‘Ultrawings 2’ Review – The New Top Gun of Fun & Challenging VR Flying

Fans of Ultrawings (2017) will be happy to hear that Ultrawings 2 delivers all of the free-flying fun of the original, along with a side order of military-style missions that take its formula in a new and interesting direction. Although it left me wishing for better display resolutions and an actual HOTAS setup, Ultrawings 2 proves to be truly one of those ‘easy to pick up, hard to put down’ games that will reward you, test your patience, and relentlessly roast you for your many failures.

Ultrawings 2 Details:

Available On: Quest 2, Coming to SteamVR in March


Release Date:  February 3rd, 2022


Price:  $25


Developer:  Bit Planet


Reviewed On:  Quest 2

Gameplay

Like the first in the series, Ultrawings 2 isn’t a 1:1 flight simulator—far from it—although the controls aren’t something I’d call 100 percent arcadey either. It presents a good assortment of basic instruments that don’t feel overly complicated, and physics that push the player to develop what feel like actual flight skills.

Don’t be fooled by the low-speed joyrides you take in the little ultralight at the beginning though. Ultrawings 2 doesn’t waste much time in serving up some pretty unforgiving challenges as you buy your way into each of the game’s five vehicles (four planes and a helicopter) and four islands, each with their own environmental quirks and obstacles.

Love it or hate it, you’ll be grinding through a varied assortment of ‘Jobs’ for cash on each island which range in difficulty. It’s safe to say that if you can’t master things like taking off from short runways, executing dicey touch-and-go landings, balancing fuel reserves as you barrel through multiple rings, you’re going to crash and burn—and probably curse the day Ultrawings 2 entranced you with its seemingly simple controls and punchy little planes, each with their own unique flight characteristics.

The game does a good job of segmenting those planes too, offering an easy-to-pilot ultralight, a WW2-style fighter, a bleedingly fast rocket fighter, an agile stunt bi-plane, and a light helicopter. All planes have different control configurations, which can present some challenge in creating muscle memory, although they’re simple enough to locate visually and operate for takeoffs and landings. Onbaording for each plane is straightforward too; your handy tablet tells visually tells everything you need to know while a pair of quippy voice overs guide you, and also relentlessly tease you for getting anything but a gold metal.

The world is ‘open’, in the sense that you can own two airports on each of the four islands and request jobs there. I wish the whole job discovery and cash earning portion were a little more organic and less formulaic: i.e. you buy an airport, grind jobs to buy a new plane, go back and complete all jobs and missions with new plane to grind for more money to buy a new airport to… I can see it feeling like less of a tiring exercise during shorter gameplay sessions than I played, since I clocked in multiple hours of virtual flight time in a single go.

Image captured by Road to VR

That said, islands are pretty densely packed, offering plenty of chances to fly through canyons, under bridges, between tall skyscrapers, and make death-defying, no-power landings on some of the shortest runways you’ve ever seen.

All of this accounts for the majority of the game, however Ultrawings 2 also introduces combat ‘Ops’ that task you with battling against enemy fighters, bombers, ground forces, and ships. Thanks to the game’s mature flight design, this offers up some surprisingly fun combat situations—something I think would make the basis for a cool standalone title in the future.

Ops are still one-off missions with a single weapon—still very much a short challenge like all of the jobs in the rest of the game. There’s just something super gratifying about using your newly acquired stunt skills and shooting prowess, and applying it to dogfights and strafing runs, which really test how you fly under the pressure of incoming fire and dwindling fuel.

You can expect to put in tens of hours into Ultrawings 2—the studio says between 40-60 hours—although the biggest time investment is undoubtedly gathering the cash for the most expensive purchases in the game, the International Airports, which essentially let you revisit all of the islands for more challenges.

Immersion

The game’s cartoony visuals seem more mature than the original on Quest, but remain lovably simplistic, featuring a color palette that is bright and offers enough contrast to make objectives pop. Cockpit instrument dials are sharp enough, although you can’t help but wish for a tick more native display resolution. You can toggle off enemy health in the options, but I’m not sure you’d want to considering how far away some can be, which would otherwise make for a few blurry grey pixels on your screen that would be very difficult to resolve.

Cockpit controls feel slightly less cartoony than the original Ultrawings, offering up dials, switches, and levers instead of an array of buttons. This is both good and bad, because unfortunately object interaction in the game isn’t very reliable, so manipulating these instruments can be frustrating. Instruments feel fiddley, so you’re never 100 percent sure whether that virtual finger actually didn’t just flick a landing gear switch on and off again.

And as you’d imagine, the game is begging for HOTAS support—probably something we’ll see when the game head to SteamVR—although the virtual flight stick isn’t nearly as floaty as I thought it would be. Anchoring my elbow on my office chair armrest for a brace helped me keep a good handle on the stick most of the time, however switching hands to manipulate other control panels was sometimes a bit of a mad grab before careening out of control. Still, you’ll have to find your playstyle to mitigate some of that built-in stick float since you’re grasping something that isn’t really there.

Comfort

I played almost entirely in the least comfortable mode, which offers the least obstructed view of the cockpit. Two other comfort modes are available however, an intermediate mode that partially obstructs your canopy, and beginner mode that offers a sort of adaptable canopy cover to block sections of the glass with a metal shield. When you look left or right, and the front windscreen is covered, and when you look forward both left and right are covered.

Even on the ‘full fat’ comfort mode, I had zero issue with flying for hours at a time, looping around and doing maneuvers that might otherwise put me face-first in a barf bag aboard a real plane (or a less competent VR flight game). This is mostly due to the cockpit itself acting as a visual anchor—no matter how much I spin and loop, I’m always steady in the plane—but also the game’s controls, which offer predictable and consistent responses. Although your mileage may vary, I never felt like I was about to break out into the dreaded flop-sweats which I personally know from experience means I need to take a long break.

Note: Both turning and movement comfort settings below reflect out-of-cockpit locomotion. Refer to the section above for plane locomotion.

‘Ultrawings 2’ Comfort Settings – February 3rd, 2022

Turning

Artificial turning
Smooth-turn
Adjustable speed
Snap-turn
Adjustable increments

Movement

Artificial movement
Smooth-move
Adjustable speed
Teleport-move
Blinders
Adjustable strength
Head-based
Controller-based
Swappable movement hand

Posture

Standing mode
Seated mode
Artificial crouch
Real crouch

Accessibility

Subtitles
Menu Languages English, French, Italian, Spanish, German, Simplified Chinese, Japanese
Alternate audio
Languages English
Adjustable difficulty
Two hands required
Real crouch required
Hearing required
Adjustable player height