IGN Review of Rebel Raiders: Operation Nighthawk
While most genres are flourishing or experiencing a resurgence in popularity, the air combat game has taken a back seat. The lack of titles has left a vacuum of games for budding armchair fighter pilots. It's also provided a window of opportunity for developers looking to make a name in this industry by filling the gap with a game for a niche market. The first title from Kando Games, Rebel Raiders: Operation Nighthawk, tried to address both issues, providing an arcade-styled flight combat game at a budget price for genre enthusiasts.
The plot of Operation Nighthawk is set in the near future, shortly after mankind has conquered space under the mantle of the Union of World Nations. However, along its way to furthering the spread of humanity among the stars, the UWN lost its initial purpose, becoming corrupt and fostering rebellion amongst its subjects. A splinter group of countries known as the Alliance of Independent States decides to rebel against the UWN, and tries to fight for its freedom with a small yet dedicated group of pilots. Players jump into the cockpit of the leader of the Ghost squad as you fly sixteen missions against UWN installations, battle cruisers and enemy planes.
You'll have access to more than twenty separate planes, each with their own specialized weapons load out. Some aircraft, particularly the smaller, more agile jets have machine guns, missiles, and potentially a special weapon that fires special homing missiles or smart bombs that you can detonate. Others, particularly the slower bombers, may simply come packing a large amount of firepower to blow enemies up. For instance, one of the bombers is equipped with four massive air "shotguns". Each plane comes with unlimited ammunition, so you can literally fire away to your heart's content, pausing to reload now and then. What's more, you have shields that govern the amount of damage you can take which are replenished by each opponent you kill.
Unfortunately, you won't have the option to customize each plane, as we initially thought; usually, you'll have to play challenges that you unlock as you complete missions to acquire new machines. These tasks range from replaying a sortie with a time limit to crippling the plane in some way, such as limiting the number of missiles or slowly stripping your shields away. Once unlocked, you have the opportunity to take these aircraft into any one of the game's 16 missions (although some restrict the vehicles you have available to you based on the kind of task ahead).
For the most part, there are a number of different situations that are presented to you throughout the storyline of Rebel Raiders. You'll wind up taking on bombing runs, base assaults, dogfights and other aerial feats during your flight status as the Ghost Leader. Presented in multiple "stages" inside a mission, you'll often transition from one part of a sortie to the next via cutscenes that explain the adjustment to the mission parameter. For instance, you'll often eliminate all of the anti-air turrets for your fellow wingmen to launch their planes, only to have to fend off a new wave of enemy planes. There is a very funky facet of the game, however, in that the game will literally wait for you to destroy every target before it moves on, including the supposed "time sensitive" sections. For instance, there are parts in the game where your allies will relay how quickly you need to destroy some opponents before the enemy is aware of your presence. You can, however, take your sweet time and slowly eliminate these objectives without worrying that you'll be penalized or you'll miss an opportunity in the mission. This lack of dynamic situational updates makes each mission extremely easy.
This hiccup leads to the next problem, which is that the game is extraordinarily short. Apart from the prologue, which (oddly) is included as a selectable "mission" and a training level, the 16 missions of the game will take you anywhere between 10 and 15 minutes to finish. Not only can you finish off the entire game, but you can also finish off the 16 challenges in the same amount of time. Simply put, you can polish off this game in a night without too much trouble. It would be better if there were more difficulty levels in the game to make the title harder, increase the number of enemies or heavily restrict the weapons that you happen to have. Unfortunately, there are no additional difficulty modes found in Rebel Raiders, nor is there a map or scenario editor, so if you're looking for replay value, it won't be found here.
There is one nonsensical issue based on collision detection. Not only can you fly a plane into a mountain, the ocean or another object, you often will take minimal damage for this action. Many other flight titles will usually destroy your craft outright if you do that, but Rebel Raiders allows you to fly into and literally skip the surface of anything, often without penalizing you for poor flying. Even worse, you may find as you try to fly through mountain passes or between capitol ships that your plane will get hung up on a wing or a ledge, sometimes getting lodged there. You won't explode, but will simply halt your progress until you can free your plane. Finally, and quickly, what's up with the homing missiles that make immediate bank turns on two direct 90 degree angles? I don't believe there's any thrust enabled projectile that can make such impossibly sharp turns, yet missiles fired from the enemy perform these feats as they come racing over your cockpit to chase behind you. It's insane.
The visual presentation of Rebel Raiders is a mixed bag as well, considering the amount of time put into modeling aircraft and other items. Many of the planes, turrets and floating destroyers look quite nice, although none of them cast shadows on the environments as they pass by, which is rather odd. You can detect aileron movement directing the planes into their banks, dives and turns, as well as exhaust ports opening and propelling thrust based on the speed you choose to go. Unfortunately, there are a mass of problems with the rest of the visuals. For example, the environmental textures, while somewhat varied between beach, mountainous and other locals, are extremely misleading. From far away, mountainous textures have been modeled with the illusion of 3D mapping, but the closer you get to them, the more they devolve into muddy generic maps. Plus, why are the communication windows done in an anime style when there's absolutely no connection to an anime presentation in cutscenes or the story? It doesn't make sense.
Sound isn't so hot either, as the dialogue is really hit or miss. Line delivery is okay at times, but for the most part it's lackluster. The same can be said about the music for the title, which has a lighter ambient track that changes slightly into a cautionary tone at the start of a battle, culminating in a thumping, guitar laden track at the end. While these three musical states may vary from time to time (i.e. calm into battle into caution), you're going to be listening to the same music over and over again.
©2006-03-31, IGN Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved