Blazing Angels: Squadrons of WW2

Flight sim fans who have moved over to the 360 from the Xbox have not been happy to discover that its backwards compatibility did not extend to titles such as Crimson Skies or Secret Weapons Over Normandy. Hoping to fill in the gap left open, Ubisoft Romania was rallied to put together Blazing Angels, bringing high flying WW2 action to the console. It’s got quite a few edge of your seat moments as you duel the best from the Third Reich and the Empire of Japan, but it seems to have forgotten a lot of what made its peers fun and what the genre’s fans have become used to seeing.

Blazing Angels was flown on the 360. It is also available for the Xbox and PC.

Tommies and Yanks

Blazing Angels puts you in cockpit of a plane as a fresh pilot from the United States that is sent to Britain to assist the RAF in defending the nation from the Luftwaffe. As you fight alongside fellow teammates Tom, Frank, and Joe in the skies, you’ll find yourself fighting over both Europe and the Pacific as WW2 rages in over eighteen missions. There’s really not a whole lot of story to the game aside from the introductory text and voice monologue that introduce each mission. Don’t expect cut scenes to give you some kind of historical context for what you’ll be going into, or any other kind of intermission to better know who you will be flying with or against. Blazing Angels is all about straight up action without a lot of story to get in the way.

Gameplay

Getting into the sky and staying up there is incredibly easy to do. The game is not a flight simulator requiring you to know the nuances of flight, being a lot more like an arcade flier with your plane chasing the crosshairs that you move around the screen. There are no G-forces to worry about and stalls are easy to get out of. You’ll still explode if you hit something on the ground, though, but it gives you a lot of forgiving leeway in maneuvering around no matter what plane you find yourself in.

Dogfighting in the skies of Blazing Angels is also a simple matter of just pointing your cursor at a foe within range and firing away as soon as it lights up. In some missions, you’ll also get bombs and even rockets to use against ground and sea targets. In another nod to making the game accessible and a lot more arcade-like, there’s no fuel or ammo limit, although you’ll have to wait for your spent bombs and rockets to “reload” themselves as you fly around. A chase camera behind your plane provides the only view that you’ll really have of the action as there’s no cockpit or zoom available, but it does a decent job in following the action that you point it at in front of you.

You can also lock onto foes with the camera with the left trigger as you pitch and maneuver your way to try and get a bead on them in the title’s only concession to being able to look around your plane. This can get a little awkward with the camera pointing behind your plane while you pitch and spin in the air, but the simple flight mechanics make it hard to really get lost in a chase. The right analog stick also doubles as the acceleration and braking stick, making it kind of awkward to use in a dogfight, although it really doesn’t get in the way with practice. This would have been made easier if I were able to tweak the controls, but the only things you’ll be able to tweak is whether you like flying with an inverted Y axis or if you want to turn off the rumble function.

Blazing Angels skimps on most everything else that can make it easier on the pilot to keep up with the clutter on the screen. There’s no radar to help keep track of your foes in the midst of battle to make up for not being able to look around your cockpit, no compass to check your direction especially when some of your team mates yell out where the enemy is coming from (apparently, they all have compasses), no altimeter to give you a rough idea of how close you are to hitting the ground, and no speed indicator. You pretty much fly at a default speed throughout the game, aside from slowing down or speeding up in bursts, and most of the enemy seems to do the same thing. You also have no idea how much damage you may have received as there’s nothing to really indicate the health of your plane other than trailing smoke, and then the fire of your engine to tell you that you might be in trouble.

You also can’t select what plane you want to use in the next mission, even with a potential roster of over forty or so planes to choose from, as that opportunity is reserved for two of the title’s standalone modes outside of the main campaign. In fact, there’s nothing in between any of the missions aside from a nice wallpaper screen that shows you what mission you’re getting into. There’s no build up, no History Channel-esque cinematic for the curious, no workshop to tweak whatever planes you may have unlocked, nothing to allow you to select what ordinance you want to go into battle with. Nothing except a load screen with some gameplay tips.

It hasn’t forgotten about everything, though, and while you are treated like a one-man air force for most the game, you’re not alone. In most of your missions, you’ll fly with fellow fliers Tom, Frank, and Joe. Squad controls are handled with the D-pad, telling them to form up, defend you, or attack as you scroll through those commands by pressing up. The other three main directions on the pad are reserved for your teammates and each of them do something special. Tom is the “Shield” and using him will distract whoever is attacking you for a time. Frank is the “Hunter”. Activating him will send him at whoever you’re targeting including whatever friends they may have, scoring nearly four or so kills per run. And then there’s Joe, the Mechanic. Activating him brings up a button combination on screen which, if you follow the sequence successfully, can actually repair your plane in mid-air.

As soon as you use one of these “powers”, they’ll slowly recharge allowing you to call on them again. You won’t have them for every mission, either, which can add a bit to the challenge. It’s too bad that the storytelling in the game was so bad. Although it tries to get you to care about your wingmen, there’s not a lot there to really tell you why other than in making them feel like talking power ups.

Checkpoints within certain missions allow you to pick up where you left off if you’re shot down as long as you don’t leave the game. There are plenty of targets to aim at, although the AI isn’t the smartest pilot in the air aside from the occasional ace pilot that decides to show up. But while it has moments of fun, the missions can also feel repetitive. You’ll be asked to sink ships, blow up ground forces, or shoot down planes for the most part but don’t expect bonus objectives or secrets to hunt down while you fly the unfriendly skies. Blazing Angels doesn’t offer a whole lot outside of simply shooting your way in and back out of each mission.

From Europe to the Pacific

The visuals that the press has bombarded gamers with were pretty impressive when I first saw them. London smoldering beneath the relentless attacks of the Luftwaffe while a desperate battle raged in the skies overhead was something that had gotten me pretty excited in anticipation of what Blazing Angels would offer. Unfortunately, pictures don’t tell the entire story.

Even when the demo was released, players sounded off on the tearing that they saw in the game. It was most visible whenever you executed a fast turn, resembling something along the lines of the screen failing to refresh quickly enough resulting in the tear that was reported. This is still present in the final product.

What the visuals do well, however, are show off the planes that you can fly and fly against. Planes show damage and leave trails of smoke behind them and when they finally go up in a ball of fire, its pretty satisfying. They also do a good job in showing off mile upon mile of city scape beneath your plane along with many of the special effects that fill the skies with thundering explosions and columns of inky smoke. Although the cities look okay, the streets are strangely empty aside from targets that may occasionally show up on the ground. The sky effects are also pretty nice to look at, with a glowing sun hovering over the desert horizon and clouds filling the skies over shattered Berlin. It can paint a pretty picture, but its nothing as dramatic as the screenshots would indicate as you’ll be too busy dogfighting to really appreciate most of it. The skies can also get pretty crowded but it still can’t touch Heroes of the Pacific for the sheer furball madness that a hundred or so planes can bring.

The sound is pretty good as engines hum, machine guns belch leaden fire, and explosions rumble through your speakers. A heroic soundtrack accompanies you throughout the game to try and keep you in an epic mood. Unfortunately, much of this comes crashing down thanks to some of the worst voice acting that you may ever hear.

I am the Fist. You are the Board!

I’ll come to the point: the voice acting in the game makes use of the worst stereotypes that have ever graced a ‘professional’ title. Officer Crabtree from Allo Allo would have been right at home here. It’s especially jarring given how seriously the game tries to carry its heroics before resorting to WW2 propaganda inspired caricatures and dialog. Now, some games intentionally present this kind of direction in an entertaining fashion while not becoming tasteless, such as in Crimson Skies where pulp heroes and larger than life villains rule the day or in Secret Weapons Over Normandy where the acting sounds fine and avoids overplaying its lines to the point of nausea. In Blazing Angels, though, it comes off as almost insulting.

With everyone clued in on your radio frequency and speaking accented English, Japanese pilots mock you with winners such as “I am the fist! You are the board!”. The Luftwaffe’s best sound as if they had just come out from a badly written comic book, pulling every sneer and accented “unt” inspired by campy WW2 films. Add in awful, oft repeated dialog that everyone seems to beat to death no matter where you are in the world, and you might be pausing long enough to hit that option screen to lower the voice volume to zero. But you would still have to contend with the larger than life subtitles that the game splashes across the top third of the screen in big, comic style font lettering…subtitles that you can’t turn off. In a bizarre way, Blazing Angels has managed to turn back the voice acting clock for gaming.

Typos in the subtitles, missing speech, and a near total abandonment of anything historically correct other than the locations for the battles that you take part in continue to wreck the presentation such as when one of your wingmen refer to Rommel and his “Desert Rats”. Nevermind that the British are the Desert Rats…not the Germans. Or that the heavy water plant you’re sent in to destroy did not sit in the middle of a water filled ice pit. There are in-game cut scenes that try to tell more of the story or indicate something that you should really pay attention to, but these unskippable interludes can become deadly since your plane doesn’t stop flying when they begin playing. I’ve died a few times this way while in a dive or if I was flying a little too low when these took over, exploding right after the cut scene finished as I smashed into a building or cliff that I could have avoided.

I Need Some Help Here

Outside the main campaign, you also get to play around with several timed standalone modes where you finally get a chance to select from the planes that you can unlock depending on how well you do in each mission. Arcade allows you to test your skills against several waves of AI attackers. A Mini-Campaign mode allows you to choose between bombing or fighter runs, with additional missions offered as you complete them. Finishing either mini campaign affords you several bonus upgrades that are applied to your planes making them faster, deadlier, and tougher in combat. There’s also an Ace Duel that unlocks an ace skin that you can use for your selected plane if you manage to win.

And if that’s not enough, players may also appreciate what may be the real reason to get the game: multiplayer. Blazing Angels offers up typical split screen action or action over the system link. If you have Xbox Live, you and a maximum of fifteen other players can fight each other in a variety of modes and stages, cooperate to take out AI objectives, or team up in squadrons to wage war in the skies. Quite a few modes are available to choose from ranging from simple dogfighting to defending objectives against harrowing kamikaze strikes. The bad thing is that the 360 community seems to be all but dead online for Blazing Angels. I occasionally found a game, but I was more than a little disappointed to find the lobby empty more often than I would have liked.

As for achievements, there’s not a whole lot of these here other than that offered for multiplayer. As you progress through the main campaign, for example, don’t expect a whole lot other than a medal on your virtual chest and a pat on the back for surviving another mission.

Clipped Wings

With a short, single player campaign slapped together and layered over with the thin veneer of a historical backdrop, the only saving grace it may have is with its multiplayer component…as long as you can find someone out there to play with as the 360 community for the title seems to have completely disappeared. It’s also available for the Xbox and PC, but it offers nothing to really convince you that it is better than what is already out there. Blazing Angels tries to fill in a spot that is sorely lacking on the 360 and while it offers up some nail biting moments, the minimalist gameplay has left out most everything else that other similar titles have used to expand their experience beyond the dogfighting leaving this campaign grounded.

- World 1-1

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