Blazing Angels: Squadrons of WWII
I’m sure you all remember Pearl Harbour, Michael Bay and Jerry Bruckheimer’s explosion-filled action flick. Corny storylines aside, the film definitely offered some fantastic air combat scenes. Blazing Angels: Squadrons of WWII, UbiSoft’s latest arcade flight sim wants to bring the same thrill of shooting down an enemy plane to your living room. Well, they tried…
During development, they stole quite a few things from other games in the genre, most notably Namco’s Ace Combat series and Secret Weapons over Normandy, LucasArts’ go at the genre, that dates back from winter 2003. For starters, the missions you get are nothing you haven’t seen before. Even worse: defending the British Expeditionary Force over Dunkirk is nearly exactly the same as in LucasArts two-year-old game and I can think of some other missions that at the very least have some resemblence to the ones in SWON.
Your mission objectives also don’t feature anything new. Protecting bombers, shooting down fighters, strafing ground targets, torpedoing ships: we’ve seen it all before. The last but one mission has you flying a B-17 Flying Fortress bomber plane, which is something we haven’t seen before though. That is, when you deny the turret section of the mission. The 18-mission campaign is fairly lengthy and should take you around 8 to 10 hours to complete, which is acceptable in this genre.
When you’ve completed it, there is still quite some content left for you to discover. You have two mini-campaigns, an ace dueling mode and an arcade mode. Duelling aces isn’t too hard; you can gun them all down (1 in each of the 32 planes) in a couple of hours. Just brake and outturn the bloke and you’ll be fine. This unlocks extra skins for your airplanes. The arcade mode is more interesting. You basically have to destroy three waves of twelve fighters to unlock upgrades to your fighter. Unfortunately the difficulty level thereof ranges from rediculously easy to downright impossible. Pitting a twin-engined slug, such as a Messerschmidt Bf-110 against 36 monoplane fighters (Spitfires and Hurricanes) isn’t exactly my idea of a fair fight. In World War II, that same Bf-110 would have survived right about three seconds in such a situation. Some balancing and tweaking should have been done here. Maybe it will get patched, but don’t get your hopes up. Nevertheless, if you’re still not tired of the game by then (in my opinion, you will be), there is still multiplayer for up to 16 players over Xbox Live. The game offers Dogfight, Aces High, Seek & Destroy and several team-based modes.
The planes handle well, though it takes some time getting used to the target camera. In stead of marking the location of your foe with arrows, the camera follows your selected opponent, in stead of staying firmly behind your plance. This will leave you disoriented at first, but after a while, you’ll get the hang of it. Still, the targetting mechanisms that worked so well in SWON and Ace Combat 5 still bear my preference.
You always fly with three wingmen at your side. Besides having a horrible, American hillbilly accent, each of them has a special gift, which you can use every 45 seconds or so. Tom draws away enemy fighters when they’re on your tail, Frank can go on a killing spree and Joe can repair your airplane. You’ll have to press 4 buttons in a given order to fully restore your plane. This makes the campaign insanely easy. In fact: the first time I got shot down was in the final mission (when you don’t have your wingmen from the start).
Visually, the game doesn’t fare well. The models have a little more detail on the Xbox 360 version, compared to the original Xbox’, but they’re not up to the machine’s standard. Xbox 360 owners even get an array of visual quirks that weren’t present in the other versions. The game suffers from horrible tearing (white lines that divide your screen) and the framerate is choppy at times. The speed haze effects are also quite dumb. The gun blasting and all the explosive action sounds good enough, but the voice-overs are stupid. I already mentioned your yokel-esque flying buddies, but the other actors didn’t do a great job either. German pilots (clearly voiced by an American, by the way) call you “pig dogs”, which is hilarious in a way. Still, I prefer the good old “Schweinhünde”, and I hope you will agree with me.
Blazing Angels: Squadrons of WWII is a very average title. If it wasn’t the first arcade flight sim on the Xbox 360, it would have been rather forgettable, but for now, fans of the genre are limited to this game. The game is fairly enjoyable, but never excels in any way and doesn’t bring anything new. On top of that, the technical side of the game is below what we’ve come to expect from a next-gen console. If you have a PS2, I suggest you wait for Ace Combat Zero: The Belkan War. If you only have an Xbox 360 and want to have some aerial shooting action, you could give this one a try. If you don’t care about the genre, don’t care about this game either.