Blazing Angels II: Secret Missions of WWII Review
The original Blazing Angels turned out to be a mildly entertaining and relatively solid game, especially if you could wrap your head around the motion sensing controls. Rather than continuing the story, though, Ubisoft Romania decided to develop an entirely new title in Blazing Angels 2: Secret Missions of WWII, which has you flying...well, secret missions, of course. You will have access to some very sweet aircraft, a surprising number of upgrades and customization options, and 18 different missions that include a set of diverse objectives. For the most part, this is an accessible game that provides a goodly amount of arcade-style flight entertainment coupled with a dash of realism. It's not for everyone, but if you enjoyed the original, you'll likely get your money's worth out of Secret Missions of WWII. The only problem is, thanks to the holidays, there are far better titles out there for $60. Still, if you've got yourself a new membership to GameFly, renting this one isn't a bad idea.
Much like the first game, the graphics fall well short of impressive but still suffice for our adventure. There's a lot of nice detail when up-close-and-personal with the ground (something you don't want to do too often) and the landscape is appropriately sweeping and well designed. The planes could've used a bit more in the way of development time, though, and there's some definite "jagginess" going on in certain locations. Overall, there's really nothing here that's going to make you gasp in amazement, but at the same time, there also isn't much to complain about. We still believe they chose a graphical palette that includes too much grey and green, but that's more of a personal preference, and the technical quality is accomplished if not polished. We also would've liked to have seen better weapon, impact and explosion intricacy; high-flying combat should be a lot more absorbing, as we didn't get much satisfaction from the visual aids. Warhawk is excellent in this respect. While the two games are different, the strictly online flight/third-person-shooter shows us just how cool missiles, blasts and other weapons can appear in the air. Blazing Angels 2 looks fine, but it just doesn't excel.
The sound tends to suffer from some annoying voice acting and less-than-refined sound effects. These effects, combined with the lackluster combat visuals, make the in-air fighting a lot less intense than it could've been, but at least it doesn't cripple the experience. Much like the graphics, the sound isn't exactly next-generation quality due to a small imbalance between effects and music, and repetitiveness plagues the latter. While it's true the soundtrack fits the environment and atmosphere, we should've heard a far greater variety from Secret Missions of WWII, especially because you travel around the world! We realize it's set in 1940, but Ubisoft would've been well advised to include a better set of tracks that don't seem so similar to one another. On the other hand, the clarity is good throughout, and some of that aforementioned voice acting isn't so annoying. In fact, some of it is much better than average, and while the music is a little repetitive, that doesn't mean it's poor. Like the visuals; not great, but not bad, either.
You begin this series of flight quests as a stunt pilot, but you'll soon realize this is only included so you can become acquainted with the controls before facing harrowing danger. You will have to take off and land in this one, but the process is very simplified and easy to perform even for brand new pilots, which is good news for the more casual fliers out there. Furthermore, this concept is carried on throughout the game, as you'll soon realize there really isn't anything too challenging about Secret Missions of WWII, provided you take a steady approach to your missions. The only problem is, your wingmen aren't as capable or crucial as you might expect, the control is definitely a little loose, and the enemy rarely uses advanced battle tactics. Essentially, the foundation isn't too shaky and the developers successfully build upon it, but they don't go over the final product with a fine-tooth comb. They started construction, made the skeleton, filled in most of the holes, added the essentials, and then just left it there. They forgot about the decoration; there aren't any paintings on the walls and there's even some furniture missing.
Okay, enough with the elaborate analogy. Blazing Angels 2: Secret Missions of WWII lets you take to the air with the greatest of ease, and completing primary and secondary objectives becomes your goal in life. Sometimes, you'll be heading out on precision-based bombing runs, other times, you'll be dodging anti-aircraft fire - those frustrating ground turrets - and engaging multiple bogeys in the dangerous skies of the greatest World War. The controls are relatively simple and straightforward; we say "relatively" because flying an aircraft is one of the most complex things in the universe, so of course, the process has to be simplified in a video game. The only tricky part involves the analog stick configuration. You might be used to moving with the left stick and controlling the view/camera with the right, but while the left stick does dictate direction, the right stick is used to slow down and speed up. This means the camera is, for all intents purposes, fixed. Using the left stick to direct the plane results in an automatic turning of the camera, and perhaps shockingly, this works exceedingly well. Using the right stick to accelerate and air-brake is another easy and mostly painless experience, but you just have to get used to the layout.
As we said before, the control is a touch loose. No matter how light a touch you may have, it's easy to over-compensate and adjust with a heavy thumb, which translates to episodes of blind flying. This is when we would've liked to have control over the camera, because it can be difficult to get your bearings if you get all spastic for a minute or two. Now, you will have some help up there; three wingmen will be unlocked during the course of the game, and each has a special ability. The first can taunt the enemy, the second can go on a mini-rampage and take out as many foes as possible within a limited time, and the third can actually repair any damage to your plane. Unfortunately, none of these guys - save for the last - are all that effective. The taunt is only good for getting a few pesky enemies off your tail and that supposed daredevil never really earned his stripes in our play time. The third wingman does a damn good job of repairing your aircraft, but it can only be done automatically at a checkpoint or some other break in the action. When it does happen, you're healed almost entirely, which makes for some very easy missions late in the campaign.
Collision detection was also a problem. Many times, we blew up for apparently getting too close to an obstacle. As far as we could tell, we didn't actually hit it, but missed it by a good amount...and yet, we still disintegrated in a big ball of flame. Even so, these are the only serious complaints we have. Selecting and upgrading your aircraft can be an awful lot of fun, what with all the modifications you can purchase with your Prestige Points (earned by performing well during missions). You can buy all sorts of cool stuff; ranging from new scopes for your guns to actual engine and structural additions and enhancements. You can choose to stick with one particular plane and jack it up, or you can experiment with several different aircraft and try to upgrade each one. The diversity of the missions and environments complement this depth very well, as fighting in historical locations all over the globe makes for a nicely balanced campaign. Perhaps best of all, you can always replay missions to gain more Prestige Points if you want to purchase a horde of sweet upgrades well ahead of time.
But in the end, Blazing Angels 2: Secret Missions of WWII simply isn't worth the price of admission. We'd like to recommend it for fans of the original, but even then, there are some fantastic titles sitting on the shelves right now. While this one isn't bad at all, the AI is questionable, the combat is plagued by some lame-duck special effects, the control and collision detection is erratic, and your wingmen simply don't live up to expectations. The positives do outweigh the negatives, thanks mostly to a deep and entertaining upgrade system and that arcade-style accessibility, but there are certainly better titles to be had. Chances are, you're already behind on all the greatness from 2007, and while we'd like to reiterate that Secret Missions of WWII is a pretty good game, we have to conclude it's not a "must-have" title. For flight aficionados, though, it'll make for a good rental.
12/27/2007 Ben Dutka