Now before I begin this review of the soon to be released blockbuster I should probably warn you that I am a flying junkie. Ever since the days of yore I have played any type of flight sim I could get my hands on from the olden days of Commodore64 Apache games to the latest and greatest F-22 flight sim. I was a bit skeptical of Crimson back in the day for the fact that it looked less like a flight sim and more like a glitzy arcade game. But then again, Sega's Afterburner was an arcade game and it rocked, so I made sure to keep an eye on Crimson. Then came the moment of truth when I played the demo at this years' E3 and to keep a long story short I was totally floored by it. Screw Halo 2, Rare, booth babes and anything else going on, Crimson Skies was definitely the highlight of my trip. Booth babes were definitely up there too, but Crimson ruled all. Ever since then I have been anxiously awaiting a chance to play the whole package and when the chance finally came I nearly crapped myself in happiness. Luckily I own 3 different pairs of underwear in case this happened!
The actual gameplay itself is a perfect mix of exploratory flying and linear missions. There are times when the game will push you into a direction and give you a certain task to accomplish. Other times you will just be flying around exploring and looking for stuff to do. Of course the exploration isn't just a boring 'fly around and look at the pretty scenery' situation; there are plenty of bonuses to be found from cash to upgrade tokens tucked away in spots that will test your abilities as a pilot. Once you are done exploring you can look for work to do to make money which range from people asking you to do escort missions to requests such as taking down groups of bandits which have been causing havoc in the area.
On top of this there are certain points in the game where you encounter 'boss characters' that need to be dealt with. These range from armor plated zeppelins to giant mechanical creatures a 'la Wild Wild West. At these points you will find that shooting down everything in site isn't going to get you any further and you actually have to start looking for weaknesses and vulnerabilities in the target. This adds a little more depth to the single player game and really keeps it from becoming a monotonous shooter. Then you can also add to the list of goodness that this game is adequately long to be worth the purchase to someone who doesn't have Live. I've been playing crimson for a good 15 hours and have barely scratched the surface of what is available for the single player game.
Now here is the one part of the game that is going to either make people fall in love with it or turn away from it: the controls. For those of you who are looking for a true to life flight sim, look elsewhere. While this game does give you the ability to do control your pitch and roll, there is no yaw control and both pitch and roll are controlled by one stick. This means if you move your stick to the right your plane will automatically roll and pitch up to turn. There is no way to change it so the player is stuck with the more 'arcade' setup. Of course you still have the abilities to pull off true-to-live aerial maneuvers from immelmans to Cuban eights, but there is no point since there is a more 'arcade' way to do that as well. With the use of both analog stick you can cause your plane to automatically pull of precise maneuvers which happen much faster than just doing them manually. This means that anyone can play this game and effortlessly pull off split S's, barrel rolls, snap rolls and immelmans without having ever taken a flight class. Even with the arcade style setup, though, this game is a ton of fun to play once you get the hang of it.
Graphically Crimson Skies is a solid performer. It is by no means the prettiest game out there, but it is definitely one of the better looking games available for Xbox. The frame rate is constant, the movie sequences are well polished and presentable and the explosions are great. Nothing is quite as cool as watching a zeppelin explode into a huge fireball and fall out of the sky while you imagine the captain sitting there saying "I KNEW we shouldn't have filled this with hydrogen!" Then you get to watch the zeppelin crash into the beautiful landscape. No detail was missed when creating the different flying environments. You'll get to weave your plane through desert canyons, lush coastal regions, huge industrial cities and more. These levels are a bit exaggerated looking more like a real life rendition of comic book sets, they are still visually pleasing to the eye and offer plenty of nooks and crannies to navigate through and test out your elite piloting skills.
There is one beef that I do have with this game, but it is a minor one. I am of the opinion that every game should have custom soundtracks, whether or not the in-game music is good. If you don't want to give us control over the in-game music, at least let us listen to our favorite tracks when we are gunning it out in multiplayer. But I suppose this is only a minor problem since the soundtrack really lends to the atmosphere of the game. Remember my reference earlier to the Rocketeer? Well this reference is still valid when it comes to the music. You will be subject to a lot of orchestrated 30's music which is far from what we like to call 'exciting'. but is good enough not to be a nuisance and doesn't interfere with the ability to enjoy Crimson Skies.
The rest of the sound department shines as well. Sounds is a place where most games tend to fail in as the music becomes repetitious, sound effects are monotonous and thrown and commentary is bland to say the least. Crimson doesn't suffer from these ailments. Your plane engine happens to sound like a plane engine, bullets whiz by in a realistic fashion and hearing people complain as you shoot them out of the sky never gets old. Nathan has a steady stream of one lines he will deliver every once in a while as you bag another kill as well.
So the final verdict on the whole project? Well, you have great graphics, great sound, 10 different planes which are almost all upgradeable, you have 6 different multiplayer modes, you have the ability to jump out of your plane and man anti-aircraft guns, there are explosions, vendettas, online play. This game has it all. Ladies and Gentlemen, say hello to the first game which has successfully pulled off an amazing online and offline game in the same package. Yeah, and you thought you would have to wait until Halo 2 for something like that! Needless to say I wish we had more 'total package' games like this and my hat is off to Microsoft for putting this game on the market. Crimson Skies was definitely worth the wait and on October 21st your wait is over. Go buy this game!