Not quite enough Dakka
Type: Singleplayer, Multiplayer
Developer: Phosphor Game Studios
Publisher: Phosphor Game Studios
Release date: 19 Feb, 2021
Orks are simple beings. They love fighting, they love going fast and they particularly love fighting while going fast. So it only makes sense that some ork would think that the bright idea that flying ramshackle airplanes at breakneck speed and trying to ram each other would be an excellent idea. And because the orks thinks it’s a great idea, it is. That’s just how orks work.
Dakka Squadron is the latest game set in the venerable Warhammer 40,000 Universe. There’s been a lot of games over the last decade set in this universe that has varied greatly in quality and theme, from the excellent Mechanicus to the absolutely atrocious Storm of Vengeance. This time the game is about orks taking to the skies. Wait, was there not already a game about that?
Story & Setting
The Warhammer 40,000 universe is a dark sci-fantasy universe that’s well known for taking things so far that it turns into self parody. It’s a vast universe and everywhere you go things are grim and dark. On millions of worlds billions of people are fed into the ever present meat grinder that is the many different wars in the Warhammer 40,000 universe. And that suits the orks just fine.
The orks have always been the not quite as dark comedic relief faction in the dark comedy that is Warhammer 40,000. Orks ooze enthusiasm, they love fighting and they love making things go boom. Sometimes they’ll just fight each other because there’s nobody else around to fight. And every self respecting ork will be trying to climb the ranks and get all the best loot. For orks that’s just how things are supposed to be, they fight until one ork rises to the top, and then they fight to see who can kill the one at the top and take his spot.
In Dakka Squadron you’re playing as one of those orks. A flyboy with ambitions to become the biggest and the best, serving under Airboss Skyburna. Skyburna wants to beat the other bosses in the system and make his way to the greatest WAAAGH of all time, joining Ghazkull, the biggest Ork warlord around, in his fight against the humans (and anyone else who gets in his way, orks are not picky about who they fight).
But things change when a human Tech-priest (basically the guys who maintain all technology in the Imperium of Man, usually more through rituals than actual understanding of the tech) is found. A tech priest who claims to know the location of a super weapon. And maybe, if you claim that super weapon, you could be the boss?
The story is not much deeper than that, but it fits. The people behind this game clearly knew a lot about the setting and had a great love for the orks in particular. And the writing, it’s spot on and often genuinely funny. That said, if you’re not already familiar with the setting, a lot of things will likely not make much sense. This is a game written for people who are already fans of the setting.
Dakka Squadron is clearly not a AAA game, but it’s not bad looking. A lot of the heavy lifting is done by the art style, which stays true to its 40k root. Some textures might be a bit blurry, some effects might not look so great, but overall Dakka Squadron looks pretty good in action, despite its technical limitations. And it looks a lot better in action than it does on screenshots, due to the slight burring effects.
Speaking of limitations, the interface makes it pretty clear where those comes from. Dakka Squadron has an interface that looks a lot like a mobile phone game, and that’s because it originally was one. The big round buttons around the edge of the screen are a pretty dead giveaway of the origins. But you do at least not have to click on them.
The static art of the characters that’s shown of the characters is also very mobile-looking, but it’s still pretty well drawn. All the characters have distinct and very orky looks to them and there’s some nice and unintrusive fan service in some of the designs for those who have been following 40k for a while.
In terms of sound Dakka Squadron does a more than adequate job. There’s some nice gun & explosion sound effects that makes blowing up enemy planes feel satisfying. The music, when there actually is music, is also well made and fits the theme. Though sadly there can be times when no music is played for an entire mission. The voice clips are also a problem. They’re for the most part well made and the voice actors have done a good job, but they’re played far too often. At times the same voice clip can be played several times in a row with next to no pause between them.
Sadly the PC version does suffer from some noticeable slowdown. This review was done on a slightly outdated PC, but it’s still well above the requirements (GTX 960, 8GB RAM and an i5-4460 vs. required GT 520, 4gb ram and Core 2 Duo) and the game would frequently stutter and freeze for several seconds. The problem was at its worst in the first few levels and it hardly ever happened in the final set of levels. Because of the spotty performance most screenshots are with low graphics settings.
Dakka Squadron is an action game about orks in airplanes. It makes no attempts at being a simulator or even look like one (like the H.A.W.X. series tried). The goal of each level is simply to shoot down the enemy planes, bomb their factories and destroy any ground vehicles. Or defend your friendly landing crafts or bases from the enemy, which still ultimately means “shoot down the enemy”.
But before the shooting can begin, you need to chose your aircraft and pick its weapons. At the start of the game the selection is pretty much non-existent, but as the game progresses you’ll get access to new weapons, new planes and new improvements. The different planes and weapons feel quite different to use. A giant plane-mounted shotgun-like weapon will force you to play in a different way to a slow firing long range cannon or a laser-like weapon, and a slow but durable bomber won’t feel the same as a nippy fighter. Not all weapons and all planes feel unique, even if they have different stats, but there’s still a lot of variety on display here.
Orks don’t really care about common sense, so high speed aerial ramming is always an option, and one that often feels encouraged. Both you and the target will take damage, but the enemy almost always comes out worse. When you need to destroy an enemy fast, ramming it is usually a better option than shooting it.
Controlling your plane is done with a gamepad or a mouse & keyboard, and the controls take a bit of getting used to. They’re not necessarily bad, but they have some quirks to them that give them a larger learning curve than they probably should have, and it’s likely that this is at least in part due to the mobile roots of the game and during the first 30-60 min of game time the controls are likely not going to feel great. And something that never really ends up feeling great is the ramming. When you’re close to an enemy you can hit a key and you’ll automatically ram the enemy. It works 80% of the time. The remaining 20% can give you some weird results, like the camera not knowing how to act or the enemy just disappearing.
The levels are pretty small in Dakka Squadron, you’re usually fighting in some kind of confined space with borders that are pretty obvious (even if they’re not explicitly stated to be borders). There’s an island in the middle of a lava lake, so of course the borders of the level will be around the island, or you’re in a valley and you won’t be allowed to leave it. If you fly outside the border you’ll be forced to turn around. They are also repeated. Each of the five worlds usually sees each level layout being repeated at least once, with new objectives.
At least the opposition is pretty varied. There are of course orks and imperial troops, but also necrons, and while they are all bound by similar mechanics, due to their varying weapons and durability, as well as some special crafts, they end up feeling quite different to fight. Sadly the enemy AI can be really wonky and they have trouble navigating confined spaces. This is particularly bad in the early levels where enemy (as well as friendly) planes will often be seen repeatedly bumping into the terrain. Force fields seem to cause extra issues for the AI which simply does not know that it should avoid them.
As a long time ork player I really wanted to like Dakka Squadron, but the game is a bit too rough around the edges for me to be able to wholeheartedly recommend it. When it works it’s simple but fun arkadey flight action game with satisfying sound effects and an enjoyable story, but the game has a few too many technical issues at the moment. And even if those technical issues were to be fixed you still have the small levels and wonky controls to content with. I guess the store page for the game was not wrong when they claimed that it’s “The first video game built from the ground up by Orks for Orks”. That would explain some of the janky elements. Still, if you’re an ork fan there’s some fun to be had here. The game does an excellent job at representing its source material, it’s just a shame that the actual gameplay can’t quite live up to that.