I can’t help cheer for the underdog and so when news came out that Why485’s Tiny Combat Arena was finally coming to Steam I couldn’t have been happier. Created by a single person, Tiny Combat Arena is a flight sim that combines serious flight simulation aspects together with a simple art style and interface. And these are my first impressions!
Retro gaming fun
I’m trying to decide what retro game Tiny Combat Arena most reminds me of. Some of you may have different answers but I think for me its probably F-15 Strike Eagle II or F-19 Stealth Fighter. Both of those were classic MicroProse titles back when they released in the 1990s and I suppose it’s no small wonder that the new MicroProse decided to pick Tiny Combat Arena up as a publisher of the title.
Tiny Combat Arena mimics both the gameplay as well as the visual style of these old games. For me, its been a bit of an odd experience to take my newly built PC with a new 4K display and run a game that was takes us back to the day where a 480p monitor was considered high resolution. But run it does and it looks really good in 4K. In a retro way anyways.
The interface leans into that retro feel as well with simple lines and crisp, hard edged text.
When it comes to controllers, Tiny Combat Arena is simple enough to control with a mouse and keyboard or a gamepad. But it can also be hooked up to high end HOTAS and joysticks as well. OpenTrack also works very well with this title so it really does have modern hardware support.
The key binding experience was functional and clearly based on modern combat sims. You do have to go and bind everything that you want to bind and there are some limitations that I wouldn’t mind having lifted such as adding a landing gear up and gear down bind as well as something similar for the flaps.
Tiny Combat Arena comes with a couple of modes. There’s a Quick Battle mode which gets you up and flying quickly. It has a couple of scenarios contained within with a Freeflight, a Dogfight and a Strike mode. You can start these missions from the Ramp, from the Runway or in the Air so the choice is really yours as to how quickly you want to get into the action.
The second mode is called ‘Arena Demo’ and its a bigger more objective mode that involves helping your forces push forward while preventing enemy forces from doing the same. Both air and ground assets are involved and you have to work to change the tide of battle.
Currently only one aircraft is available to fly and that’s the AV-8B Harrier. It comes with air to air or air to ground loadouts and those loadouts contain a mix of reasonably accurate loads of AIM-9 Sidewinders, MK83 bombs, and Rockeye Cluster Bombs. There’s also the GAU-12 25mm cannon and ammo pod mounted under the aircraft.
It’s worth noting that this is not Ace Combat and you have a realistic loadout of gun and munition supplies that are expended and do not magically reappear on the jet mid-flight.
Flying the AV-8B is fairly straightforward. The aircraft is a little less responsive than I’d like and I’ve not been able to stall it. It also seems to react a little oddly to my throttle and VTOL axis controls at times (not registering and then registering all at once). Some of that simplicity is by design and likely to ensure that it’s easy to fly when you’re using a gamepad or the mouse.
The sounds are functional but are probably the weakest part of the experience at this point. The jet ambience is ok, the fly past sounds are functional, and some of the sound effects are actually quite satisfying but there are times where the soundscape just feels empty. The UI doesn’t have a ton of feedback either when you click on things so maybe a subtle and satisfying ‘ping’ of some kind might help communicate that as well. Maybe this is all an artistic choice and I’m willing to accept that as part of the concept too.
Where does this go next?
Tiny Combat Arena is very much an early access product. It’s splashed all over the Steam game description page.
The creator and developer, Why485, has been extremely responsive and often looking for feedback via his Twitter account and from his Discord as well. This is just a one-person show and yet Tiny Combat Arena has achieved an impressive number of things. From a flight model and 3D assets to a basic AI system, and a damage model for aircraft (complete with wings and other components being ripped off), it’s clear that this is a combat flight sim with some lighter elements that make it easy to pick up a fly.
I think Why485 will be sticking to that experience but it also seems like this is a product that has room to grow. More flyable airplanes, more maps and scenarios (there’s just the one right now), and plenty of tweaks to the gameplay are likely to ensue.
The community will undoubtedly have a guiding role in this as it moves forward.
I don’t think anyone is under any illusions that this is a replacement for your other combat flight sim experiences, however, Tiny Combat Arena might be a fun addition to them. With a quick gameplay loop that gets you up and into combat quickly, this is the perfect experience for when you want to just fly and goof around with something over a short period of time.
I ran through one complete Quick Battle in just six and a half minutes and then I went back and did it again because it was fun. The Arena Demo takes a bit longer but you can still have a satisfying gameplay experience in less than 25 minutes. I think this is the niche that Tiny Combat Arena will fit into.
Fun, quick, well thought through and possessing more simulated depth than you might assume given the size and scope of this project, Tiny Combat Arena is delightfully retro and utterly fun if rough around the edges. Those rough edges will surely be polished in the coming weeks and months.