Until the Last Plane Review

I want to start off by saying that I really want to like Until The Last Plane (UTLP moving forward), it has a lot of spirit and I really like what it wants to be. I have a big fondness for the subject, covering airfield management during World War 2 campaigns, and the concept, but unfortunately, the execution just isn’t quite there. It’s a tragedy! And I feel bad for not liking it! Fortunately, I feel like it can be tuned up into a winner, but for now… well, let me explain.

The gist of UTLP is that you are the commander of an airfield during WW2 during various notable campaigns. The three factions represented are the US, the USSR, and Germany. My first chief complaint is that inexplicably, we don’t have Great Britain as an option, which strikes me as bizarre. The game is about managing your resources and pilots, deciding if the cost of performing a task is worth the reward, which seems to really speak to the spirit of the Battle of Britain, but that was omitted from the game.

Anyway, the three factions have differences largely in their planes, which all have different stats, their “bonus”, which is a passive buff to the player, and in currency. The currency is the main way the “meta” of the game will change between the three factions. The Americans, capitalist pigs that we are, get cash for clearing missions, and can use that cash to buy new planes/pilots, and resources to equip those planes with. The Soviets have a system of “political influence”, in that all resources, that being fuel, ammo, spare parts, AND planes, are sent to you depending on how many “points” you have of political influence. Get enough SovietBux and you’ll be living large on your airbase (but as well all know, living large is counterrevolutionary). Lastly, the Germans have a hybrid of the American and Soviet systems. They have “command points” which, depending on the amount in the player’s bank, will trickle in resources at certain speeds. The player can also spend these points to purchase new planes with. Ther German system feels the most well-thought out, with the player needing to balance the need to purchase new planes with the influx of resources. 

I haven’t unlocked every scenario yet, but I can say that the Easy scenarios (the only ones unlocked for each faction when you boot up the game) are pretty dang easy to breeze by with the resources present. Most of the time, your planes will relatively easily avoid being shot down or not need many repairs, and the resources are plentiful so when you do need new stuff, you can afford it with relative ease. I did find that it was a bit more difficult to manage on the harder difficulties, but at the end of the day, resource management generally boils down to this: are your planes getting shot down?

Combat in UTLP is … interesting. The way any air encounter plays out is that you’ll get a notification at base that some kind of aerial encounter is occurring. There’s also a timer that you need to to click within X amount of time, or else your plane will take damage and return to base, which is in my opinion, pretty lame that you can’t opt-out of some encounters. Regardless, you click the card, and you will be taken to the encounter, which will either be air combat (defending), air combat (attacking), or a few different flavors of bombing runs. The air combat is decided by cards. You, as either the attacker or defender (you can tell who is who because the attacker will always start behind, the defender in front) alternate moves with your opponent, playing one of 3 cards that have various effects. These vary based on planes, for example, a BF109 gets a once-per engagement card that lets it move very far forward, whereas a P-47D has simpler “move slightly forward and to the right” or “move slightly backward and to the left” cards. The planes similarly get a set of 3 cards to use for defense; the goal for the attacker is to get close behind the defender by the end of the set amount of moves, while the defender has to put distance between them and the attacker. At the end of the “move” phase, a firing cone appears for the attacker at the front of the aircraft. If the defender is in it, they get shot down. If they don’t, they get away scot-free. 

The issue here is that it’s a bit simplistic. There aren’t many options for you to take, and neither for your opponent. While this does model certain planes being more agile/ having better firepower interestingly, I feel that it could be expanded upon. It can frequently feel very deterministic, whether your plane will win the combat or survive. There are some planes that only have 1 card that can be used repeatedly, so they’re basically SOL if the enemy positions themselves well, because they are forced to use cards that can put them in a worse position.

As for bombing runs, there’s a mix of different bombing missions you can carry out. For static buildings like factories or airfields, you have some crosshairs on your screen that you must click to stop as they align over the target. It’s okay enough, but what’s frustrating about these is that you can choose a height to attack from. The higher you are, the less likely you are to be interrupted by a fighter, but they can just appear and damage your plane with pretty decent consistency even at the highest altitude. It’d be nice if this started a defensive air combat encounter instead of just having RNG say “your plane is broken now.” Other bombing run missions are more fun, but very similar. There is an artillery emplacement mission that you have to line up your plane to hit as many targets as possible, and a simplified version of the factory attack mission but for moving vehicles, which I found more engaging overall.

If I could sum up what would make this game better in one thought, it’s that the player should be allowed to “pass.” This too when it comes to the missions you carry out. After you begin a mission from your airbase during a combat day, a progress bar steadily fills, and you must meet a quota of “kill x amount of planes” or “bomb y amount of factories.” And the quota is generally not too tough to meet, but once you meet it, you can’t stop. Sure, there’s an incentive to complete more combat sorties after your quota is complete and before time runs out on the mission, but you may not want to, due to the risk of your planes being intercepted during bombing runs, using up more fuel and ammo, or occasionally just crashing due to pilot fatigue. But the game forces you to still play these sorties, lest you let the timer on the encounter card run out and your planes get damaged. My solution to this is a bit cheesy, but when my aircraft return mid-mission with damaged parts or empty ammo reserves, I just let them sit and don’t maintain them until the mission is over to avoid more damage. I shouldn’t feel like I have to do that in order to keep my squadron together.

I have a fondness for UTLP, I really do. There are several bits of it I like, such as the maintaining of aircraft on the base, and I think some of the combat missions are at least fairly decent. But the game forces you to engage with parts of it that have a heavy risk-to-reward ratio, and the lack of player choice in that bothers me. I feel that a lot of these issues can be fixed through patches, but for now, I unfortunately can’t endorse UTLP. I will be happy to revisit it when patches come around though, because I want this game to be better. I’m rooting for it.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.
  • Jack Trumbull