STAFF REVIEW of Flying Tigers: Shadows Over China (Xbox One)

Wednesday, February 7, 2018.
by Adam Dileva

Flying Tigers: Shadows Over China Box art For a long time I’ve been looking for a game to replace Crimson Skies as my favorite arcade air combat title. There have been numerous contenders over the years that have tried to do so, but none have even come close. It seems that developer ACE MADDOX is now the newest dev-team to try and put a game in this genre out for fans as they recently released Flying Tigers: Shadows Over China (FTSOC). There’s not many air combat game releases these days, so when one does come along, I get excited, as I want to experience air combat whenever possible.

Flying Tigers does something a little different though, although the game is set during the World War 2 era, it places you into the roll of pilot in many lesser known encounters from the war, rarely depicted anywhere else, specifically, the China-Burma-India theatre. I’m not a war buff by any means, but I know the talking points and battles, and everything included in FTSOC was completely new to me. Prepare to dogfight, man turrets, perfect bombing runs, land air strikes and more as you help defend China against Japan in these rarely seen battles.

You are a part of the American Volunteer Group, a little known squadron that fought alongside the Chinese troops in the war, helping with torpedo drops, night runs, bombing, dog-fighting and more. While I wasn’t aware of the specific battles included in the campaign beforehand, history buffs should be excited to experience specific missions like the Battle of the Salween Gorge, Invasion of Malaya, and raids on Rangoon, just to list a few. These missions are based on actual historic battles, so it’s quite interesting to see some of the missions that took place, and how chaotic and dangerous it really was.

I actually never knew there was an American Volunteer Group of pilots that helped within World War II, so it was fascinating to see this during the game and in a different context other than simply being a Air Force, Navy or Marine pilot. The campaign starts off simple with basic dogfights, but eventually you’ll need to fly close to the water to launch torpedoes, strafe ground targets with your guns and bombs, destroy search lights and Anti-Air turrets, and a whole lot more among the other missions.

While there’s a little variety in the campaign, I do wish it told the stories better. You’ve given a dossier to read before and after the missions, and there’s some brief cutscenes sprinkled in with some voiceover work, but nothing exciting or that will wow you. It comes across as very dry, and more than once I forgot what the point of my mission was, only to be reminded with the objective listed in the top left of my screen. Missions are simply given to you without much context, so nearly each one simply devolves into destroying all enemies, sometimes before they reach their intended target. There are a few exceptions to this rule, and I really enjoyed a mission where I needed to break up a Japanese bombing run by damaging each plane a specific amount, forcing them out of formation.

After a handful of missions you’ll realize that nearly every campaign stage has you shooting and destroying your targets before being able to progress. Yes, this is what the genre is about, but there’s not much excitement to it, even when you’re essentially using a new aircraft during each mission as well. Even though it’s repetitive, the campaign was fairly entertaining to play through at least once, even if it was a little on the short side, but luckily more modes have been added to attempt to keep your interest.

In terms of the game's modes, you have access to one's like Dogfight, Challenge and Free Flight. Dogfight is self-explanatory, as it focuses on the air combat portion. You choose any of the planes available, location, number of enemies and finally either Avenging Ace or Survival. Fighting against 10 enemies can get chaotic and will surely put your flight wings to the test. Survival is just that, seeing how long you can survive against endless enemies, adding a different type of gameplay to challenge yourself. Challenge mode is a handful of five specific missions with objectives, but the best part is that there’s a global leaderboard for these missions, so you best start practicing if you want to prove you’re the best pilot in the skies.

As for the flight controls themselves, it took me a little time to get used to them, and there’s an option for Arcade controls, making things a little simpler and accessible. Full control is where you can control the Pitch and Roll of your aircraft, so I advise you to start with Arcade controls to get a feel for the controls, but once you’ve got the basics down, you’re going to want to have full control if you want to become the best pilot out there. There’s also a few extra moves and mechanics you can utilize, such as using a slow-mo to shoot your enemies easier for a brief period of time, using the D-pad to loop and roll to avoid enemies, and even one where you use the Left and Right Bumpers to bank hard to try and flank your enemies. It’s not the most complex system out there, but it works, even though it did take me some time to stop using the right stick, as that controls your camera instead of your flaps and yaw, which I am used to.

With smaller titles like this, usually local multiplayer is present, but I was surprised to see that an online component was included, and on top of that, for up to 16 players in a match as well. There’s a handful of Online modes you can battle in, such as Team Dogfight, Rocket Battle, and even a Capture the Flag variant titled Flagbusters. Each player gets to pick their aircraft and test their skills against the rest of the world, so you better know what you’re doing before venturing into this foray.

That being said, there’s little to no community playing this online, as every time I try to find a match I had difficulty finding one. Luckily I had a friend with the game who was able to test it out with me, and once we were able to get into a match with 2 others. Unless you have a group of friends that all purchase this game, don’t expect any actual 16 player dogfights anytime soon. It’s a shame, as the potential to have Flying Tigers be a title to dabble in now and then for some online multiplayer loses its charm when there’s no one else to play online with.

Graphically, the planes look decent, as do the backdrops, but it's nothing that will blow you away. The same goes for the soundtrack, as it’s there and sets the tone with its orchestral tracks, but nothing memorable. One song that did stand out was one that plays during the credits, as it doesn’t seem to fit with the game at all. Not that I’m holding it against it, but it just seemed like a very odd decision to have a song play that doesn’t fit the rest of the tonality to the game itself.

Oddly enough, the game is rated M for mature, and this is mostly due to the racial slurs that are used when talking about the Japanese. Yes, this is accurate for the time period, so it’s not out of place, but there’s also a lot of other swearing during combat that I didn’t expect, causing me to mute it when my little one was nearby watching and listening.

If you’re craving an aerial combat title, as not many release these days, then Flying Tigers: Shadows Over China will certainly get you through a slow weekend with nothing else to play. The $18.99 CAD price tag isn’t completely out of the ballpark, but that’s as long as you know there’s essentially no community playing this online, which is why you would keep continuing to play after the brief campaign is completed. Flying Tigers is completely serviceable for what it offers, but don’t expect to be blown away, even if the premise of experiencing rarely depicted battles excites you.

Overall: 6.7 / 10
Gameplay: 6.5 / 10
Visuals: 6.8 / 10
Sound: 7.0 / 10


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