Blazing Angels: Squadrons of WWII Review
Blazing Angels: Squadrons of WWII appeared last year on the Xbox 360 and PC, and while it met with some decent critical acclaim, it hardly qualified as a must-have for either platform. So when we heard the game would be coming to the PS3 in an expanded and updated format, we couldn't help but wonder just how much better it could be... After all, a restructuring specifically for the PS3 could provide a very fresh and new experience, bolstered by a variety of visual and gameplay enhancements. Well, we finally got our hands on the game, and after winging around the surprisingly friendly skies of Europe during World War II, we've come to the conclusion that this remake is good. But not that good.
If we can step back in time for a moment and compare the original Blazing Angels on the 360 to this version on the PS3, it's difficult to spot any significant visual differences. However, there does appear to be a wee bit more detail and clarity, lending that much more authenticity to a game that already excels in that category (for the most part). We're a little disappointed with the refinement and color in each plane model, but then again, those things were built for war, not style. As for the environment, we get a mostly realistic portrayal of the European countryside, marred only by far too many blank spots; i.e., portions of the landscape that simply don't have anything more than grass or water. All in all, this one has a solid graphical presentation, but it's not really impressive.
The sound gets a big boost from some decent - not excellent - sound effects and the welcome addition of well-voiced characters, in both the cut-scenes and during battle. The radio crackles, gunfire, and explosions are all satisfying but occasionally muddled, and the voices of your fellow pilots come through loud and clear, each with their own sense of attitude and personality. We just wish intense dogfights came across as being more...well, intense. The sound very often tends to take too much of a backseat during times of hectic action, and that's unfortunate: too many times, developers overlook the importance of sound in games like these. Still, much like the visuals, the sound is quite solid throughout the adventure.
One of the biggest upgrades we were most looking forward to trying out in this remake is the addition of the Sixaxis' motion sensitivity, which would allow us to control our planes with what amounts to a wireless yolk in our hands. You can also choose from Arcade and Simulation style, where the biggest difference is between bank (Arcade) and pitch and yaw (Simulation), and you'll soon learn the key to success is small and smooth movements. It works extremely well, but after playing with it for quite some time, we came to the mostly boring conclusion that the traditional way of playing with the analog sticks is preferable. Yeah, the motion sensitivity is a great option to have, and the relative ease of the game really lets you use it a lot, but when the going gets tough, you're almost always forced to resort to the standard form of control.
Unfortunately, no matter how you slice it, regardless of how you hold - or move - the controller, it never feels like you're actually in control of a real plane. That's just an incredibly difficult sensation to create due to the inherent complexity of being a fighter pilot, so it's a forgivable flaw. But it just makes the addition of the motion sensing seem all the more arbitrary, which doesn't help, considering the rest of the game is awfully similar to the older version. Fans of the first one might want to think twice before dropping $60 to pick this one up, but then again, there is plenty of good news for you guys. The upgrades and enhancements may not be mind-blowing, but they do exist, and they're well worth mentioning.
For example, while the game is usually a bit too easy (mostly because of Joe; see below), the gameplay is always accessible, engaging, and entertaining. You get three wingmen this time around, and each has their own unique capability: Tom is like a permanent decoy; he draws away the enemy through a series of humorous taunts. Frank is the go-getter of the group, as he's not afraid of getting down and dirty, eliminating the bad guys with awesome effectiveness. And Joe? Well, Joe's this magical repair guy who can, quite amazingly, fix your plane in mid-air. It's just too bad that takes away from the game's authenticity and renders too many missions far too simple.
Having these guys on hand to help you out gives the gameplay a big boost, though, despite some of the drawbacks. And with the cool gameplay modes in Arcade, Ace Duel, and Mini-Campaign, not to mention 10 different planes and 20+ primary missions, there's always plenty to do. We just hope you take to the skies with more inborn ability than we did, because Ubisoft didn't really give us much in the way of a tutorial. The first mission is the Tutorial, but if you want to use the motion sensing, it's all on you, buddy. You don't get anything in the way of instruction besides the manual and a quick glimpse at the control layout during loading screens. The traditional way is easily learned, though, and that's the good news.
Right from the start, you'll be banking and lighting up targets like a pro, and you'll be surviving all sorts of fast-paced battles from Britain to Berlin. There's a great assortment of objectives in each mission, too, ranging from protecting fellow flyboys and assisting in bombing runs to targeting German convoys on the ground and classic dogfights. In fact, you really can Dogfight in deathmatch and team deathmatch multiplayer modes, which really adds a great deal to the fun factor. The Arcade and Ace Duel modes aren't quite as stimulating, but with the correct pairing of planes, the latter can be enormously invigorating. After all, even though it's a wartime situation, we gamers still gotta have our fantasy fun.
And lastly, we address the story: um...it's there. The writers do a good job of incorporating true-to-life historical facts and actual battles in the game, but the plot is pretty darn thin. The primary focus of the game remains on the flying, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. And if you tire of the campaign, you can always log on to the Network and try your hand at Adversarial, the PS3-exclusive online multiplayer mode that has two teams attempting to destroy the other's base. It's a fantastic idea, and implemented very well, but as of now, there aren't always enough people on the Network to provide a true, all-out 16-player showdown. If you can manage it, though, you won't be disappointed.
In the end, Blazing Angels: Squadrons of WWII is indeed a better version of the original released last year. There are several significant improvements, but none of them are enough to vault the game into the enviable "buy-it-now" category. The PS3 may not have what we'd call an extensive software lineup right now, though, and if you're desperate for a decent game that keeps your attention, and you're partial to flight games, you might want to give this one a try. And if you have a buddy that is equally open to the idea, and you get really crankin' with some of those super fun multiplayer modes, it could be well worth the money. But for most people, this game simply isn't refined enough to warrant a purchase. The technicals are all solid but never spectacular, the presentation and depth is acceptable but not impressive, and the gameplay is always accessible and usually fun, but rarely intense and gripping.
There's some good, a little bad, and no ugly. You just have to decide if the good is good enough for your serious consideration.
1/31/2007 Ben Dutka