Like many gamers, my first real contact with the Orks (and the Warhammer 40,000 universe, of which I only had a vague awareness) was the brilliant RTS Dawn of War. In this game, Orks were a blood-thirsty, savage and downright ugly race, with a brutal art-direction to match. So it was with some surprise that I encountered this race again in Dakka Squadron: Flyboyz Edition. Yes, they are all the things I remembered from Dawn of War, but they are also something else, something which explained their appeal to afficionados of the table-top gamers: they are absolutely bonkers.
Gruff, abrasive and definitely not the hottest flame-throwers in the armoury, the Orks of Dakka Squadron: Flyboyz Edition love a good fight (or any fight, really), fly about in the most rickety and ramshackle planes you’ve ever clapped eyes on, load said planes to the brim with the most insane array of weaponry (including circular-saws to ram opponents with). Oh, and as Ork technology works off the reality distorting effect of the belief of a few million simple-minded beings, paint-jobs really do matter. Red things are faster, yellow things do more damage, and black things are really tough. Day also haf da most disturbin’ wayz of spellin’ wurds. So youz will spend a lot ‘o time shootin Orkz, Oomies and Tin Heads with ya Deff gunz and Kustom Dakka Gunz, and krump ‘em good, speshully when ya Dakka Jet’s kitted out with da flashest Git Finda. (Okay, that’s enough of that.)
I have to say, when I first fired-up this game, I was not expecting a story with an amusing cast of characters, or, being honest, characters with any sort of personality at all. However, the selection of characters is varied and really quite a lot of fun, whether it’s listening to the (often hopeless) machinations of the disembodied head of an Adeptus Mechanicus Tech Priest (being kept as a ‘good luck charm’ - it was either that or flush it down the bog), the cold and disdainful Necron Overlord, your fellow Orks, and the comically polite Gretchin (a small and weak class of Ork) which serves as your radio operator. While the story is simple and straight forward, it provides the perfect excuse for these amusing interludes, and plenty of excuses to blow things sky high.
And there are plenty of things to blow up. The numerous missions of the single-player campaign (about 12-13 hours worth in total) will see you blowing up planes, cruisers (kroozas), landers (landas), vehicles, buildings, force-field generators, fixed ground defences... pretty much everything. Some missions will see you escorting your own landas and protecting them from enemy fighters, some blasting everything that moves (and doesn’t move) on the ground, and some where you have to defend your own buildings and vehicles from waves of enemy planes and landas. Whatever the mission, you can be sure of one thing: a lot of things are going to blow up.
And it looks glorious. Thanks to the Unreal Engine, this is unquestionably one of the best looking arcade flight sims around. The levels are huge, insanely detailed and each represents a spectacular set-piece and dramatic backdrop for the non-stop combat, whether it’s raging lightning storms, dust tornadoes, orbital bombardments (yes, even the background has explosions) or an island floating in a sea of lava. More than just cool backdrops, they are also chock-full of obstacles to fight around (or run into) and hollows and caverns you can fly into in order to evade a particularly dogged foe.
This level of detail also extends to the jets themselves, with each jet lovingly crafted and animated. As they fly and shoot, things rattle and wobble in the most alarming way, somehow managing to convey the sense of a machine which a) you’d have to be crazy to fly, b) is an incredibly dangerous killing machine, and c) is barely holding together. All of which simply adds to the character of the game.
When it comes to actual combat itself, while all planes share a set of manoeuvres (like a boost, snap-turn, barrel-roll, ram, and a special attack which is on a cool-down), there are plenty of planes to choose from and customise, which you will unlock over the course of the game. Some planes excel at gun-to-gun (or zappy-thing to zappy-thing) combat, while others focus on close-quarters combat, and nothing says close-quarters like flying your heavily armoured plane, complete with drill-bit jet intake, into your enemy’s craft. Some focus on different varieties of ground attack such as dive bombing or carpet bombing. And then there are hybrids. Really, there is a jet to suit nearly every play-style and mission type. What really impressed me was that each plane was not simply an upgrade on the previous one, and I would often find myself swapping back to my very first jet and customising its loadout even at the latest stages of the campaign.
And customisation is a key component. Not only does each jet have different stats regarding speed, armour and so on, they also have differing hardpoints for weapons, and, crucially, weight limits. This last forces you to carefully choose which guns you want to attach to your jet. Yes, that Flash Rattler Kannon may be highly desirable, but it’s also a lot heavier than its less punchy little brother. As such, you’ll find yourself mixing and matching until you find a gun and/or bomb-and-rocket combination that feels good and does the job at hand, and there are plenty of weapons to choose from. Each of these feel remarkably different, way more so than their simple stats would suggest.
Deff Gunz, for example, start off with a rather low rate of fire, but get faster as they shoot longer. Beam weapons are super accurate and can apply a ton of damage very quickly, but overheat rapidly and take a while to lock onto their target. And mixing beam weapons with ‘shooty dakka’ can give all kinds of problems as ballistic weapons require you to lead your targets, while beam weapons shoot in a straight line – meaning that if you’re shooting at a turning foe, at least one of your weapons is going to be hitting empty air (which would be fine if empty air also exploded, but it doesn’t).
Combat is also fast and furious, and while the opening levels are quite forgiving, as the campaign progresses you’ll encounter tougher and more dangerous foes, and will find yourself getting shot down more than once. Thankfully, a three-lives system means you get a few more cracks at completing the mission before you fail it, but for those who like the challenge, this can be disabled.
And once you’ve finished the single-player campaign (or even before then, go ahead!) you can dive into the multiplayer. While there is a distinct lack of ground targets to krump, it does let you pick a map and fill it with either fellow humans, or bots (if humans aren’t available). In fact, with a beefy gaming rig you can have up to 60 planes on one map, though this does get chaotic pretty fast.
All in all, this is one of the most fun arcade flight sims I’ve had the pleasure of playing in a long time. Not only does it handle well (whether using keyboard and mouse or gamepad), it looks fantastic, oozes character, and is simply good fun (though it can do dreadful things to your spelling, as I’ve discovered trying to write this review). Whether or not you’re into the Warhammer 40K universe, if you’re into arcade flight sims, ground attack, and simply blowing things sky high, Dakka Squadron: Flyboyz Edition is easy to recommend. ■