It's never a good sign when you wake up, hungover, w/ a Cajun whacko holding a gun to your head, claiming you lost everything but the clothes on the floor in a card game the night before. However, when you're name is Nathan Zachary, and you're the hottest air-jockey in all of the South Pacific - if not the Western Hemisphere - you have more than the pre-requisite bravado and machismo to turn it all around. So, get off your back, excuse yourself to the lady who shared your bed, and get your plane back before it's too late. Then you can worry about trying to track down your Zeppelin, The Pandora, and liberating it from the greasy clutches of the Ragin' Cajuns. From there, the sky is the limit...
The tutorial level at the beginning makes the gameplay seem all too easy. Thrust, brake, Snap Turn, Barrel Roll, etc. No problem, right? Absolutely. However, it is mastering the various combinations of these maneuvers, while retaining a bead on the bad guy and managing your 'special fuel' reserve, that separates the barn-stormers from the Red Barons. Extremely intuitive gameplay, and while slim in the special maneuver department, combo's allow for a large number of both attack moves as well as evasive maneuvers. The black button can be used to discern whether that red dot closing on you on your radar is coming from below or screaming down on top of you. The ability to man an AA gun, whether it's a high caliber machine gun or a manually guided rocket launcher (ground based, mounted on a Zep or a boat) provides for a nice alternative to the swooping and dizzying flying portions of the game. And you can jump into an AA gun and back out w/o any loading screens or hiccups whatsoever. This fluidity in the gameplay mixed w/ a generous "you-can-ct-a-lot" physics model makes for the best dogfighting experience this gamer has had in quite some time. One player and multi-player both have a lot to offer, and w/ downloadable content and Live multi-player support, Crimson Skies will spend many hours spinning in your Xbox.
Gorgeous. Plain and simple. A great use of color palletes define the overall feeling and mood of each of the levels, from the blues and grays of Sea Haven to the earth-tones of Arixo and the dark blues and steely hues found in Chicago. Textures are fantastic, and the generous use of the special FX Xbox gamers expect make for a really pretty game. You'd be hard pressed to not want to just fly around and take in the scenery.
Okay, now I can gripe. What is with the music? I don't know how many times while I've been playing that the music has left me feeling like playing KOTOR. The soundtrack, while beautiful and original at points, will change into this almost blatant Star Wars theme rip-off. I almost expect at times for some Tie Fighters to come screaming in at me. Also, I have noticed that sometimes, however infrequently, the sound FX seem to dip and almost mute. Guns will suddenly fire super-quiet, and your engine sounds muffled. It seems to happen more in multiplayer. Either way, this is a small thing, but a disappointment nonetheless in what stacks up to be an extremely enjoyable, highly addictive dogfighter. Guns, rockets, and voice-overs are all done top-notch and play seamlessly between various transitions (ie: if Betty is chewing you a new one for shooting her up *oops hehehe* as you land to man an AA gun, her voice doesn't skip a beat).
Suggestions: The option to go First Person would be nice. I don't mind seeing my plane and all, but the option to go w/o would be a nice addition. A different approach to saving would also be nice. I've got three save-games going in the one player just because I'm anal about getting every last token, mission and plane. It's frustrating to take a mission and realize that you've just left a level that you didn't explore fully. And avoid the Star Wars sounding combat music. It's eerily similar. Other than that, just make w/ a sequel. And to whoever said 'add Zeps to multiplayer', I agree wholeheartedly. That, and bots in multiplayer so those w/o Live can get a good bit of split-screen teamplay.