-poly aircraft renderings, and PDF manual.
For all of its evident shortcomings, this sim could easily be deemed late-and-lacking. But this genre is positively starving for fresh titles, and even an imperfect product like Jane’s Attack Squadron can still offer hours of entertainment value for most flight-sim fans.
— Andy Mahood