Fun is the end goal of constructing a game. The hype, graphics, and back of the box features mean nothing if the game doesn't deliver the fun. Ubisoft has chosen to unburden itself of many of the clunky parts of the action genre by focusing on a formula that works. Blazing Angels is a WWII airplane shooter with minimal interface elements, a satisfying physical experience, and an ignorable plot. It's not a game for the ages, but Angels manages to deliver an uncomplicated and entertaining experience. Read on for my impressions of very grounded flying game.
As a Yank in Britland, you're going to get razzed a lot in Blazing Angels. You're one of a few Americans attached to the RAF, and the war of the Greatest Generation is on in full force. Along with a bumpkin of a mechanic and a pair of taciturn flyboys, you'll be taking on the largest aerial battles in the war. Starting with the clash at Dunkirk, you pilot craft around the world on the side of the Allies. Aside from the scenery whipping beneath your plane and the 'flavour' of the missions you're given, there's not much more to the plot of the game. Angels takes you through a Cliff's Notes version of the war, which I actually appreciate. I'm more than a little tired of WW2 games trying to teach me about that period in history, so it was nice to set the brain on autopilot during the dramatic cutscenes (all of which are skippable).
- Title: Blazing Angels
- Developer/Publisher: Ubisoft
- System:360 (Xbox)
Autopilot won't help in the combat arenas, which move at a brisk clip. Each battle is broken down into a series of objectives. Your wingmen keep you appraised of the situation with audio cues and a great 'objective lock' feature. By holding down a button, your camera turns to focus on whatever you should be attacking. It makes three dimensional dogfighting a manageable (and enjoyable) experience. The focus of the controls seems to be entirely about putting you in the moment as much as possible. There are almost no HUD elements to clutter your view. Weapons have unlimited ammo, and a simple on-screen indicator tells you when you've got a good aim on a target. The controller's vibrate function, which in many games I find annoying, emphasizes the danger of the moment as your vintage craft shudders to greater speeds. While the sometimes necessary confusion of aerial combat can make for disorienting moments, the control scheme is intuitive and useful.
The missions themselves, unfortunately, don't live up to the moment-to-moment action. Once you're diving and wheeling against a pilot in the Luftwaffe, you're going to tend to forget the reason you're there. The distinct mission segments are utterly forgettable. They mostly consist of 'take out that unit' or 'keep that vehicle/building intact'. Mediocre setting elements could have been saved by good voice acting, but that's sadly not the case here either. Almost universally the voice actors go full out for 'recognizable stereotype', and sometimes don't even manage to get where they're aiming for. Probably most annoying are the extremely chatty enemies. As you shoot down opponents you'll be constantly bombarded with insulting commentary and annoyed exclamations. You'd think that the opposing forces would be running on different radio frequencies.
Visually, Blazing Angels is a competent success. The 360's power is put to use creating a seamless and smooth combat experience and expansive observable vistas. The game's art direction has something of a softness to it, giving the appearance of flying through an old-timey photograph. The specificity of the art direction coupled with the title's speed results in a fighting experience that feels something like an homage to another Xbox title. That title is Crimson Skies. One of the original offerings for the first Xbox, the alternate history flying shooter is a solid and enjoyable gaming experience even three years later. In comparison, Angels comes up short, but certainly not for lack of trying. Blazing Angels is ultimately an uncomplicated flying experience that aims for style over substance. It succeeds at simplicity where Full Auto failed. It does what it does very well, without technical hiccups, and backs that technical prowess with simple and fun gameplay. The brevity of the experience and the corny voice acting keep the game from being a long-haul title, but this one is definitely worth a rental. Rent it, play online, grab your achievements, and then move on to weightier games. With some of the hotly anticipated titles slated for later this year likely to run to epic lengths, this dime-store war story will feel like a nice change of pace.