Aerial combat is warfare at its fastest and most individual. No wonder, then, that it has proved a good fit for simultaneous movement games (sometimes known as ‘WEGO’). Table-top miniatures skirmish wargame Check Your 6! was an early adopter, dating from 2007. Matrix Games and The Lordz Studio’s digital version drags it firmly into the modern age.
A tutorial runs through the basics. Each side secretly selects a manoeuvre for each of their aircraft. These are then executed in order of pilot skill. In a neat twist, more experienced crew can change their choices part way through the turn, having had a chance to see how some of the action is unfolding. You then choose targets in firing arc and range, and hope the dice help you to shoot them down.
That’s the theory, at any rate. In reality a dreadful interface makes these straightforward rules awkward to implement. Movement plotting has each plane on the map twice, once where it starts and once where it ends, resulting in abject confusion. The “joystick” you drag around to select a manoeuvre is weirdly sensitive pulled left and stubborn pulled right, so it’s tough to select what you want. Critical information, like combat rolls, is never where you want or expect it to be.
All of this adds to a sense of a game rushed, or perhaps produced on the cheap. Graphics are serviceable but basic, while the sound design is tiresome, tinny and repetitive. There are spelling and grammar mistakes everywhere. The tutorial gets you started, but most of the rules are in an included pdf and their application seems suspect.
If you can overcome these initial hurdles, the gameplay itself is actually pretty fun. Check Your 6! Is all about anticipating where the enemy is heading, trying to keep them in your firing arcs while staying out of theirs. The ability of experienced pilots to adjust their moves is thus crucial and adds extra strategy to what can otherwise be a bit of a guessing game. Not only do you need to think about how to re-point their moves for best advantage, you also want to keep them alive.
With such a great experience mechanic at the centre of the experience, it seems a shame that the included Battle of Britain “campaign”, isn’t a campaign at all. It’s a series of individual scenarios, each of which you can re-play as either side. While it might look like plenty of content, some of the larger scenarios (with large numbers of units) are absolutely chaotic with the clunky UI. And a lack of diversity in aircraft and battle conditions makes them all seem samey after a while.
Despite a limited roster, Check Your 6! does deserve praise for making the most of its simple framework to ensure they all feel different to fly. Laden bombers move first, making them feel suitably clumsy even when armed with a terrifying roster of gunnery crew. Faster planes like Spitfires nip around the sky like hummingbirds compared to their less nimble counterparts.
What every fighter pilot wants is the ‘tailing’ mechanic, which allows you to lock on to and follow a target if you can get and stay right behind it. It’s pretty much a death sentence. So if it happens to you; switch tactics, turn around your fighters and try to take out the tailing plane before your plane shot down. This can lead to some brilliantly tense moments, and it’s here you can see what the appeal is.
It won’t happen that often if you’re playing against the AI though, which doesn’t feel very bright. Often it pushes planes forward in formation and hopes for the best. Fortunately, there is hot-seat play, but it’s not ideal in a game like this. Each player has to walk away from the screen while the other plans their moves. Given the terrible interface, this can take a while. Online play is better, if still slow.
Check Your 6! is a weak implementation of a solid air combat game. Poor AI opponents don’t help – The excitement of out psyching an opponent gets lost when that opponent is just a bunch of 1s and 0s (and not very bright, at that). Mostly, though, it’s down to poor design and programming, resulting in a game that’s functional, but can’t claim much more. Rarely in the field of digital conflict has so much delivered so little to so many.