[floatleft]http://www.snackbar-games.com/images/reviews/crimsonskies/cover.jpg[/floatleft]Console flight games suck. This had been the basic knowledge engraved in every gamer’s mind since the launch of the Nintendo 64. Sure, there were some exceptions, but they sold so little no one ever heard of them again. This dearth of niche genre is in most part due to the graphical limitations of the earlier consoles, and the limited control layout available from a console. PC users lavished themselves with an entire keyboard within their grasp to use effectively in the utter destruction of airborne opponents. For the consoles, if a flying game did manage to appear, it was usually so stripped down that the audience it would normally appeal to rejected it in disgust. This, unfortunately, has lasted far too long. Finally, a game comes along that appeals to both discerning audiences, the hardcore sim fanatics, and quick-action players. Enter Crimson Skies.
Appearing like a bat out of hell, Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge makes its graceful appearance on the Xbox, not a moment too soon. This is more spectacular than it first seems, considering the oft delayed and almost axed re-designing of this game from its PC release two years earlier. Gamers read the cryptic press statements leaking themselves onto the internet over a period of months, each time their hopes of perhaps one great console flight game diminishing. Therefore, it is with the greatest joy and enthusiasm that I tell you, Crimson Skies kicks major ass. If you take one thing away from my review, let it be that as you plod your way down to the local store to buy it. Not only is it money well spent, but you are also sending a message to developers that you will buy a quality console flight game.
Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge throws you into the “experienced” boots of one swashbuckling air pilot named Nathan Zachary. Almost immediately you get slapped in the face with this characters suave and intrinsic ability to attract the opposite sex and stay calm under pressure, thanks to a quality FMV showing him after a long night of gambling and booze napping next to a half naked blonde. Things kick up a notch when Nathan has to steal back his airplane from a greedy pirate from whom he lost it to in a game of gambling. This is but the very start of Nathan’s long and perilous journey, which has a few plot twists along the way.
[floatright]http://www.snackbar-games.com/images/reviews/crimsonskies/ss03_thumb.jpg[/floatright]I commend the developers for not piecing together a half-assed plot of mutant pirates pillaging his homeland, and instead providing a quality production filled with excellent voice acting and beautiful FMV’s to advance the stories progression. As to not give away too much, I will tell you that along your journey you will encounter an eight-legged giant walking death machine and massive airship powered by giant electricity rotors. Old war buddies you thought were friends will also make appearances as evil foes trying to steal an experimental flight plan for a new aircraft. The developers thankfully kept the story short and sweet, not allowing any room for the monotony usually associated with games of this nature.
Now, time for the meat and potatoes of Crimson Skies. Looking back now, it’s almost an atrocity that the developers were at one time not going to include Xbox Live support. Thankfully, Live is here in full order, boasting world statistics and a plethora of online modes. The complete list includes Dogfight, Team Dogfight, Flag Heist, Keep Away, Team Keep away and Wild Chicken. The only one you might not know is Wild Chicken. Basically, a chicken is flying around the map and if you capture it and bring it to your base, you score. Most points win – simple eh? CS also has a ratings system, consisting of different numbers of dots to represent your skill level. The more you kill and the less you die the higher your ranking will go up. As for the multiplayer itself, it’s a blast. Considering this is one of the first if not the first online console flying game, it pulls it off in spades. Every game I played in was lag free, which is impressive considering the size of the arenas. One of the reasons that make Live play so spectacular is that you are now playing against actual people and not the CPU. What does this mean? Well, expect to see some crazy maneuvering and bloodthirsty opponents that won’t let up until you nosedive into the ground. I cannot convey my sense of thrill when I was eagerly pursuing my latest victim over a sandy plateau, very close to destroying him, only to have him slam on his brakes, loop, and appear behind me with loaded rockets pointing at my tailpipe. Add in the status quo smack talk and CS games can get hot and heavy fast.
An extra layer of depth is added in by the special weapons inherent in each plane. The Piranha for example shoots out lightning momentarily stunning an opponent, while the Coyote unleashes a ball of flame that lights an opponent ablaze. Each player also has a set of special abilities that can be executed via certain joystick combinations. Pointing both sticks in opposite directions and pressing down results in two sideways loop -de- loops. With all of this going on, especially in 16 player matches, you will no doubt see some spectacular takedowns.
[floatleft]http://www.snackbar-games.com/images/reviews/crimsonskies/ss09_thumb.jpg[/floatleft]Another neat feature of CS is the ability to man gun turrets. You will do this many times on the single player campaign, but even in multiplayer if you spot a turret you can swoop down, land, and take control. You can leave whenever you like, but it’s wholly possible to rack up an impressive number of kills with these fast-shooting guns.
Your options of planes in multiplayer are the same as if you were to have unlocked all of them in single player. You have full access to all of them, including such beloved/hated planes like the Piranha, Doppelganger, and Coyote. Some players might moan about certain special weapons being cheap, but trust me, the game is balanced. It should also be noted that there are only five maps to play on, and while they are certainly massive, don’t worry as more are promised via Downloadable Content.
I have not touched greatly upon the game’s graphical prowess, mostly because even if the game were to look like airborne shit, it would still be fun. But thankfully that is not the case. CS has all the latest bells and whistles you would expect in a new Xbox release, and then some. Maps like Chicago will make you drop your jaw in amazement. Giant, and I do meant giant, skyscrapers litter the map along with smaller buildings dwelling down under. Streets are constructed like they should be, and swooping down below in a myriad of sparks and fire is test of that. Never once did I feel confined in my movements in these maps, which is quite a feat. My personal favorite map, Sea Haven, is drop dead gorgeous. A giant volcano ring is encircled by turbulent water slamming into the shores, complemented by moody lightning and clouds. No matter how low or high you fly, these maps always look good. The planes as well are aptly bump mapped and are a spectacle to see in flight, performing dips, dives, and loops with incredibly fluid and beautiful animation. The planes also break up in stages depending on how much damage you have taken. Once you get really low on health, your plane will burst into flame and other players will be able to easily spot you and finish the job.
[floatright]http://www.snackbar-games.com/images/reviews/crimsonskies/ss11_thumb.jpg[/floatright]CS doesn’t disappoint with the audio, either. Featuring a larger than life soundtrack that fits the single player perfectly, CS’s music is there when you need it but not so much as to irritate. The real stars of the show however are the games’ sound effects. A rusty minigun melted onto the side of a plane unleashing thousands of bullets sounds as mean as it should, and the high-pitch screaming of rockets all too well lets you know you’re screwed. Performing high-g maneuvers results in a whining from the plane, and screaming straight down will result in your plane buckling and stuttering. Stalling your plane in the air is also sweet, as there’s nothing you can do until your plane comes out of its death roll and you re-take control. As mentioned earlier, the voice acting is top notch and the ambient sounds on moody maps help to immerse you to the fullest.
If you have not already run to your nearest game store to pick up CS, I highly recommend you do. Even if you are not a flight buff, CS can still appeal to you. That is because of CS’s greatest achievement – it equally appeals to players who just want to jump in and shoot at planes as well as those who like to strategically fly their planes accomplishing kills with deadly precision and strategy. If you have Live, CS is one of the few games worth $50. If you don’t have Live, then rent. CS’s single player, while good, is not long enough to warrant a costly purchase.