Aeronautica Imperialis: Flight Command is just the latest in a long line of games to fly out of the Warhammer hanger, so we decided to strap in and see if Orks really can fly or if this new adventure is all just hot air.
In a world far far away the 41st Millenium is torn asunder by conflict. Humanity tears through space in monstrous warships, slipping between hellscapes to push back the alien hordes for the Emporer. However, when the Empire needs to flush infidels and Orks off a planet then a battleship isn’t quite going to cut it. Far above Imperial Marines and Tech Priests, the squadrons of Aeronautica Imperialis can be found fighting for the sky. Aeronautica Imperialis: Flight Command is yet another turn-based strategy title for fans of Warhammer 40K that just arrived on PC last week. Developed by the indie team at Binary Planets and published by Green Man Gaming, this aerial adventure takes plenty of inspiration from the Aeronautica Imperialis miniature game of the same name. Players putting down the dice and picking up their keyboard for another turn will find a series of dogfights where Orks and Imperial squads of pilots fight for the future of the empire.
Not Quite Stellar
For those of you that come to the Aueonautica Imperialis franchise for the first time, you might be surprised to find this glimpse of the 40K universe does not feature the usual hulking space wrecks and visions of destruction that litter most video games from the Warhammer hanger. Instead, players putting together a squadron for battle will find a title that takes a heavy dose of Imperial Steampunk mixed with the odd Battle of Britain war flick. You’ll pick from a team of battle-hardened pilots and take to the skies playing as either the Orks or Imperial pilots, where your team can go full throttle on an individual scenario or drop bombs on a fully-fledged campaign mode.
Like the physical version of this strategy, campaigns mean rolling your way through a series of encounters using a range of pilots, hardware, and weapons to take on the task at hand. This could mean escorting a bomber across enemy territory, ambushing those dam Ork mid-flight, or landing some cargo while under fire. There’s plenty of action available for the most hotshot pilot and even while trudging through a campaign, missions don’t follow a particular narrative, allowing some diversity among a relatively limited pool of potential missions.
Before getting into the cockpit and flying into battle, all pilots will need to undergo some basic training. While your weapon of choice on the tabletop might be a decent set of dice, It’s highly advisable to run through the preamble and tutorials before cutting through the clouds this time. A range of instructional systems provides a written introduction to and a chance to try out the drag and drop style movement system that Binary Planets has built for your group of aeronauts. The keyboard and mouse control systems here provide an adequate balance of top down
strategy with a more dynamic 3D overview of the battlefield as each aircraft swoops and banks across the screen.
As a strategy title, there is more than just move and shoot to winning any encounter. Movement, weapon handling, pilot selection, and even landing systems all involved in winning this war. However, these controls still manage to give new players plenty of clear instruction and veer clear of nosediving into micromanagement. While there are a ton of options to train on, things don’t ever feel too overwhelming for a first-timer and Binary Planets manage an acceptable balance between shoot first and thinking through each encounter.
Aeronautica Imperialis: Flight Command might very well be a turn-based game but that doesn’t mean that combat is stuck in the propeller age. Jet fighters and bomber craft are the name of the game and each of these has the freedom to fly across any arena of engagement, diving down or banking around their enemy to bring them into firing range. Rather than engage in fully automated electronic warfare, the WW2 influence shines through as teams of warriors attack in three dimensions, providing plenty of opportunities for pilots to plan and commit to a huge range of potential actions. Of course, committing any action allows the enemy to roll the dice and that’s when things get really interesting for fighter pilots. Aeronautica Imperialis: Flight Command mixes up the traditional turn-based chaos by committing all actions at the same time for all players, meaning Imperial and Ork aviators must make educated guesses on enemy movement across three dimensions. This might not give Aeronautica Imperialis: Flight Command the same sort of dynamic experience that classics like Homeworld manage but it is an interesting twist that isn’t easy to get to grips with until you earn those wings.
Whether you chose an ace pilot with long-range missiles, or outfit a heavily armoured bomber with autocannons, no amount of micromanagement will save you until you can accurately predict enemy movement and speed. While traditional hit points and attack numbers all roll around in the background, the most important part of this experience is easily initial placement of any forces and accurately predicting the movement of your enemy just by glancing at their heading and targets. It’s like 3D chess without Spock, unless Spock was a grunting Ork.
While wing commanders and fighter aces watch their squad race through AA fire or blaze through overwhelming enemy odds, the view isn’t bad. Aeronautica Imperialis might come out of an indie outfit but the graphics are appropriate for this WW2 inspired, steampunk slice of 40k combat. Sure, it’s no Total War Warhammer, but then the Skaven cant fly and for the cover charge it more than does the job. Anyhow, Skaven can’t fly, can they? While the graphics won’t blow up your PC the bright explosions and accurate depictions of the air vehicles in this PC title are well enough presented that II found the whole thing blatantly charming in an odd way.
Hard Fought Victory
At its core Aeronautica Imperialis: Flight Command does a fantastic job of taking the core play mechanics of the tabletop title and bringing them to screen but not a ton more. The combat systems and action gameplay work fantastically but that certainly doesn’t make a game. Aeronautica Imperialis: Flight Command seems to feel like it lacks an identity at times. While classic strategy titles like Command and Conquer or even Total War build a narrative campaign for players to battle through, the areas outside of combat feel functional at best. Blow up the Orks, upgrade some pilots, then it’s back out into the air for another sortie. Whether this was a choice to focus on a desktop port, or simply a lack of time we might not know but these other aesthetic flourishes from Pathe newsreels to cheesy debriefings would have gone a long way to give each commanding officer agency in the world.
Upgrades, crew assignments, and a number of other multiplayer aspects ca similarly feel functional rather than special, and it’s something I fully expect to get some love and attention as time goes on. Aeronautica Imperialis: Flight Command is a mixed bag of dice. It’s a unique concept and the tabletop conversion and combat interpretation feels fantastic, its just a shame that when your head’s out the clouds the rest of the game doesn’t feel quite so special. Fans of strategy titles should definitely take this interesting new title for a spin but don’t expect it to be a long haul flight. Aeronautica Imperialis: Flight Command is out now on PC, via Steam and Green Man Gaming.