Dogfight 2: The Great War
Dogfight 2 is the newest entry into Rock Solid Arcade's quality series of arcade-style airplane fliers, which includes the first Dogfight and the previously-reviewed Stunt Pilot. Once again, they have based some nail-bitingly tough levels around the tricky but satisfying flight controls from classic DOS game Sopwith. The [right] arrow key always rotates you clockwise, and the [left] arrow key always counter-clockwise, no matter which direction your little biplane is facing. That—plus your plane's momentum—will keep you busy just trying to avoid the cold hard embrace of the ground, never mind that you're being shot at by giant dirigibles. Fire back with your machine gun by holding the [space] bar, and drop bombs with [ctrl]. Amusingly, you can bomb the other planes (and in fact must do so on a couple of levels), but your bombs are limited, depending on the specific mission. Don't waste them on planes if you still need to take out a hangar or two.
Rock Solid Arcade still has some of the highest production values of anyone working in Flash. I feel like Dogfight 2 could use a dramatic story line to accompany its gorgeous settings, but there's already plenty of drama in the details. Bullet holes appear in blimps as you pepper them, smoke trails follow wounded planes, enemy Ace Pilots tilt their wings believably as they kill you over and over and over again.
Oh by the way, this is a difficult game; partly because it will take a while to really get the controls into your fingers (unless you were some kind of Sopwith Ninja), partly because the opposing firepower is usually overwhelming, and partly because the only advantage you get is so odd. On every level, you get to use four Ace Tactics, which are like game show Lifelines for fighter pilots. Do an uninterrupted loop, for example, and you activate the Evasive Loop Tactic; little question marks appear over the enemy planes as they stumble around randomly, cowed into confusion by your sheer daredevilry. The respite won't last long, however, so you'll have to pull off some other maneuver, such as flying behind a cloud, if you want to prolong the chaos.
Rock Solid Arcade can't seem to quite hit the difficulty sweet spot. Their otherwise amazing Robokill had almost no penalty for dying, but here we're well into frustrating territory. You have a limited number of lives, and continue points are set every five levels. Since some missions require near-perfection, and you may have no idea what strategy you'll need until you're already hip-deep in enemy bombers, you'll almost certainly get bumped back a few times. I managed to persevere, on the strength of the solid controls and a nice variety of missions, but I can't blame you if you give up after the first couple of set-backs. It's straight arcade-style gaming in a venue with no quarters—it doesn't make a lot of sense, really, but it does give you a meaty challenge, if meat is your cup of tea.
The way Dogfight 2 is balanced, you can't really force your way through, no matter your skill. You have to employ the Ace Tactics. Your success will often hinge on your ability to chain your Tactics together without wasting them or inadvertently misjudging them and smacking into the dirt. Most of my deaths, in fact, resulted from an ill-timed Ground Dive, which may mean that the game isn't so hard after all, and I just shouldn't pursue a career as an aviator.
If you do have the piloting chops, there's a broad selection of high-scoring possibilities. The most important strategy is simply not dying, but everything from bombing optional targets to shooting down enemy pilots as they parachute to safety (which seems incredibly unsportsmanlike) has a score attached. You can even maximize your points for individual kills by machine-gunning the dickens out of a plane as it goes down. While screaming "Take that, Red Baron!" of course.