War - what is it good for? Well, it's not "absolutely nothing", in fact, as it's provided us with games like World of Tanks, Armored Warfare, and Gaijin Entertainment's War Thunder, the latter of which we've been playing on Xbox One after it recently launched as a free-to-play game on Microsoft's console. It's actually not a new game and as most of you probably already know it has been available on the PS4 since day one, and on PC since even before that. So why review it now? Well, the full launch of the game on Xbox One combined with the fact that we never reviewed it back in the day inspired us to take a closer look at the game's many vehicles and see how they fare on the proverbial battlefield.
What you need to know about War Thunder before anything else is that there's a lot to take in, which is actually our biggest criticism. The menus from the very start are packed with things that you need to know about, from vehicles to game modes, icons to numbers, flags to statistics, and everything in between. A simple brief at the start to help you identify how to organise your vehicles, crews, and even how to get into a game would've been nice because we can imagine many would-be Thunderers might get scared off by the UI.
That said, it's great that you get tutorials about how each vehicle works, giving you an overview of the basics. We'll start with tanks because we'd say they're the most fun. Here you use the left stick to drive and turn, which takes some getting used to, and then you use the right stick to control the turret. What's really impressive though is the damage system, as you'll need to carefully consider where you're hitting your target for maximum impact. Armoured vehicles will take more of a beating, for example, and depending on where you penetrate the tank you have a chance to hit the engine and make it explode, hit the crew and force it out of action, or miss everything entirely and waste your golden chance.
Tanks aren't the only vehicle in the game though (unsurprising, as there are over 1,000 vehicles), as you also have (the newest addition) helicopters, warships, and planes to contend with as well. We won't give details on the controls of each of these, but suffice to say they all control differently. Fighter planes, for example, are rapid and agile but require a pretty good aim to hit things, while bombers are slower and more cumbersome but great for striking large areas on the ground. There are both arcade and realistic control schemes to suit different types of players, so you can really customise how you fight.
Speaking of which, combat sees you taking part in arcade battles, some of which require you to destroy enemy forces on the ground. Sounds like the perfect job for a bomber, right? Well, you'll also need to take out the enemy air force too, and that role might be a better fit for a fighter pilot. This balance is something you always need to carefully consider, as you only have a certain number of planes at your disposal per game, meaning you'll never want to waste them.
War Thunder requires a very different tactical approach when using ground vehicles, as the action revolves around securing different objectives, like three capture points or the one central point. This changes how you approach things but again you have a limited number of vehicles, so you'll need to be very careful or you'll find yourself sitting out and observing the rest of the match from the sidelines.
You've got to keep thinking when you're away from the battlefield too, as there are several elements to invest in via the game's various menus. Using two different currencies you can research and purchase vehicles, crews, modifications, and a lot more, so there's always something to do whether you're in the heat of the fight or if you're looking at how to improve your army in those quiet moments between battles.
The theatres of war are just as important as the vehicles in which you fight, and with over 80 maps to choose from, Gaijin has plenty of variety in this department too. They offer landscapes that range from deserts to ruined cities through to wide open valleys, but it's not just a case of different visuals as the different terrains alter the way you have to play. Open maps allow for increased lines of sight in as ground vehicles, for example, while the weaving and winding roads found in valleys can make it a sight harder to hit ground vehicles from the air.
Aside from your regular arcade matches you also have the choice to dive into assaults - which grant daily rewards - as well as tournaments, custom battles, and daily events. The latter of these includes the likes of Halloween events, which in this instance provides you with races that take place in the dark (making it all extra spooky). Gaijin is also constantly updating the game as time goes by too, so there's always something new to see.
Whether you're zooming through the air or trudging on the ground, the game sparkles visually, and really gives you a sense of being in these battlefields. There's a certain feeling of vastness when you look upon the sprawling lands below as an aircraft, but even when you're up close and personal, surrounded by rubble and firing at other tanks, the whole battlefield looks the part.
All in all, this is an online military shooter for people who like the idea of armoured warfare that spills out onto the water, across the land, and then up in the air. There is enough detail here for the real hardcore players to dive into, while it also has something for those who want a more arcade experience thanks to a range of options to make things simpler. Over the years Gaijin has added a huge amount of depth to War Thunder, and with more being added and a ton of stuff to unlock, if you're a fan of the genre it's well worth checking out.