War Thunder’s greatest battle doesn't take place in the skies, or even on a heavily scarred battlefield on the ground: it takes place on the first screen you’ll see… The menu. Figuring out how to traverse the game’s convoluted user interface will be your first great task, because windows, submenus and multiple types of currency litter your TV screen like pockmarks - scratching one will just make more appear until you’re overwhelmed with a rash of obtrusive, screen-filling irritants.
Whether you figure out the basics of buying a vehicle, fitting it with crew and launching it into battle by learning how everything works or just mashing every button possible until something happens - you’ll eventually be placed into a match and find that Gaijin Entertainment have created a competent, if slightly derivative, simulator game.
While War Thunder features both air and ground combat, it still feels remarkably similar to Wargaming.net’s World of Tanks, with the two games even sharing similar UIs. But whereas WoT is like a methodical chess game of death, War Thunder is more akin to smashing toy tanks and planes together as you surely did as a child.
That’s not a slight on the dual analogue stick controls either, they’re relatively responsive and simple, it’s just that War Thunder suffers from the same problem that many sim games do: it’s just not that fun.
Ground skirmishes fare much better on the entertainment scale though, mainly because the action laid out in front of you is far more contained than when you take to the skies. By this, I mean, nobody want to spend 10 minutes piloting a plane towards an enemy base with the intent to destroy, only to then get shot down from behind by some Top Gun enthusiast that seemingly appears out of nowhere. Additionally, many objectives task you with destroying encampments on the ground that look like little more than indiscernible shapes from the sky, and destroying them feels largely inconsequential.
Regardless of whether you favour air or ground combat, maneuvering your vehicle is dictated by twiddling the analogue sticks, and like airborne combat, ground skirmishes task you with objectives other than blasting each other to pieces. Land Grab and King of the Hill types are the most prevalent, and they’re far more enjoyable than the flying alternative. Like WoT, you’re able to purchase multiple machines of war to customise and upgrade, but if you perish on the battlefield, you aren’t spent for that match as long as you have more fodder in reserve.
For all of its variation in gameplay though, War Thunder just never really feels very engaging. The extremely tactical nature that makes its closest relative so addictive just doesn’t exist, and while that’s not the only way to make a war sim entertaining, Gaijin haven’t offered a suitable alternative.
Add on the fact that game’s three currency system (one is purchased with your wallet) and how you use it is poorly explained, it’s hard to grasp any feeling of clear progress. War Thunder is certainly a game that many will find entertaining, but the lack of any focus on one specific area will kill the enjoyment for many. And with air combat simultaneously the main focus and the weakest part of the game, there really isn’t much to get excited about if you’ve already played better versions of the same formula.
War Thunder (Reviewed on PlayStation 4)
Game is enjoyable, outweighing the issues there may be.
For all of its variation in gameplay, War Thunder just never really feels very engaging. The extremely tactical nature that makes its closest relative so addictive just doesn’t exist, and while that’s not the only way to make a war sim entertaining, Gaijin haven’t offered a suitable alternative.