I’m just gonna be blunt – Project Wingman is what you get when people get tired of waiting for good flight sims. Somebody, in this case developer Sector D2, decides to take it upon themselves to make an over-the-top dogfighting and ground combat flight simulator full to bursting with look-alike jets and fantastical missions. Starting off as a one-person project, and then growing to a fully-baked product, Project Wingman is essentially Ace Combat and H.A.W.X. rolled into one, but somehow better for it. Now it’s finally coming to the PlayStation 5, including support for PSVR2 – welcome to Project Wingman: Frontline 59.
Project Wingman, whether you play it on PC or PS5, is split into three parts – Project Wingman (Campaign), Skirmish, and Project Wingman: Frontline 59. The game is heavily inspired by the likes of Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X. and the Ace Combat series in that the storyline is absolutely gibberish told mostly over comms. As near as I can piece together, the campaign’s 21 missions tell the story of a mercenary pilot, fighting for a group called the Cascadians in their war for independence against The Federation. Somehow this is all occurring 400 years in the future, though the pilots are flying relics from the early 2000s. Oh and the world is all mangled due to some natural disasters, and military spending has gone through the roof as every nation seems to have access to thousands of multi-million dollar aircraft. Brain now fully parked, let’s strap in and get into the particulars.
While Project Wingman may be an indie title (it’s published by Humble), you’d be hard pressed to know that in the campaign. The planes are all look-alikes, but they look gorgeous. The condensation that comes off of the wing edges (or “contrails” for short) look realistic, the light glints off of the airframe, and the flash of missiles as they launch all look the part. When you start to run into more fantastical weapons, these match the look of current-century aircraft, just bigger and more fantastical.
The terrain in Project Wingman looks decent. It’s meant to be viewed while rocketing across the sky at 5000 feet. That said, I did find myself low enough to trim the trees more than once and it doesn’t quite hold up at that distance, but it does it’s job for the most part. Moving on, we’ve gotta talk about VR.
If you are reading this, you are probably most interested in the PSVR2 implementation of Project Wingman.. We’ll get into the gameplay in a bit, but it’s sad to say that the game does take a hit on the visuals when heading into the virtual world. It’s very much PS4 era geometry that looks blocky at close distances. Those trees I mentioned earlier approach Roblox levels at times. I’m not sure if Sector D2 is using the foveating rendering method to allow the engine to keep what’s being looked at at high resolution while mipmapping the rest down a notch, but it doesn’t feel like it. Where things really fall apart is the clouds. Volumetric clouds look alright from a distance, but they come apart in a spectacular way when you fly through them, devolving into a starfield of strange dots. I wouldn’t expect the PSVR2 to compare to something like a Pimax headset on PC, but more work on the visuals would go a long way for this version.
There are some solid benefits over any other version for the PS5 – namely, haptics. With the PSVR2 helmet, you’ll feel every close call as it’ll rumble your headset. The triggers aren’t used for guns, instead being used for flaps, but the trigger pulls are tough, making it feel like you are yawing the aircraft. The game also supports HOTAS on PC (though it doesn’t appear to be active on PS5 quite yet), so here’s hoping that we’ll get a patch to add that immersion at a later date.
I absolutely love virtual flight sims – it’s the reason I own a VR headset in the first place. We’ve already established that the PSVR2’s visuals can be a bit lacking, so why am I fully recommending this game? Two reasons – lack of alternatives, and it’s also incredibly addictive.
It’s fair to say that flight sims are already underserved, and yes you can play this entire game (including the VR campaign) in flatscreen mode, but VR flight sims are an even smaller niche. That’s not to say it’s an automatic nod, far from it, but it’s good that the game is an absolute blast in virtual reality. The missions don’t have any sort of checkpointing system, so strap in – you’ll be in the cockpit for 30-45 minutes for some of these missions. The second that you get into a dogfight and you can look straight up and track a target as it rolls over your head, that time will evaporate in an instant. The game also supports eye-tracking to lock on and select a new target, so being able to Hammerhead Turn (all but stall the aircraft by depowering it while aggressively turning, swinging the tail, and then slamming the throttle to maximum at the apex of the turn) while simultaneously keeping your eyes locked to the target is an absolutely VISCERAL moment. You feel the tension, especially as the sky fills to bursting with targets. I downed 40 aircraft in the first mission, if that’s any indication of the sheer volume of aircraft you’ll face here. Of note, the most aircraft downed in a single sortie was eight, back in 1943, so 40 seems to be a bit excessive, but I digress.
Speaking of lacking realism, we’ve gotta talk about the voice work in Project Wingman. I spent six years in the military in the United States Air Force, and all of my life either working with or for pilots. I know we are dealing with fiction, but the voice acting and writing for these pilots is as painful as it is constant. Your AWACS officer and WSO (that’s the back seat operator who usually maintains weapons stores and helps you spot targets – the “Goose” to your “Maverick”, if you will) are constantly in your ear, chattering. That’s not abnormal, but wow are these folks nervous in the service.
My AWACS is calling out when I’ve got tone (odd), but also announcing when I’ve launched a missile (correct), but also sometimes incorrectly on type (Fox stands for Foxtrot, which just means I’ve fired a weapon, and the designation of one, two, or three indicates the type of weapon. “Fox One” means semi-active radar homing, such as a Sparrow, “Fox Two” means that missile has infrared homing such as a Sidewinder, and “Fox Three” means that same missile has active radar homing like an AMRAAM). Proper designations aside, there’s one thing that the military works hard to instill in all of us – military bearing.
If you’ve ever watched real-world fire missions, there’s a coldness to it. We designate our targets, we launch ordinance, and we hold good order and discipline. Funny enough, Project Wingman neatly demonstrates why this is necessary, albeit inadvertently. No matter the mission, your wingmen and support craft are constantly screeching about this and that. When I close distance and am in guns range I’ll suddenly hear my WSO scream “FIRE, FIRE, FIRE!”” or something similar. Dude…stay in your lane, that’s my job, not yours. Similarly, your copilots will call out your shots, your target locks and tone, and really anything and everything else. They’ll carry on personal conversations, they’ll crack jokes, they’ll talk about the political climate – frankly I’m surprised they don’t discuss the winning Lotto numbers as they fill the airwaves with incessant prattle that becomes so distracting that it’s impossible to know what to pay attention to and what you can safely ignore. It does a great job of completely destroying any chance of hearing the storyline as it’s buried amidst the noise.
There is one gameplay element that I dread seeing, whether it’s a first person shooter or a high-stakes flight simulator – monster closets. Monster closets are a cheat where developers can spawn in an infinite amount of enemies, often being used to keep pressure on the player to keep moving. Some shooters will spawn in dudes behind you to press you forward. Here you’ll see new waves of fighters, tanks, ships, and other threats pop in without notice, and sometimes without it making any sense. During one mission I took out a seemingly endless landing party of ships and supporting AA, only to have more spawn almost in the same space I just carpet bombed! Worse still, they appeared out of thin air, directly underneath my jet and already firing. It breaks immersion that VR is working so hard to establish, reminding you that sometimes these missions are padded to death.
Obviously Project Wingman is aiming for accessibility over simulation. The fact that my jet somehow carries over 150 standard missiles in addition to 64 bombs, 24 multi-lock missiles, and a heavy gun pod should be a clear indicator. The campaign provides a way to unlock new aircraft and mount new weapons. The Frontline 59 missions are more straightforward, simply giving you a handful of aircraft to choose from, and the flexibility to load up a host of various weapons. Sadly, the mission briefs are either vague or straight up useless in telling you about the mission requirements, so you’ll always end up having to set up a multi-role fighter with every possible option, or you’ll have to run it twice.
Conquest mode is equally as robust as other modes, but instead embracing the mercenary role a bit more. You’ll tackle 43 missions that has you bombing tank columns, shooting down scores of fighters, destroying transport planes, and similar. Success yields credits that can be used to purchase new gear, but also to hire fellow mercs to fight alongside you. In a nod to roguelikes, you’ll keep anything you unlock, but all your cash evaporates when you are killed.
Frontline 59 is a brand new addition to Project Wingman, and for this PS5/PSVR2 launch, the team has built six all-new missions built specifically for VR. This should give you about 3 hours of new gameplay if you tackled this one before, or three additional hours on top of the nearly two dozen hours found in the base game.
If you’ve read any of my VR reviews, then you know I put a great deal of importance on overall comfort when it comes to motion sickness. Some games do it well, and entirely too many do it poorly. I’m very glad to say that Project Wingman falls into the former rather than the latter. I was able to run multiple missions back to back without any nausea whatsoever. There are no comfort options whatsoever, but thankfully the cockpit of the plane provides a stationary object to orient on, so you should be good.
Ron Burke is the Editor in Chief for Gaming Trend. Currently living in Fort Worth, Texas, Ron is an old-school gamer who enjoys CRPGs, action/adventure, platformers, music games, and has recently gotten into tabletop gaming.
Ron is also a fourth degree black belt, with a Master's rank in Matsumura Seito Shōrin-ryū, Moo Duk Kwan Tang Soo Do, Universal Tang Soo Do Alliance, and International Tang Soo Do Federation. He also holds ranks in several other styles in his search to be a well-rounded fighter.
Ron has been married to Gaming Trend Editor, Laura Burke, for 27 years. They have three dogs - Pazuzu (Irish Terrier), Atë, and Calliope (both Australian Kelpie/Pit Bull mixes).
Project Wingman Frontline-59
Ultimately, what Project Wingman lacks in VR visuals or realism, it makes up for its unwavering devotion to gameplay.