Green and Crimson Skies
Warhammer 40,000 is probably the only franchise where a flight simulator about Orks doesn’t sound like a crazy idea. One of the few real air combat games for Android, Warhammer 40,000: Dakka Squadron, comes to us from Phosphor Games Studio. After playing Dakka Squadron, it’s easy to see why it’s such a rare genre on mobile.
For those unfamiliar, dakka is what Warhammer Orks call automatic weapons. It is both their favorite word and solution to every problem. Players take control of an Ork pilot working for the local Warboss. There are five pilots to choose from, each hailing from a different clan. In addition to determining your plane’s color scheme, each clan offers various perks, such as dealing greater damage or increased weapon speed. The story sees your chosen Ork rising through the ranks of the local warband and preparing for the next great war against the Imperium of Man. Sorry, I mean the next great Waaagh! The campaign takes you across several planets, battling a variety of enemies and only occasionally jumping headfirst into comically obvious traps. No one ever accused the Orks of being intelligent, after all.
The campaign takes you across five planets, each with a unique environment. Each level is well designed and looks beautiful. They remind me of the zones from Crimson Skies on the original Xbox, having lots of canyons and oversized buildings to fly through. Unfortunately, only a few areas are as big as they need to be. At full speed it can take less than thirty seconds to fly from one end of a map to the other, so you constantly go out of bounds. Naturally, it’s not a concern for the enemy planes, who can fly wherever they want. This was incredibly frustrating during the boss fights, as they’re free to disappear out of bounds and then swoop around to attack from behind.
Each planet has an introductory mission and a boss fight. To unlock the boss, players must gather the required number of victory points from randomly spawning missions. There’s a decent variety of mission types. Sometimes the player attacks an enemy base or needs to protect one of their own. You may have to escort or destroy transports or survive waves of enemy planes. While most missions are tense and exciting, there are only one or two maps per planet. The mission variety helps a little, but it doesn’t take long before you’re doing the same thing in the same place multiple times.
Vehicle selection isn’t that exciting either. There are ten planes to choose from but they’re all just slight variations on the same design. Some have rockets, some have bombs, but none are visually distinct. The planes are actually a little hard to tell apart, which robs one of some of the fun from unlocking them. There are a decent number of weapons and upgrades available, but most are unremarkable boosts to one stat or another.
But what about the primary gameplay loop? After all, a little repetition isn’t so bad as long as you’re having fun, right? And the game is fun, although I often had trouble getting the controls to cooperate. You steer with your left thumb while using the right to control speed and perform maneuvers. This is another place where I suspect Phosphor drew inspiration from Crimson Skies, although the system is greatly simplified. Each category also has a special combat ability in addition to standard attacks. For example, Dakka jets, Orkish fighters, have a power called “long uncontrolled bursts,” which massively increases weapon speed for a short time.
Dakka Squadron lacks a fire button. Instead, weapons automatically fire when aimed at a target. This creates an amusing situation where dive bombers will occasionally attempt to bomb enemy planes. A more significant issue is that instead of firing at any enemy in your crosshairs, your aircraft will lock on to a specific target and ignore anything else. As there’s no way to change targets manually, you waste precious seconds waiting for the game to get its act together.
And those seconds are indeed precious, as missions are fast-paced and action-packed. The combat can be very satisfying once you get the hang of the controls. Despite my many criticisms, the moment-to-moment gameplay can be very fun. The dialogue is also funny and cleverly written, even if the combat quips get repetitive after a while.
And ultimately, that speaks to the game’s main problem. The writing almost works. Combat almost works. Level design almost works. Everything almost works, and that leaves us with a game that only ever almost works. The right player might love Dakka Squadron, but most will be better off giving it a pass.
Is it Hardcore?
Warhammer 40,000: Dakka Squadron is a profoundly flawed game that’s nevertheless possible for the right player to enjoy.