Sid Meier's Ace Patrol review: Great for strategy fans, but not for everyone
Editors' note: This review has been updated with new features added in version 1.4, released July 25, 2013.
Sid Meier's Ace Patrol is a turn-based airplane dogfighting game that offers an interesting combat system for serious strategy-gaming fans. The latest update adds 60 new missions to sweeten the pot.
As it's a turn-based strategy game, you'll plan and execute each plane's maneuvers and attacks one at a time, then watch the computer-controlled enemies execute their moves. Though it is fairly slow-paced relative to typical air combat games, executing a balanced combat plan is definitely satisfying.
Set in World War I, Ace Patrol lets you fly in air combat missions using tactical maneuvers you earn as you level up your pilots. Your starting set of moves consists of basic maneuvers, such as bank right, bank left, dive right, dive left, and climb. But as you progress you'll learn more-advanced looping, rolling, and sliding maneuvers that help you change direction quickly. These moves show up on the game board as arrows, and you can preview your move before deciding which maneuver you want to use.
After a long battle, you might lose a pilot behind enemy lines, or simply get hit enough that a plane will have to go in for repairs. Once a pilot is stuck behind enemy lines, you'll have to wait until the end of your five-part mission to get him back. If a pilot's plane is in need of repairs, the game tells you how many missions you'll have to wait to get that pilot back. What I quickly realized is that managing your pilots and planes is extremely important to success in Ace Patrol. If all your pilots are caught behind enemy lines or under repairs, you'll be forced to skip missions while you wait to get them back. Fortunately, each pilot has a specialty to help you get out of these wait times. If your pilot is an "Escape Artist," he will be able to get back to base immediately, even if he's caught behind enemy lines. A pilot who's skilled with repairs will be able to return to action more quickly. In Ace Patrol, you're not just shooting down planes; you also need to make sure you have pilots who can get back into the fight.
Sid Meier's Ace Patrol is free, but you only get a taste of the action before you're offered in-app purchases for more missions. The game comes with one full mission (of a five-mission campaign) where you play as the British. When you're done, you can purchase the rest of the British campaign or choose to play as the Americans, the French, or the Germans. Buying a campaign lets you play through the missions and use all of the vintage airplanes for that country.
As a slower-paced strategy game, Ace Patrol will not appeal to everyone. At first, I was disappointed to have to plan each move of a dogfight and wanted more action. But as I played through missions, I started to get sucked in by the strategy elements of avoiding fire while moving in for the kill and using cloud cover to my advantage. In other words, if at first this game doesn't capture your attention, I think it's worth giving it a little time before passing judgment.
I didn't find any problems with the gameplay in Ace Patrol, but there are some annoyances between missions with the interface. In some instances, you're not allowed to back out of a menu option. This is an issue when looking at the mission screen because you might want to check to see which of your four pilots is available for the mission before selecting it, but there is currently no way to get out of the mission screen without selecting a mission. You can change the mission afterward, but I think it would be easier just to back out of the mission screen.
New features in latest version
In the latest version of Ace Patrol, you get an additional 60 missions that appear at random as you check your mission map before sending your planes into battle. The new missions let you fly bombers and recon planes (instead of just flying escort missions); shoot down protected targets; and fight against a squadron of enemy pilots with only one plane. I tried a few of the new missions and they definitely add a little more variety to the gameplay. The solo attack in particular was a big challenge, requiring me to balance my attacks with staying out of the range of multiple enemies.
The original game had 120 missions total, so the additional 60 mean you get 50 percent more ways to engage the enemy. The update also includes some playability improvements, but obviously the big news is the additional missions that give players a reason to dive back into Ace Patrol. It's not often I get to see a game get so much more content in a free update, so I've raised the review score accordingly.
Though it's not for everyone, Sid Meier's Ace Patrol will be a great fit for strategy-gaming fans who don't mind turn-based action. The enormous update is the perfect reason to jump back into the game.