No game in recent memory pulled a three-sixty on us as quickly as Aircraft Evolution did. Although an arcade shooter of the explosion heavy carpet-bombing variety, it initially appears to have a surprising amount of depth. It has resource management – special bombs and repair kits must be purchased before a mission starts – and there’s an array of upgradable aircraft to purchase.
It also takes time to learn bomb trajectories, timing strikes perfectly. At one point we were even mulling over whether to purchase a payload of cluster bombs or play it safe and buy repair kits.
Adding to this, the first era (the campaign is spread across four time periods, ending with a futuristic setting) is reasonably challenging. You start out with a rickety biplane. It’s slow, sluggish to turn in the air, and can only withstand a few hits. Missions are short but bountiful, and there’s variety within objectives. Resources are thin on the ground initially – special bombs must be used sparingly, making every single one count. It took us a few botched attempts to finish this first chapter, some accidental crash landings along the way.
Coupled with a tutorial, tidy artwork, and appealing explosion effects it makes for a good first impression. We expected something tough but fair, with the occasional grind to purchase resources.
How wrong we were.
Halfway through the second era, roughly an hour in (Aircraft Evolution has a mere 2-hour runtime), everything starts to fall apart. It adds bonus missions to each era in which you have a minute to grab as many bomb caches and repair kits as possible, boosting your stash significantly. Being able to liberally drop ‘Mega Bombs’ is fun, but it comes at the cost of ruining the in-game economy. After playing a bonus round there is no reason to visit the store for some time – enough bombs are amassed that you can blitz your way to instant success. McNuggets away.
In the developer’s defence, bonus rounds can only be played once. But even so, we amassed so much money in the meantime that we were able to buy the best aircraft long before the fourth era – one so heavily armoured that the race-style missions can be finished in less than ten seconds by hitting the turbo and ploughing through the floating mines.
Yes, this was our own doing – we bent the rules here. But it also gets equally sloppy with level design around this point. A stage filled solely with tanks must have taken the developers all of mere minutes to implement, while the aerial dogfighting missions are void of all challenge. Simply fly along the top of the screen, out of view, and rain fire on the aircraft below.
The best missions are the ones with time limits – destroy everything within five minutes, et al – as these can be tense. A radar would have been beneficial here, however. All too often you’re left to hunt down a single soldier still alive. When there’s no time limit to worry about, you can pretty much relax and simply fly back and forth while casually dropping bombs. You’ll almost definitely have a stockpile of repair kits by this point due to those ill-advised bonus rounds. Come the final stage we had an excess of thirty.
Along with the occasional glitch and fiddly menu navigation, Aircraft Evolution’s fails to leave much of a lasting impression. It lures you in the with the promise of swirling through the air, avoiding missiles and dropping bombs with pinpoint accuracy. Retro fans may even recall the Amstrad classic Harrier Attack. By the time it shows its true colours, that appeal is diminished – the fun here is short-lived, ultimately resulting in another shallow arcade shooter; one sloppier than most.