IGN Review of Blazing Angels: Squadrons of WWII
The popularity of flight games has dipped in recent years. Besides the Ace Combat series, few titles let a player scream through the heavens ripping through enemy targets. Fewer still mix flight action with characters and story - something largely missing from the genre since the Wing Commander days. So when a game like Blazing Angels: Squadrons of WWII comes out and offers a glimpse of those glory days, it's usually not a bad thing.
Blazing Angels shipped for the Xbox 360 and PC back in March, so this PS3 version stands as its second tour of duty. And just to get things out in the open, it serves to mention all three versions follow the same mission structure and offer the same kind of gameplay. The PS3 version does have additional content in the form of two extra missions, 10 planes and an exclusive multiplayer mode. It also makes use of the Sixaxis tilt control. Not a bad list of extras by any stretch, but apart from this, it's essentially the same game that raided store shelves earlier in the year.
Players assume the role of an American fighter pilot stationed in England. As a squad leader commanding three other pilots, players get a chance to fly through some of the war's greatest air battles. These include the battles after Pearl Harbor, Midway and Berlin, as well as some 20 others. Blazing Angels does a decent job of dissecting history and giving players relevant objectives for each mission. These range from protecting convoys and bases, as well as thwarting enemy attacks and bombing runs. Players also go on the offensive and do plenty of attacking and bombing of their own, of course. It's all pretty standard stuff, but that's what fans of this kind of game would want, anyway.
Now that's all fine, but what matters just as much (if not more) than the missions, are the actual flight mechanics. Fortunately, Blazing Angels handles this reasonably well. It offers a bunch of control configurations to suit personal tastes, some of which make use of the tilt functionality. Depending on the selection, players use the analog sticks or move the Sixaxis to control acceleration, roll, pitch and yaw. Obviously one of the major highlights in the PS3 version is using motion control to guide aircraft through perilous situations. And it works fine for the most part.
The one thing that is noticeable, however, is that it feels unresponsive at times. But a big part of it has nothing to do with sloppy execution. Players really need to get accustomed to the idea that WWII-era planes lack powerful thrusters and can't bank like modern aircraft. Sure, it sounds like a simple point to make, but this caries over to the way the game controls. If a player turns the controller to one side very quickly, the plane won't respond as swiftly as the motion. So this can actually be misconstrued as a lack of responsiveness.
Having said that, it's still easier to fly the old-fashioned way. Using the analog sticks will increase the accuracy of gunfire, simply because it requires zero adapting. On the upside, Blazing Angels isn't really a flight simulation, so there's hardly a learning curve to begin with. Anyone can pick it up and begin blasting Nazis with a matter of minutes. It's just even easier using the analog stick. Though, to be fair, it's every bit as fun using the Sixaxis once accustomed. It's possible to notice hitches here and there, which aren't related to the maneuverability of the aircraft at all, but it doesn't spoil the experience.
When not defending freedom on their own, players will need to learn to use their squad mates to survive. Blazing Angels offers three supportive pilots, each with a different role. The first, named Tom, helps distract determined enemies by taunting them. Frank, the chatterbox of the group, also happens to be the best at his job. He can take out several enemies in a short amount of time when ordered to attack. The last guy, Joe, actually repairs a player's aircraft mid-flight.
The repair mechanic isn't very realistic, since it takes a plane from the brink of destruction to pristine condition in a matter of seconds. It's also possible to do it more than once, so it makes certain missions far easier than they should be. But as far as ditching realism goes, it really doesn't matter. It's possible to single-handedly rip through dozens of enemy aircraft and naval vessels without taking a scratch, so while real-life battles inspired the missions, the action is almost pure fantasy.
About the only thing really negative to note about the squad mates is their lack of personalities. They each have a distinct voice and they communicate through radio in every mission, but it would have been far nicer to give them a little more depth. Regardless of the genre, having real characters (or at least entertaining dialogue) furthers the sense of immersion and tension when playing. This is especially true when it comes to flight and war games, so it's a shame to see such bland personalities in Blazing Angels. Nice voice work is a start, but there's definite room for improvement. Even something as simple as hangar banter in-between missions would have added a lot.
Multiplayer fares much better. Blazing Angels offers a number of modes that should satiate the needs of most would-be pilots. This goes for offline multiplayer, which lets two people play, and also online multiplayer, designed for up to 16 people. This is pretty much the same setup that was in the Xbox 360 version, so there's the option for an Ace match, where one player is "it" until shot down. There's also the basic deathmatch and team deathmath mode, called Dogfight. It's simple but very fun, especially with eight more players streaking across the sky. But what about the PS3 exclusive mode?
It's called Adversarial and it lets player-led teams fight to destroy one another's bases. It's not particularly new to multiplayer games, but this mode usually doesn't show up in WWII flight titles. Regardless, it's pretty damn fun. While the player count for this particular match type was low due to time constraints, it was nevertheless hectic and satisfying. Plus, flight action fans would rather make strafing and bombing runs on an enemy bases than run around on foot, anyway. Add this to the collection of pre-existing multiplayer matches and Blazing Angels boasts an enviable collection.
©2006-12-12, IGN Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved