After Burner was one of the first true jet action games that captured gamers imagination in the arcade.
Ever since Sega released After Burner in 1987 for the arcade, would be pilots and adrenaline junkies have been mad about pilot games that combine the best of flight sims with arcade action. After Burner pictured to the right struck the perfect balance between a jet simulator and an action packed shooter that put you in the seat of an F14 Tomcat jet with a fixed supply of heat seeking missiles and a regular mounted machine gun.
The game was the next hot hit after Sega's Outrun and you can see many common elements from Outrun in the game. The aim was simple, take out enemy jets, no narrative needed.
Fast forward today and we have a much wider range of fighter jet games available on the PC market in 2020. Below we take a look at the best of those.
Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown
Developer: Bandai Namco Studios
Initial Release: 1st February 2019
What After Burner would like like in the 21st century Ace Combat 7 sees you take to the cockpit of jets such as the MiG-29A and F16-C as you engage in high stakes combat against enemy fighter pilots. Fly your plane in both first person and third person view points as you reach dizzying heights and perform stunts only Maverick from Top Gun would try to outflank your opponents. Engage and destroy both aerial and surface targets to complete missions.
While AC7 is an arcade game there are more realistic controls available for experienced pilots where choosing "Expert" settings will allow you to do common maneuveurs such as rolls and g turns.
AC7 also contains a decent narrative involving two continents at war and the cutscenes that explain the story balances the game out, while the focus is on both sides of the combat, meaning the pilots you engage and the missions you complete feel all the more real and gratifying to complete. You can watch the trailer here or read a brilliant indepth review of the game at eurogamer.net
Initial Release: 12th December 2019
Don't let this title fool you, admittedly calling your game virtually after the Sega classic may feel like the devs are just trying to take a free ride on the back of Sega for some cheap game sales but actually this title has received very positive reviews on Steam.
Forget stories or any sort of cut scene like AC7, this game is all about getting involved in some easy going aerial combat as soon as possible. It's eye candy explosive junk for anyone who is a fan of the previous mentioned After Burner. The visuals in the game actually resemble Starfox more than After Burner as do te explosive effects.
In terms of competition, there's a simple leaderboard to compete with others for highscores.
DCS World: F/A-18C Hornet
Developer: Eagle Dynamics SA
Initial Release: 2nd June 2018
There are plenty of jet fighter aircraft to fly in DCS World, just take a look at some of our reviews such as the F15-C, the F86-F Sabre and the Hawk T1A. DCS World is more known for it's super realistic flight modes combined with physics than any sort of loose controls arcade mode. Yet that is exactly what you can still do in this jet combat world by selecting the "game avionics mode".
Take for instance the newer F/A-18C Hornet DLC, if your finding it hard to master this impressive aircraft and feel overwhelmed with just how realistic this game is, you can always activate arcade mode for a breather. This DLC requires the base game to play but the base game is free of charge which is pretty cool!
Acquiring any of the jets in the game will see you part with a fair chunk of change but unlike the other titles above and below you do get a lot more for your money. For example this world is a full sandbox experiment where you can create your own missions and campaigns.
There is also several multiplayer options where you can carry out missions with friends or compete against one another which is another notch on the other more recent titles above.
Developer: Gaijin Games
Initial Release: 1st November 2012
If large scale engagements are your thing, then War Thunder is the perfect game for you, whether your into more flight sim combat or arcade jet fighter games. This aerial warfare mmo is all about massive 16 on 16 multiplayer battles. The combat in the skies is fast, frantic, and full of excitement with a variety of jet fighter planes to fly in including the Ki 200 shown above, F84 Thunder Jet, CL13a Sabre, F80C Shooting Star, F86a-5 Sabre Jet, Grumman F9F Panther. These planes are later tiered planes you have to work towards initially taking to the cockpit of more traditional fighter planes used during WWII and the Korean War with 100 planes to choose from (although the game is updated regularly with new planes).
War Thunder allows you to fly each plane in either realistic simulation mode for those pilots wanting a real challenge or in the more popular Arcade mode with flight controls being somewhat easier allowing the pilot to focusing purely on engaging the opposition. Both modes have their own rewards in playing.
Like any other multiplayer games, there are all the usual considerations and downsides: lobby wait times, laggy connections (although occassional and dependent on where you play in the world), and of course, automated matchups as well as player and vehicle tiers. But if multiplayer games are your thing, then those issues will be pretty insignificant compared to the actual gameplay.
With its wide array of planes, eye-catching visuals, easy to use controls (we highly suggest sticking with the keyboard and mouse function unless you are playing in the joystick-required realistic mode), and support for Oculus Rift, War Thunder is a definite must play title for any dog-fighting fan.
Release Date: 12th November 2010
H.A.W.X. 2 brings back more of the original game's streamlined systems to provide players more of the same arcade style dogfighting that made the first game fun to play. Now, the thing to remember about this series is that it is an arcade-style flight sim game; if you are looking for something that feels a little more realistic (such as having to mind if your plane can handle the stress of certain maneuvers, if your pilot will black out from the force, how much fuel you have, etc), this is certainly not going to be a game for you. On the other hand, if you prefer you dogfighting to be a straight-to-battle, explosions and missile contrails everywhere kind of affair, then this is perfect for you.
Players will most certainly find most of the game's later missions to be incredibly hard at some points. In fact, with most of the friendly AI being worthless most of the time, most of the game's end stages can be downright frustrating. Fortunately, the game has a pretty good online cooperative play system in place that makes things a lot better. You and a squadron of 3 other sentient pilots makes a huge a difference (having just one friend playing on your side already changes things). While finishing the game solo is not impossible, the multiplayer mode is certainly easier -but more importantly, it is a lot more fun to play.
Initial Release Date: 2nd June 2015
Air Brawl provides interesting and creative ways for the player to destroy their enemies. Instead of just damage, weapons have many different attributes they can afflict on their targets. Some weapons slow the enemy, some disable their steering and some damage them over time. And these are just a few.
Initial Release Date: 13th November 2013
Much like World of Tanks (since the two games are the from the same developers), WoWP is a multiplayer gaming affair that pits you and your team against another team of also-human pilots. The battles tend to be pretty quick ranging from 10-15 minutes (depending on the game settings), and the action is nothing short of brutal. Old school flightsim fans will want to take the time to learn about how this game's stripped down version of flying turns combat into a pretty straightforward system (thereby taking out most of the complexities of the maneuverability and stability of different fighters). It lackes what War Thunder offers in terms of a simulation mode for piloting each plane.
The combat system is solid and pretty balanced -given that as long as you are piloting a same tier plane as your opponent, the result will almost always be based on how well you both fly. That said, expect to find plenty of opponents with high tiered planes as acquiring these can be done through plenty of resource farming or through in-game purchases. While this might seem a little imbalanced, the application of the free-to-play model for this game actually makes sense. There's also good reason to pony up some cash too: at the very least, try to get the premium membership in order to double the amount of cash and experience you earn.
Release Date: 3rd September 2009
If you are fan of Top Gun (and the few other movies that feature high speed fighter plane battles) but have no patience for the rigors of hardcore flightsim games, then chances are, you would love Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X series. This jet fighter game for pc with arcade controls feels a lot like the highly acclaimed Ace Combat games from Namco, more specifically, the Assault series of the franchise. Anyway, as expected of a Tom Clancy titled game, there's a bit of politics-themed notions in the game particularly with that bit about PMC's. In this case, Artemis, a fictional PMC, takes on missions that involves attacking US soil. The player takes on the role of a former US-military and rogue Artemis pilot (and his squad) to help defend America.
The action is fast and frantic, but thanks to many useful combat systems (such as the insanely helpful ERS), shooting down enemy fighters is not as difficult as one would think. That said, those who have already played a lot of flying games may want to not enable some of the player-assistance features as they can make the game a little too easy at some points. Combat is fast, fun, and gives a very solid feel, though those looking to play with others via multiplayer will want to seek out H.A.W.X 2's cooperative system instead.
Overall we recommend this game for both first time fliers and those who are fans of arcade style dogfighting. With H.A.W.X, players get to jump straight into the action without much care for fuel, ammo count, or other details that tend to keep more realistic flightsims busy.