Summary: The year is 1937. The United States has shattered under the weight of the Great Depression, regional Prohibition, and mounting isolationism. The transcontinental railroad and the budding highway system have become useless as they now cross hostile borders. Commerce and trade leave the ground as air travel—once a national obsession—now becomes a vital lifeline connecting allied countries. Giant zeppelins crisscross the skies, carrying both passengers and cargo. It is a time of gunship diplomacy and airship piracy. It is the age of the fighter pilot and a time of daredevil adventure and sinister intrigue. It is the world of Crimson Skies!
We’ve seen how Xbox gamers still laugh in the fact of PC-only gamers at how those willing to up with the gamepad got to play Halo almost two years ahead of the keyboard and mousers. Nevertheless, the PC-only gamers still had their day.
Then there are the other games which the Xbox shamelessly snatched away from the PC. The Mech series became the Xbox-only affair MechAssault. Midtown Madness is Only on Xbox for its third outing. And now, Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge is the latest reason for those beige-box owners to cry, “Why have you forsaken us?”
Yes, Microsoft Game Studios air combat game has left the PC and has landed on Xbox’s landing strip (which might actually be physically possible, given the console’s dimensions).
For those of you who can look past this latest PC theft and perhaps actually own an Xbox, you’ll be interested to know that Crimson Skies is one of the very best action games of the year. Read on for our review.
SIDEBAR: Clearly, we are not above jokes about Xbox’s size. In all serious though, the Xbox is a pretty compact system given all the hardware that’s packed inside.
Much the game’s story is told through narration during gameplay and CGI sequences between levels. The plot is well paced and is interesting enough for you to care about the single player missions. While there’s a general, linear path for you to follow to unravel the storyline, there’s a small degree of freedom within each map. Taking a page out of Grand Theft Auto, you can fly around and find miscellaneous missions to complete to earn extra cash. Such missions usually involve destroying an enemy or defending/escorting cargo. There are also opportunities for races where you can bet money on whether or not you can beat the best ‘lap’ time. Cash and reward tokens are used to upgrade your plane(s).
For the sake of simplicity (for better or worse), the level of plane customization from the previous Crimson Skies PC game is nowhere to be found in High Road to Revenge. Instead, you’re only given the option to purchase pre-set upgrades.
Also missing in this console Crimson Skies is the cockpit view. While we liked the ‘third-person’ just fine (nothing like sweating it out in the heat of battle seeing your engine catch fire), those accustomed to seeing things from the pilot seat may be unhappy.
SIDEBAR: The protagonist’s real name is Natan Zingiri, but he changed it to sound more heroic.
Take it or leave it
Control freaks may also be a little displeased, as there’s no way to customize your controls. That said, we found the default layout to be functionally perfect. The left thumbstick steers the plane and the right thumbstick performs rolls and other special aerial tricks when clicked. The right trigger fires your primary weapon, usually a machine gun; and the left trigger unleashes your secondary weapon, which can be anything from missiles to some lightning bolt thing. The d-pad quickly shifts the camera to the direction you press to check for bogies on your three, nine, and six. For face buttons, Y = turbo, B = brakes, A = sniper zoom, X = action, Black = camera lock, and White = broadcast in multiplayer.
SIDEBAR: The preview version of Crimson Skies we received featured excessively long load times, but thankfully, those have been reduced in the retail release.
The CGI sequences are beautifully rendered and add a real dramatic flare to the story. Its only flaw is that the video suffers from compression artifacts, making it noticeably below full DVD quality.
The sound effects are good, matching well with what’s on screen. The weapon firing effects can sound a little muted though, in contrast to the game’s booming soundtrack. The score almost constantly accompanies you in the air, with musical cues filled with American optimism that seem to be lifted straight from swashbuckling action-adventure movies from decades ago.
Crimson Skies features a good amount of voice acting for a game of its nature. Thankfully, like its PC-based ancestor, all of the voice work is excellent.
So far, it’s just the standard multiplayer modes that you’d expect from any good Xbox Live game – and they’re fun! But knowing what Fasa Studios did to extend the online playability of MechAssault, it’s likely that Crimson Skies will get the same treatment of new maps, missions, planes, weapons and game types through content downloads.
SIDEBAR: Microsoft recently changed its Xbox Live Starter Kit pricing. It jumped from $50 to $70, but you do get MechAssault bundled inside.
It’s not an innovative wonder that will blow your socks off, but the new Crimson Skies succeeds in providing an extremely well executed and polished dogfighting experience both off and online.
Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge is easily one of the better Xbox games of the year and among the very best if you have Xbox Live.
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