When War Thunder released on PC, critics and players rejoiced. Stacked up against its competition, Gaijin had struck gold, easily outmatching its competitor in World of Warplanes. Later, when the developer announced that the title would make its way to the PlayStation 4, the community seemed to ripple in anticipation. Top caliber dogfighters are rare enough on home consoles, but one that was available for free and remained fun long after you'd decided (and maybe reconsidered) never to spend a dime? It seemed almost too good to be true. Well, keep you spirits high, pilots. We recently went hands-on with the game and the rumors are true: Gaijin has struck gold twice.
GAMEPLAY – 7 and POLISH - 8
War Thunder has made the jump to home consoles feature complete. The game you've been enjoying on PC is the exact same you will experience when you finish your download from the PlayStation Network. While that may seem unremarkable to players entrenched in the PC world, console players have long suffered through pared down versions of online PC games – if they made a port at all. Everything is skillfully reconfigured to be navigated with a controller. Using its built in touch pad even brings up a mouse cursor, though I didn't use it beyond browsing through tooltips. What's especially remarkable is not simply that the PS4 version is a dead ringer for its PC counterpart feature-wise but that it plays as if it were designed for consoles all the time.
Using two joysticks will never be as precise as a mouse and keyboard but darned if it doesn't feel good. Sweeping through the skies from the pleasure of your recliner is an experience to behold, and when you grow accustomed to the control set, pulling off advanced maneuvers is as possible as it's ever been. Targeting is ever so slightly more hit-or-miss but the joysticks' miniscule dead zone makes precision aiming easier than its ever been on a console. If you're inclined, you can also aim with the touch pad, though I found this too loose for my taste. The only thing I didn't like is that L2, usually used for aiming down the sights, also turns your plane to face your target. This might work well in the air but on a strafing run it often steers your right into a mountainside. The mini-map is also a bit small making control zones difficult to see.
Though the game has been available in Europe since late last year, the North American release brings with it the Ground Forces expansion. Having played the EU version for some time, this was the part of the game I was most excited to get my hands on. Like the rest of the game, tank battles are exactly as you've known them on PC. All of the maps, upgrade trees, and mechanics are intact. Unfortunately, persistent framerate issues drag the experience down. While winging around in a war fighter feels almost buttery smooth, barreling through the underbrush noticeably chugs. Still, matches are perfectly playable with these slowdowns only lasting seconds at a time.
It's also worth noting that your progress on the PC does not transfer over to the PlayStation but you can group with friends on the PC and Mac versions.
AESTHETICS – 7
War Thunder isn't the prettiest game on the PlayStation 4 but it sure does look good. It's obvious that certain areas have been scaled back. Anti-aliasing seems to have taken a hit and textures seem a touch blurrier than its PC counterpart. That said, neither of these are visible during the plane battles. In motion, the game looks stunning. Tank battles highlight War Thunder's shortcomings, however. Sitting still brings out the jaggies and doesn't do the game any favors.
INNOVATION - 8
You have to admire Gaijin. That War Thunder could make the leap onto consoles entirely feature complete, still look amazing, and play as good as it does is impressive. That said, a number of other games have done the same since the launch of the PlayStation 4. Still, War Thunder has an edge here because there is simply nothing else like it. In genre, implementation, and design, War Thunder is breaking new ground for the PlayStation Network.
SOCIAL - 8
Like its original release, the social elements built into the game could use expansion, but actually fare better in the console space. Player squadrons are still limited to four players maximum, which is small but reasonable when most multiplayer average seems to be about six. In-game, players can hold down a shoulder button to bring up a radial wheel of common messages, freeing players to communicate without having to use the built-in voice chat. The ability to group with players across platforms is also nice.
VALUE - 10
War Thunder is easily among the best of what is offered on the PlayStation Store. It stands head and shoulders above the other free to play offerings and even over many at cost. The core of this lies in the generous free to play model which allows you to play for hour and hours without paying a dime. Though microtransactions were disabled in the pre-release version, I did get to explore the store and actually make some purchases in the EU release. A pillar of War Thunder’s longevity lies in its generous free to play model that allows you to play for hour and hours without paying a dime. That's the way free to play should be done.
In the end, whether or not War Thunder is for you will depend on how interested you are multiplayer planes battles. Tank battles are fun but that's not where it shines on PlayStation 4. Yet. With no cost to download or play, you owe it to yourself to hop into the pilot seat at least once.
Christopher Coke / Chris has been an MMO player since the days of MUDs and loves a good roleplaying game. During his downtime, you can find him slaying monsters as Geralt of Rivia or saving the universe as Commander Shephard. Follow him on Twitter: @GameByNight