by Douglas Helmer
July 10, 2001
v1.07 Patch 9
is a WWII air, land, and sea combat simulation of the MMOG variety. MMOG, in case you didn't know, stands for Massively Multiplayer Online Game. Aces High
first went online in beta form in August of 1999. The game is currently at version 1.07 with the DirectX 8 version in open beta testing now.
came to be just over two years ago when a gaggle of WarBirds staffers decided to strike out on their own. From the initial group who decide to go it alone, two new combat simulation groups of note were formed: Aces High's
HiTech Creations (HTC) headed by Dale Addink and WWII Online's
Cornered Rat Studios which only last June released their WWII MMOG.
When last we reviewed Aces High
in January 2001, it was at version 1.05 and had twenty-nine flyable aircraft. Since that time, many, many new additions have been made. There are now forty-seven mannable air, land, and sea craft plus a host of ship, shore, and field artillery guns. Here's the breakdown:
|A6M5b ||Fighter/Attack |
|Ar 234 ||Bomber |
|B-17G ||Bomber |
|B-26B ||Bomber |
|Bf 109F-4 ||Fighter/Attack |
|Bf 109G-10 ||Fighter/Attack |
|Bf 109G-2 ||Fighter/Attack |
|Bf 109G-6 ||Fighter/Attack |
|C-47A ||Bomber |
|C.202 ||Fighter |
|C.205 ||Fighter |
|F4U-1C ||Fighter/Attack |
|F4U-1D ||Fighter/Attack |
|F6F-5 ||Fighter/Attack |
|Fw 190A-5 ||Fighter/Attack |
|Fw 190A-8 ||Fighter/Attack |
|Fw 190D-9 ||Fighter/Attack |
|Fw 190F-8 ||Fighter/Attack |
|Gunship / Field ||Gunnery Position |
|IL-2 Type 3 ||Bomber/Attack |
|Ju 88A-4 ||Bomber |
|Ki-61-I-KAIc ||Fighter |
|La-5FN ||Fighter |
|La-7 ||Fighter || |
|Lancaster III ||Bomber |
|LVTA2 ||Vehicle |
|LVTA4 ||Vehicle |
|M-16 MGMC ||Vehicle |
|M-3 ||Vehicle |
|N1K2-J ||Fighter/Attack |
|Ostwind ||Vehicle |
|P-38L ||Fighter/Attack |
|P-47D-11 ||Fighter/Attack |
|P-47D-25 ||Fighter/Attack |
|P-47D-30 ||Fighter/Attack |
|P-51B ||Fighter/Attack |
|P-51D ||Fighter/Attack |
|Panzer IV H ||Vehicle |
|PT Boat ||Boat |
|Seafire MkIIc ||Fighter |
|Spitfire MkIX ||Fighter/Attack |
|Spitfire MkV ||Fighter/Attack |
|Ta 152H-1 ||Fighter/Attack |
|TBM-3 ||Bomber |
|Tempest ||Fighter/Attack |
|Typhoon ||Fighter/Attack |
|Yak-9U ||Fighter |
|Rearming and refuelling my P-47D |
|F6F Cockpit |
|Ar 234 jettisons take-off assist rockets |
We've already done two major reviews of Aces High
here at COMBATSIM.COM and I'm not about to cover the same ground again. If you have never read anything about the game until now, I suggest you refer to the resource section
of this ariticle and read the first two reviews. Suffice it to say it's a great flight sim; yeah the aircraft are torquey on take-off, yes the FM's are suberb, yes the community is wonderfully helpful and if you play long enough you'll make some lifelong friends . . . but is that all there is? No! There's much more to Aces High
than initially meets the eye. Too often these "hidden" aspects are overlooked because we tend to see the sim as a flight sim and nothing more. In this review I hope to shed a little light on those aspects of the game that we have overlooked in our past reviews.
|Pick your gunnery position |
Because Aces High
is first and foremost an air combat simulation, we glossed over the naval component of the game in our last review. I spent a great deal of time becoming familiar with this aspect of the game and I was astonished by the detail that has been put into it. Visually speaking, the whole dynamic of an air attack on one of the carrier fleets is a spectacle not to be missed.
|Flak tracks a bogey and gets a kill |
We've all seen the footage, both black and white and in color, shot from the decks of US aircraft carriers during the Japanese Kamikazee attacks. You know, the ones where six separate flak gunners from a carrier or battleship are all firing madly at an suicidal Japanese plane heading straight for them. Tracers fill the sky and then BWAM! the Japanese plane gets hit, bursts into flame and tumbles sickeningly into the sea.
|Tunnel vision reigns as I fire away at a very dead bogey |
What I've always found amazing about this footage is how, despite the fact that the plane is well and truly destroyed, the flak gunners continue to fire at the plane as it falls in several pieces into the sea. Even after the wreckage of the plane has impacted the water, the flak gunners continue to pelt the floating debris as though it might leap from the water to attack once again. I never thought I'd see the day when a sim would re-create that scene visually and least of all, emotionally. Yet Aces High
has done just that and done it very, very well.
|TBM-3 drops a torpedo |
Upon the decks of the battleship, cruisers and aircraft carrier you'll find 8 inch main bombardment guns, 5 inch dual purpose flak/bombardment guns and 40 mm machine guns. And despite the fact that you'll be sitting in your comfy den at home while manning one of these guns, you too will find yourself firing like a crazed mad man when confronted with wave after wave of attacking torpedo and dive bombers. As you can see from the images, the 40 mms set-up a steel curtain of fire to take out the torpedo bombers while the 5 inchers take out any dive bombers.
Provided you have someone manning the 8 inch main guns, that person can attempt to take out the enemy carrier or enemy shore base from whence the waves of fighters are originating. To make firing at and hitting targets ten or so miles away, the big guns have a sea/land mode toggle. This feature allows you to click on a spot on the map and the auto targeting system will compensate for ship movement plus give you range and gun angle info (I'm still working on my understanding of it, but it does work).
|Carrier fleet spotted below |
|Carrier fleet sends up flak to greet me |
|'Come to papa!' Zero chance of survival if you swoop too close |
If the attacking planes weren't enough, the enemy can also come after your carrier group in PT boats. PT boats carry four torpedoes and are armed to the teeth with two main guns plus a 20mm, 37mm and 40mm gun and sixteen rockets for good measure.
Helm! Hard Right!
|Looking aft from PT Boat toward carrier |
If you don't like the waypoints your carrier fleet is following, any player, veteran or newcomer, may take control and set new waypoints. Doing this, I'll admit, was a bit daunting for me at first because I simply assumed there were really smart veteran players who'd figured where to place the best starting locations and subsequent waypoints. In reality, not many players ever bother to use the carrier fleets because they are too busy dogfighting. In fact, not once in my play testing did I find a carrier fleet under the command of any player, high or low rank notwithstanding.
If no one has command of the carrier group you can reset the existing waypoints on the fly. This is done with a simple click of the "Ships" button on the in-game clipboard. Clicking the button brings up a simple dialogue box with a list of your carrier groups (usually 2 groups). Click on a group and then you can delete, add, or edit the waypoints. Once you have your new waypoints set you simply hit the submit button and the fleet will start moving toward the new course you've set.
I found the ability to set new waypoints to be a very good and useful feature especially when my carrier group started steaming into range of an enemy offshore gunner with good aim. If you simply want to captain the carrier group, it is conceivable that you could change waypoints so fast that even an attacking dive bomber in mid dive would miss his target.
currently has the best cloud effects in a live, non-beta combat sim MMOG. In fairness to WarBirds III, this "Best Clouds" crown may be end up on its head when it goes live with its spectacular varying-density clouds. I doubt, however, that even when WarBirds III does go live that it will afford its players the same kind of control over the clouds and weather as does Aces High
|Sunset under a heavy cloud formation |
allows its players to create all sorts of different weather and cloud effects in H2H and offline play. Four types of clouds exist: 0, 1, 2 and Layer. Cloud type 0 is light, fluffy white clouds and the cloud type "Layer" is a heavy overcast cloud. All but the nastiest "Layer" cloud type, (which is really a storm front), can be stacked one atop the other at different altitudes. Several other parameters in addition to altitude can be set such as cloud speed and even clouds per row across the leading edge of the weather front.
I tried my hand at creating different types of weather and the editor is very easy to use. Once you've completed a weather file for a particular map you can go online and use it in H2H mode. It's pretty amazing feeling you get when you see a weather system that you created when it appears in the arena.
|Low-lying 'Layer' cloud formation |
Aside from being pretty to look at at, weather, especially inclement weather, has always been a strategic pro or a con depending on which side you happen to be on. If you don't want your HQ to be bombed in H2H play, all you need to do is create a ground obscuring "Layer" storm system over your HQ base. Then, when the enemy sends its bombers to knock out your radar, they'll be forced to drop below the cloud layer and perhaps, if you set things up properly, they'll be vulnerable to your AAA.
There is also a utility for setting wind speeds at different altitudes. Although I haven't encountered too much in the way of windy weather, it can be set by players. I think wind is one of those things that is nice to have control over, but the less the better when it comes to game enjoyment.
There is a day / night cycle in Aces High
. Unlike WWII Online, the night period isn't a virtual blackout and you can fly and drive your vehicles without difficulty. Stars and even the moon is modeled at night with the moon magnified while on the horizon and then of normal size as it travels through the night sky—an amazing detail. Dusk and dawn are truly spectacular with blazing oranges and reds as the sun sets or rises respectively.
|Bad moon a risin' |
|Full moon at zenith in night sky |
One of Aces High's
greatest strengths is its variety of maps. Nothing makes online play duller, faster, than flying over the same terrain day after day. Each time a war is won, the map changes. Currently, there are seven main arena maps:
The Duelling map is very cool as it has several different terrains within the map for clashing head-to-head or practicing your technique. There are special areas for high and low altitude dogfighting as well as a narrow slit canyon where each player starts from opposite sides and then meet somewhere near the middle. There's also a specially-designed bomber run terrain. This is a great map for training purposes.
New maps are being added all the time so even this list will continue to grow. Add to this list the potentially unlimited number of user-created maps (see Terrain Editor section below) for offline and H2H play and you have a sim that never gets boring in the terrain department.
The Aces High
terrain graphics are not cutting edge, but if these were there'd be a serious hit on framerates. That's not to say there aren't plenty of 3D ground objects, there are: there's the usual complement of houses, factories, office buildings, fuel depots, hangars, radar, sheep, etc. What you won't find, however, are any framerate-robbing forests of individually modeled trees. Who needs them, anyway? At 2,000 feet the existing 2D painted-on forests and larger cities look entirely like the real thing anyway.
The Aces High
Terrain Editor is a free utility you can download from the HTC servers. It allows you to create any sort of terrain you want for offline and H2H play. So far, I've only experience one user-created terrain in H2H play and it was a really fun map. Most notable about this map were the three airfields on each side of the map (six in total) that rose straight out of the ground like stairs with the highest being at an elevation of 5,000 feet.
|User-created H2H terrain. Notice the gigantic step-like airfield rising into the sky |
It certainly wasn't realistic, but it was a blast to take off and then drop off the edge into a power dive onto some unsuspecting player on the next airfield below. Not that I'm a vulcher or anything, but it was, like I say, fun and the action was always in full swing—no ten minutes of climbing to altitude only to get shot down after the first pass.
I tried my hand at creating a terrain and the process is quite straight-forward. There's a downloadable tutorial at the HTC site complete with screenshots. The tutorial covers the basics, but it could use a bit more detail and perhaps a walk-thru for creating an actual terrain. All that aside, the editor does work well.
What terrain would be complete without objects? Included in the Terrain Editor is an Object Editor. The Object Editor allows you to select buildings and other necessary objects of warfare and place them on the terrain you just made. The editor even allows you to place buildings individually or as Shape Groups. A Shape Group is a collection of related buildings that serve a common purpose.
|Object Editor. Click for full image |
For example, an airfiled consists of a tower, several hangars, a bunkhouse, a bomber shed, a map room, a radar, an ammo dump, etc. Rather than have to place all of these one at a time, over and over for each airfield you create, you just create it once and save it as an airfield shape. Then, when you want to place that style of airfield on the your map, you just make one click and not fifty. Sweet.
Most of our reviews of Aces High
have mentioned that missions occur, but little more than that is said. To date, however, I haven't found a mission that anyone had posted so I guess that's why our reviews are a bit sketchy on this aspect of the game. This is not to say they never occur; I'm quite sure major mission days and events are a regular occurrence in the Aces High
arenas, I just haven't run into one yet.
Mission planning is a very intricate process for those who care to embark upon this aspect of the game. Missions are created in the Map Room and can include up to 256 players in eight separate flights, and each flight may have up to 16 waypoints. The person who plans the mission decides when the mission will start, what aircraft (tanks and boats may also be included) are in each flight, which airfield each flight will take-off from, what amount of fuel and ordnance loadouts will be given to each airplane, tank, or boat, and the individual waypoints for each flight.
The planner also sets the mission start time and join deadline time, max number of participants, mission objectives. Every detail down to rate of climb and speed setting for each waypoint can be input by the mission planner. Missions may be created offline or while online and saved for later use. If you decide to post your mission, you simply click the submit button and the mission is sent to the HTC host server and gets posted. Other players can then join the mission.
|Mission Editor and Waypoints |
What the mission editor doesn't appear to have is a way to designate the ground targets on the mission map. For example, if I set a waypoint over the enemy's HQ it appears as any other waypoint. It would be nice if mission planners could have a triangular icon appear over the target on the mission map. I spoke to Dale Addink about this and the reason for the ommission was to cut down on the mission database file size. Apparently, there were such options and more but they were removed because the mission files were becoming too unwieldy. To get around this limitation, planners can use the description field in the flight plan list to indicate which waypoint is the target. This field is only forty characters so you'll certainly learn to create brief, er . . . briefs.
My biggest gripe of all about missions, as I alluded to earlier, is that there never seems to be any. In all fairness to the community, however, there seems to be an instinctive knowledge by most players as to what fields and targets need to be attacked. There certainly is merit to the spontaneous approach to missions as it keeps the gameplay moving and fun for everyone. Very often someone will simply type out a radio message saying "I'm taking a B-17 to bomb the enemy HQ, who's in?" Within mere moments several players will have switched to buffs, several more join as gunners, and still more come along and fly fighter support. Invariably, one feels a greater sense of camaraderie after one of these spontaneous missions than in a planned mission. Still, it'd be nice if there were a few missions to choose from once in a while. Perhaps the sys-ops could create these.
How many times have you been playing a sim, any sim, and thought "Man! If only I could view that dogfight over again! That would be sweeeet!" Several box sims come with a built-in gun camera recorder but few online sims do. Air Warrior has one, but until they get out of the 2D cockpit era who cares, right? Aces High
does have a recorder and it allows you to play your films in normal speed, slowmo, spedup, frame-by-frame and with wingtip trails on or off so you can really critique your flight.
I did find that the recorder tended to crash to desktop on occasion, but I'm using the DX8 Beta so it could have something to do with that. Lately I've taken to using it more and more and it really is a fantastic learning tool. I find myself saying "Why the heck did I do that?!" over and over as I watch my replays, so I'm definitely benefitting from its use.
To play Aces High
in the MMOG arena with hundreds of other players you pay $29.95 per month for unlimited usage. On the otherhand, if you prefer a more intimate environment, you can play the game in head-to-head (H2H) mode with up to seven others players—for free! You do have to register for the free trial, but no money or credit info is required.
In this reporter's opinion, the free H2H is a fantastic gift. Sure, but it's a crippled version, right? Wrong, it's the full-on version. You get all the arenas, terrains, terrain and weather editors, and aircraft, tanks and boats and can setup your own free multiplayer games. What's really amazing is that HTC even lets you use their game server lobby to post your customized free H2H sessions. Other games may have free multiplayer but without a central game server lobby it's nearly impossible to hookup with other players. With Aces High, this is never a problem.
I'm now going to say something and I hope you won't be shocked: I enjoy FFA (Free For All) over the main arena. There I said it. I only say this because my available stick time is very limited. With the free H2H I have no problem finding a FFA game and can get in and get my dogfighting fix in short order.
So, if FFA is your cup of tea, well…you may never have to pay for the best multiplayer WWII air combat sim available today (although I'd urge you to buy a few months out of the goodness of your heart in order to keep HTC motivated to keep it free).
|HTC aren't without a sense of humour |
When I first embarked on this review of Aces High
v1.07 I couldn't find much to report on other than the addition of some new planes. Only after running into this momentary setback did I decide to look deeper and now I'm very glad that I did. There is simply so much more to Aces High
than a mere online dogfighting game; so much so that I don't even think many of the existing subscribers know how much game they really have. And I have only scratched the surface in this review.
Without a doubt, Aces High
is the gold standard of air combat MMOGs. Since its debut in 1999 this sim has quietly and consistently delivered the goods. With its fully integrated air, land, and sea battles Aces High
truly is the only working
MMOG WWII e-battlefield in existence today.
The naval aspect of the game does not feel tacked-on in any respect. I found it to be a thrilling experience to man a 5" gun and try to fend off suicidal torpedo and dive bombers. The ground vehicle combat is coming along but could benefit from a better road system between bases.
These facts alone qualify Aces High
for our highest praise, but throw in the free H2H multiplayer and the free Terrain, Weather, and Mission Editors, and the game exceeds this reporter's expectations for a MMOG of any variety.