Sid Meier's Ace Patrol is a fun, although highly unrealistic at times, turn-based strategy game set during The Great War (aka World War I). How much you enjoy it, however, depends on several factors, all of which shall be discussed in this review.
The first thing many gamers on Steam will notice is that the graphics aren't particularly high-res and the options menu within the game is severely limited. You can't even set the game's resolution and as far as I can tell, there's no anti-aliasing at all.
The reason for this is because SMAP was originally an iOS title.
What's the difference between the iOS app and the PC game? The mobile game is free, but requires that you pay for additional content. The PC version demands payment up front, but there no additional fees, optional or otherwise. The iOS version also uses a touch-screen interface as well, while the PC uses the mouse.
The game's audio is quite nice, especially the sound effects. Whenever you move one of your planes you hear the associated propeller-driven engine noise. It even changes depending on damage or what maneuver you're attempting to pull off.
The music fits the game, although I turned it off. This wasn't because it was bad, but because I generally dislike background music in games.
Unfortunately, your pilots' voices (the few times they speak) are sometimes weird or just plain buggy. One of my German pilots had a voice that sounded like someone had slowed down an old tape recording. It was amusing, but somewhat creepy at the same time.
The gameplay is standard turn-based fare, with some RPG elements tossed in. While in combat, your planes move over a hex-based battlefield, and have to keep an eye on their location. If they pass over an enemy base, for instance, anti-aircraft guns will fire at them. Fly into the clouds and you'll have temporary cover.
Your position also determines when you can fire at the enemy and how much damage you can potentially do. Attacking an enemy from a higher altitude generally inflicts more damage on them, just as lining up shots while on their tail. Likewise, trying to attack an enemy while head-on or from a lower altitude does less damage and exposes you to return fire.
The RPG elements come into play by leveling up your pilots. They can gain rank and medals, including ace status. If you win missions and have less than 50% damage on any pilot, you gain a bonus that can be applied to any pilot. These bonuses improve weapons, flying, and armor.
After a certain number of kills, each pilot gains a callsign, which denotes a special ability, some of which are offensive and other defensive. Examples of offensive callsigns include "Deadeye" (long-range attack and better accuracy) or "Executioner" (potential to kill enemy during first attack) while some defensive callsigns are "Lucky" (anti-aircraft guns do no damage to you) or "Grease Monkey" (repairs plane faster).
Each airplane also has its own stats, which gauge its speed, maneuverability, climbing rate, diving rate and hit points. Some planes have extra features, like a rear gunner or a machine gun mounted on the top of aircraft itself. These features let you shoot behind or up above you, when normally you could only shoot straight ahead.
If one of your pilots is shot down behind enemy lines, he'll be captured and become a prisoner of war. All prisoners are automatically exchanged every Christmas, although its possible for a pilot to escape. If your pilot was shot down within friendly territory, he'll be sent to the hospital and have to heal up before flying again. Finishing the mission with a severely damaged plane also necessitates repairs, which temporarily removes your pilot from active duty.
At the beginning of this review, I also noted that SMAP is unrealistic at times. How so? Well, for starters, you can play as one of four nations when playing a new game: American, British, French, and German. The problem with this is the campaign always begins in 1916, one year before the United States entered the war.
In addition, there are active-duty female combat pilots, when there were none at this time (or at least, none officially part of those four nations' armed forces). No pilots ever die, either. They can be captured or wounded, but that's it.
Of a somewhat more minor nitpick in regards to realism, the ranking structure makes no sense at all, and fails to take into account each nation's differing ranks and language. I know this doesn't really make a difference in the game as rank is meaningless and imparts no benefits of any sort, but it's still annoying if you know better.
So... would I recommend this game? Yes, but only if you really like turn-based strategy, and the military and history inaccuracies won't drive you up the wall.