Finally, the much anticipated and highly hyped Crimson Skies has arrived for the Xbox and Xbox Live! I will be the first to admit that this game has been on my most wanted list for a long time and I have been very eagerly awaiting the release. Well, the wait is finally over, so was it worth all the hype and anticipation?
When you first load up the game, initially it is nothing impressive. The menu screens and interface seem kind of dated, and reminded me a lot of MechAssault. Once signed into Xbox Live, it takes a few seconds to get your orientation and figure out how to find your Friends List and send invites. There are the standard Xbox Live features; Quick Match, Optimatch, Create a Match, Scoreboards, and Sign out. Quick Match obviously throws you right into the first match it finds that seems suitable for your needs. Optimatch allows you to set some options as to what kinds of gameplay type, how many players, and map selection that you want to see a list for. The listing shows a 1 to 5 star rating for how well this game matches your needs and/or connection quality. There is also a summary provided for each match that lets you know how many players are playing, what gameplay type, what map, and so on. Once you’ve selected a match, you are greeted with a very useful and intuitive “lobby” where all of the players can chat while setting up their plane choice. Also, the host can make changes to the gameplay modes and map sections in addition to how many players are supported, and how many, if any, are reserved for friends only. Once everyone has selected their plane and are ready, the Host ultimately decides to “launch” the game.
The first thing you will notice once the match begins is how truly amazing and stunning the graphics are for this game. I’ve played many times and I’m still blown away every time the screen first appears and I see my plane and the amazingly huge area that I’m in. The attention to detail is amazing as well. Everything from the waviness of heat as you use your Turbo boost to a flaming enemy plane and the smoke trail that follows it is awesome. The smoke trails for burning enemies actually prove very useful, as when you are chasing it around if it eludes you, you can somewhat follow its smoke trail off screen to regain a position on it. The textures of all of the buildings, the water in the oceans, and the mountainsides are all done very well.
The sound in Crimson Skies is also done very well, although it does not even compare with the graphics department, and the sound overall is not as impressive as a game like MechAssault. When I first started playing the game, I could not tell at all that I was being shot at; I would just randomly blow up at times. Then after I got used to the game, I would notice subtle little sound effects of bullets pinging off my wings or fuselage and the slight rumbling of my controller, letting me know that I was indeed taking hits and damage. Another neat effect is if your plane stalls because you used boost too long, you will start to spin out of control and do a nose-dive, while the plane starts to make that ever so popular “going down” noise, like when its traveling extremely fast towards the ground. All in all the sound compliments this excellent game almost perfectly, although I would have preferred for a little more surround effects, considering I’m flying around in the sky and there’s planes buzzing around me at extreme speeds constantly.
The control setup in the game, while slightly confusing at first, is done perfectly. Put simply, you can literally fly around, attack enemies, and have a good time with only the use of the Left analog stick and the Right trigger. But, that’s just the beginning, as there is so much more you can do. The Left analog stick is your primary means of steering and controlling the plane. There is an option to turn Invert Pitch on or off, and it is readily available at all times, not something that’s specifically only in the options menu. While using the Left stick to fly around and control the plane, you can quickly press Left, Right, or Down on the D-pad to check the Left, Right and Behind of your plane. The Right analog stick is used specifically for the fancier control of the plane. Turning the stick will literally spin your plane around on its axis, prefect for those quick get aways where you need to squeeze in a thin passage between two buildings. The fun part comes in when you couple both analog sticks with a click of the R3 (press the Right analog stick) button. Multiple combinations of the 2 sticks and a R3 press will perform a special move. Pressing both sticks up and then click R3 will cause the plane to begin a hard loop up and spin around, a 180 degree turn in the sky! There are I believe 6 total moves you can pull off. Press both sticks to the right and click R3 for a Barrel roll to the right, go left for a Barrel roll to the left. The left and right Triggers are your primary means of firing, left being your secondary weapon (of which you usually have limited supply) and the right is your main gun, usually a machine gun. The Y button is used for turbo boost, while the B button is used for your air brake, which comes in extremely handy if you are chasing an enemy and your plane is slightly faster than his. The X button is used as an Action button, specifically if you are approaching a stationary turret and want to enter it, you press X while near it (a blinking icon will let you know when you are close enough to press X) and your plane will automatically land and you will then appear in the turret. (the turrets, by the way, are really awesome!) Some of the turrets use machine guns, some have guided missiles (that you control, but they move extremely fast), and others have an explosive like cannon. Definitely an awesome addition to the game, especially when guarding your base for Capture the Flag type games. Finally, there is the use of the little Black button. This button can be extremely useful as it’s used to lock the camera (note camera, not your aim) on the nearest enemy. The only problem with this is that you can get really disoriented because you could be looking at your plane from the front, and all of your controls are almost reversed. The aim in this game is also something that I’m very pleased with. It seems like something that will only get better as you play. The aim, various special moves, conservation of your boost meter, and multiple camera angles all add up to a game that actually takes skill to play, unlike MechAssault which was only a button masher.
There are only 5 maps that can be play played online, and I’m hoping this is because they plan to give us a bunch more as Downloadable Content. (I still think its lame to release a few maps with the game and then “provide” more as DLC, but that’s a topic for another time and place) Windy City is a futuristic nighttime city during a really bad lighting storm. Lost City takes place in the caves of what appears to be ancient Aztec ruins. Chicago is my favorite map and is basically a futuristic city packed with tons of really tall skyscrapers. Sea Haven seems to be a factory or plant of sorts jammed in-between a bunch of mountains, of which are an island. Finally there is Axiom, a Grand Canyon type of map where all of the battles take place in the sky above, and the narrow canyons below.
The various modes of gameplay that are supported online have become pretty popular with most games, and almost seem to be the standards nowadays. There’s Dogfight, free-for-all battle where it’s every man for himself, Team Dogfight, Flag Heist, Keep Away, and Wild Chicken. Flag Heist is your standard Capture-the-flag gameplay type. Wild Chicken is a fun and interesting game. It’s a lot like Bombing Run in Unreal Championship. There is a Wild Chicken flying around the map, and its up to either team to capture it, and take it to your base where you score points (a touchdown of sorts). The Chicken sits on your wing while you make your way to your base, and if you get shot down he just fly’s around right at the spot where you were destroyed, waiting to get picked up by someone else.
One other really important thing I would like to point out is that it appears that MS finally got it right with the “hosting” aspect of this game. Looks like almost anyone can host a large number of players no matter their connection speed. I’ve played in a few different matches that have had at least 14 or more players with no lag whatsoever! This is great news, and maybe MS has finally listened to all of our complaints (*cough* RTCW *cough*).
There are a few complaints I have though. It seems that sometimes after playing a match, every person who was playing gets booted back to the main menu of the game, ultimately being logged off of Live. No big deal, as I’m sure they will have that fixed with a download fairly soon. Also, while most of the planes seem to be fairly balanced, there are a few that stand out as having an unfair advantage. There are also a few that just seem like; “Why in the world would anyone ever choose that?” I guess, like the elementals, they might have their place in those goofing off matches where everyone decides to use the same kind of plane.
Overall, this is an excellent game and I’m so glad it’s finally out and was worth the wait. So many times a game gets over hyped only to fall flat on its face after release. It really seems like the developers spent a long time implementing the Live capabilities as everything that Live has to offer is in place. Whether or not this game will prove to have the staying power remains to be seen. But with all of the huge Live titles coming down the pipeline over the next month, I still think I will be taking some time to “just have fun” and play this game.
Graphics - 9
Sound - 8
Gameplay - 8.5
Online - 10
Overall - 9
Crimson Skies: High Road To Revenge, Ntsc
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