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Old 04-19-2006, 10:13 AM   #1
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Thumbs up [XBOX 360 Game Review] Blazing Angels

This new 360 title by UbiSoft has brought back to me all of my fond memories of real-world aircraft simulators that once dominated my ever-faithful Sega Genesis. Speaking of old things, Blazing Angels is the latest console combat flight simulator that has successfully melded historical and technological accuracy with good use of the 360's graphical capabilities to produce a gorgeous, enjoyable game.

(see more about the game here)

It's 1940, and you are an American pilot training in Britain just prior to wide-scale US involvement in the war in 1942. You play 'the Captain', a fighter pilot who will come to lead the experienced, elite four-man 'Angels of Dunkirk' squadron, who will play a role in seventeen key aerial engagements of World War II.

To be honest, on this I have to go with my second impressions; rather, my first impressions involved playing the training mission for 5 minutes and crashing the aircraft before saying, 'I'll take it'. Second impressions, for about the first half of the single-player campaign, were a little limited. Many of the missions seemed unbearably short: I could get through an engagement in about ten minutes. However, it wasn't until I started paying attention to my scores that I began to see where the skill in this game is.
At the end of each single-player mission, your performance is graded on a five-star system, based on how many enemy units you destroyed of three types (aircraft, ground units, naval units), as well as how much time elapsed for you to finish the mission. For each mission, you have targets that are set for these criteria, and how well you score under (or above) them determines your score. Coming in under the 'ideal' time limit and over your kill count nets you five stars and a medal, which when all are unlocked give you a nice 50 point on your gamer profile. Two and four-stars unlock new aircraft to be played in the non-campaign options, but i'll get to that later.
While the campaign missions, in some cases, are very short they quickly become intense, both in amount of action and in flying skill that I found quickly develops due to the control style (will also get to this). Each mission has several objectives that are often either timed, or a predicated on the survival of a friendly air or ground unit, whose safety is your responsibility. Accomplishing these objectives within the time limit, and without letting the Allies be overwhelmed, while keeping your own tail in the air is the difficult part of this game. There is no difficulty level to select, just this, and it's enough.
Completing the single-player campaign rewards you with two Mini Campaigns, Dogfighting and Bombing Runs, which I finished in all of half an hour. They are essentially 'highlights' from SP, but give you one last gasp of fun.

First, let's talk control style. For any of you familiar with the original XBOX controller and not with that of the 360, well, there aren't that many differences. The Black and White buttons are now index-finger tabs, much like the L12/R12 buttons on the PS2 controller. What's important for our purposes are both triggers, and both analog sticks. You use all four, ALL THE TIME. Here's the deal: left stick controls the pitch and yaw of the aircraft. Right stick controls the throttle, so pushing up throttles up, down throttles down and air brakes, and left-right movement rolls the aircraft. Pushing down on the right stick also launches ordinance. Fun, no? There's more! Right trigger fires your guns, and left trigger is your 'targeting'. On that, here's my first favourite part of this game.
Accuracy. Mustangs and Spitfires didn't have targeting computers. Rather, they did, and to quote my favourite KOTOR droid, they were meatbags. What the left trigger represents is you, the pilot, physically looking at his target and keeping his eyes on it. You have to hold this trigger down in order to track your target, there is no targeting lock. To this end, that part of the gameplay to me adds a bit more of a realistic feel; you have to concentrate on your target in order to track him. What this also leads to is a butterfingers handling of the controller; thank god they're cordless. Four fingers moving in different directions all at once to control this aircraft sometimes makes it tricky, but in my opinion, makes it fun; flying an aircraft wasn't easy.
The squadron. Throughout the campaign, you will meet and assemble your other three 'specialist' wingmen (who are, quite honestly, archetypes of any war movie you'll ever see), whose special skills are accessible from the D-Pad: 'Joe' is your mechanic, and provides useful gearheaded insights whenever you push his direction on the D-Pad. He then gives you a four-button combo (ABXY buttons) to hit that will repair your aircraft. Here it departs from accuracy, but honestly, when it's only you four defending Peal Harbour, it makes the game playable. 'Tom' is 'the Shield', and if you hit his button on the D-Pad he will taunt whomever is chasing you, and take them off your back. Useful, but you need to watch out for the guy. 'Frank' is the crazy one; hit his button and he will break from formation to go after whoever you told him to- and everyone else in that poor bastard's squad. The D-Pad also allows you to give orders to the squad as a whole, either to stay with you, defend you, or break off and attack.
The aircraft. There are 42 gorgeously rendered aircraft in the game, 32 of which are flyable in multiplayer or skirmish mode. American, British, German, and Japanese aircraft (all with ethnic radio voiceovers from their pilots, all the time) are unlockable from the single-player campaign. I'll cover more of my commentary on these in a later section, as it has to do with graphics quality. Each aircraft handles differently, with a unique engine pitch and accurate weapon hardpoints. My only regret here is that more aircraft from the Pacific engagements were not present, namely the P-38 Lightning, which played a remarkable role both in air and ground engagements.

Gameplay Extras:
There are a couple of non-campaign modes for the player to try after or during their exhausting experiences in SP.
First is the Ace Duel, where you are pitted against an Ace AI in an identical aircraft. A successful kill (one) nets you a new paintjob for that aircraft, and another 50 points on your gamer profile for doing so on all 32 flyable aircraft. My regret here is that, honestly, with Aces like these it's a wonder any side won the war. The Ace AI is by no means tough, but the 'unlockable stuff' aspect of this option is at least partially redeeming.
Second is Arcade Mode. In this more action-packed mode, your one aircraft faces three waves of different enemy aircraft (36 total). You are on a time budget, which grows with each kill, and you are given a repair code in between waves. Successful completion nets you a Stat upgrade for your aircraft, and a bunch more points on your Gamer Profile. This mode i find more enjoyable than the Ace Duel, simply because there's more to do, and with 12:1 odds, it's a lot more fun.

Level Design:
This game made excellent use of the 360's graphical capabilities, and is very rich in sharp detail and vibrant colour. Environmental detail is perhaps the most impressive, especially so in urban engagements (London, Paris, Berlin), where each and every ground structure is rendered with sharp, detailed textures (as I would know from crashing into them), and especially in urban centers, they have been accurately *mapped*. Flying around Paris, one can find the Louvre (I think it was, when i crashed into it), the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe to name a few, but aside from landmarks the streets are laid out accurately, as are different architectural styles across those three urban centers. In urban engagements, this attention to world detail is what makes this such an immersive game, imho; it looks and feel real; with this game as an example, following those of the MS Flight Simulator series, going for accurate world detail makes for a much more enjoyable game experience (if you notice it). Environmental effects are also impressive. Flying over London during the Blitz, the sky is thick with low, black smoke hanging over the city, and the sky is an oddly gray-yellow as the sun tries to shine through. In contrast, engagements in Northern Africa (us against Rommel) feature detailed rolling dunes and cliffs, and a hot sun that gleams off your aircraft. I think the most impressive example is a campaign mission in Denmark, that finds you flying through an icy fjord (crafted by Slartibartfast himself). Ground textures change throughout the map in more rural settings, and there is a great deal of care taken in making a map that doesn't seem to fake and two-dimensional; even something to minor as the rendering of trees each as a separate object in the terrain, clumped together to make a copse or forest lends to the care taken by level designers in creating this game.

Aircraft Design:
Again, the graphics engine. Not much can be said here excepting the quality of texture rendering used on the aircraft. Each aircraft features accurate paint schemes unique to that group (or aircraft itself), and are very cleanly rendered. The high level of Anti-Aliasing offered by the 360 graphical drive adds to the seamlessness of objects in the game world, and makes it as much a pleasure to look at the aircraft as it is to fly them. Generally, the graphical quality of this game will knock you over around mid-Campaign.

The only beef I have here is the music; it does have that 'honourable air battle' feel to it from any 1930s war flick, but it doesn't quite have that 'every action I take will decide the fate of the world' power to it, and it gets a little repetetive if you're not focusing on something else during the game. Weapon sounds are crisp and clean, I can't vouch for accuracy but they sound very nice. What I think impressed me here was something I already said: each aircraft sounds different from another, depending on what it has under the hood. Also, what I can find immersive (and annoying) is voiceovers from either side in the engagement. The Japanese accent is, at best, laughable; I've spoken with a number of Japanese guys at school, whose first language is *not* English, and even they don't sound as dopey as the Japanese pilots in this game. The commentary can get repetetive, as both the Germans and Japanese seem to say the *exact* same things over the radio.

There are a ton of multiplayer options, both mission Co-Op, plain dogfighting, and bombing runs among other things. I look forward to playing this on XBL, but for the moment, I give it:


"For in that we are both especially daring and especially thorough in calculating what we attempt, we can truly be distinguished from other men, for whom ignorance is boldness but calculation brings hesitancy. Rightly would they be judged strongest in spirit who recognize both dangers and pleasures with utmost clarity and are on neither count deterred from risks."

- Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War: 2.40, "The Funeral Oration of Perikles" (431 BCE)

Last edited by Raiyven; 04-19-2006 at 10:21 AM.
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