Ubisoft has really been on the ball as of late, especially with regards to the Xbox 360 with the smash hit that is Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter. It’s with Blazing Angels: Squadrons of WWII that they hope to continue excellent sales and prove that they are on top of their game. Released simultaneously on the Xbox, PC and Xbox 360, Blazing Angels, does, however, show some obvious signs of cross-platform development such as weak texture use and some other graphical issues.
The first thing worth mentioning is that Angels is far from a flight combat simulator, it’s about as arcade as you can get without reverting to the top-down approach in classics like Time Pilot. The controls reflect that this is an arcade title, even though it does include some things that tend to surface in more simulation heavy titles like takeoffs and landings, including on an active aircraft carrier. Thankfully, the controls in the game really lend themselves well to simplified aircraft control; the right thumbstick is used for accelerating and braking as well as rolling your craft while the left stick is used for general directional control.
Not all is well with the simple controls however, due to the necessity of the right stick being used already, there is no free roaming camera mode, thereby limiting the ability to see bogies closing in on you from behind. However there is a lock-on camera which is activated by the left trigger, which keeps your current target squarely centered in your screen. While this can get extremely disorienting, especially during the excessive amount of looping you’ll do, it’s a vital part of the game which you’ll use in every level without fail.
Rather than stick you in a single type of plane for the entire war, Blazing Angels lets you play in over 30 different aircraft throughout the different modes of play. The single-player campaign mode takes you through 18 levels ranging from training to helping out the French Resistance defend a nicely detailed Paris, to one of the most frustrating levels; navigating the fjords of Norway. In each level you’ll get to fly a single plane, but there was at least one occasion where I switched plane types mid level to step into a bomber. As you progress through the levels, new planes are unlocked depending on the rating earned on each level. These new planes are used in the other modes of play, a mini-campaign, Ace Duel and Arcade mode.
One nice touch is the very liberal checkpoint system which will help you progress through the levels at a fairly good pace. So fear not if you die right before clearing a level, as chances are high that you’ll only have to replay the last five minutes of the level to get back to where you were initially.
Mini-Campaign mode is exactly that — you select your plane of choice and play through an abbreviated campaign mode. This is great for a sense of accomplishment when you don’t want to sit down and slog your way through the main story mode or take down another Ace in what seems like an endless loop of a dogfight.
Ace Duel pits you and your plane of choice against a single enemy ace pilot in the same airplane as you. Your task is to take him out before you are blown to pieces, but the frustration is that the mode ends up being a swirling looping mess as both fighters try to align themselves for the kill. Now imagine having to do this 32 times to earn one of the achievement titles in the game; it gets quite tedious very quickly.
The arcade mode is a simple thing that allows you to earn upgrades to aircraft that apply to the main campaign mode; so if you’re having issues passing a certain level, just try to upgrade that plane and tackle the campaign again â€“ it does make a difference. The mode is essentially three waves of twelve fighters who you have to take out in a time limit, as you destroy a plane you earn more time to take out the others. It’s a very simple formula that also packs some good pick up and play value. Again the achievement earned here is when you complete arcade mode with each plane type in the game, so getting this involves unlocking everything in the campaign mode first making the points that much more difficult and satisfying to achieve.
Graphically the game was a mixed bag and it’s apparent that there was cross-platform development going on as the title doesn’t seem to take advantage of all the 360 has to offer. Some levels look great, like Paris with the Eiffel Tower rising above the city, but some look terrible and suffer from glitches. One level early on has you flying over a barren desert in Africa taking recon photos of German camps in a sandstorm. Not only is flying over a desert extremely bland and boring, but the developers added a swirling brown mass around your plane making it even more of a chore to navigate. Some horizontal graphical tearing was noticed quite often while flying through the blue canyon-like fjords in the Norway level. This was actually quite disappointing to see with this level of hardware.
The biggest disappointment and annoyance in the game is the audio. Voice work was extremely limited and even seemed buggy – which is pretty astounding. During intros to levels your character would read what’s on the screen detailing the level, but sometimes entire sentences were skipped over. The voice work was actually quite poorly done, especially for the enemy voices. The false German and Japanese accents grated on nerves after only a few lines were spoken, and the worst part is that both factions said the same phrase â€“ repeatedly.
As a whole however, Blazing Angels was a fun title that doesn’t seem to get much respect; and if judging how well it’s been received by the number of players on Xbox Live people are skipping the title altogether. When viewed as a straightforward arcade shooter, Blazing Angels delivers on the plane exploding and boat sinking fun front. If you are looking for something a little deeper like Ace Combat, this isn’t the title for you – this is more like a somewhat historical take on Crimson Skies, yet doesn’t quite live up to that level either.
- Gameplay: 8
- Dropping bombs, strafing AA guns and dogfights offer enough variety to entertain. Lack of camera control is a downside.
- Graphics: 7
- It’s apparent multi system development was in mind here. Sometimes blurry, sometimes bland, but sometimes quite sharp.
- Sound: 6
- Horrendous voice acting detracts a lot, but as an arcade style title everything else fits nicely.
- Replay: 7
- In order to unlock all the achievement points it’ll take a lot of play time. Shorter modes offer nice quick diversions, and mission selection lets you play your favorites over and over.
- Overall: 7
- A fun game that tackles WWII from a different standpoint which is a breath of fresh air; marred by some sound issues and slight graphical missteps.
— Jeff Paramchuck