Developer: Fasa Studio
Release Date: October 21, 2003
Buy 'CRIMSON SKIES: High Road to Revenge': Xbox
This has been a very important week for Microsoft in that several of their key holiday titles are shipping all at once. There are many more big name games in the pipeline for the end of this year, but many of those don’t ship until next month. This week marked the release of a few key titles that have been in the works for a while now, the biggest of which is Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge. This title was first announced in March 2002 for a Fall ‘02 release date. Even without having a degree in math, it's pretty easy to see that Crimson Skies was delayed a full year. Despite the long delay, this was actually a very good thing for the title because the developers really put that extra year of development time to good use and completely revamped Crimson Skies. From graphics to game play, CS has been greatly improved from its former incarnation as a mainly single-player game. It did have the multiplayer capability of a four-player split screen mode, but it seemed very hastily thrown in there for the sheer sake of having a multiplayer component. This has now transformed into one of the best and most well-rounded Xbox games out there, boasting a 16-player online multiplayer game with a deep single player story.
For those of you who don't know by now, Crimson Skies is an arcade-based flying game with its core game play centered around action. You play the role of Nathan, a fearless, high-rolling pilot who is ready to take on the world a la Indiana Jones. You will see this right off the bat in one of the game’s many pre-rendered cut scenes, as he finds himself in a bind at the very beginning of the story. The cut scenes are very well done, help move the story along nicely, and feature great voice actors, all pretty rare for an action-based title these days. The game is based in an alternate universe of the 1930's USA where great Zeppelins, aircrafts, and air pirates rule the sky, all of whom keep the friendly skies not so friendly.
Game play in Crimson Skies is pretty much all about action. In single player mode, you will have lots of freedom to do what you want, since each of the game’s levels is quite large and has many different side missions. While each level does have set objectives you need to complete in order to advance the story, you have the freedom to fly around and choose which missions to do and when you want to do them, helping the game not feel too linear. The missions are all pretty varied and entertaining, and it's not uncommon for you to start a mission for one thing and then have the goal change mid-mission to something different due to things happening in the world. While these are all scripted events, it does keep you on the edge and brings quite a bit of excitement to the game play. By completing tasks and certain missions, you are awarded tokens, which can be used to upgrade your birds.
The core game play is centered around dog fighting, or air-to-air combat, an aspect that CS nails because it is fun, challenging and intense. This is simply some of the best dog fighting ever in a video game, and this is only a part of the game play. It is very fast-paced, and battles will often be massive, with you taking on 20+ planes and air ships at a time; the AI is very well done and will put up a good fight and really give you a run for your money. You also have lots of air-to-ground battles, with many turrets and other ground-based targets, and sometimes, you will even have massive battles with lots of planes in the sky AND tons of ground targets. This game is definitely action-packed throughout the single-player campaign, and Fasa Studio has gone above and beyond by adding extra-challenging big bosses, which on more than one occasion have turned out to be multifaceted contraptions that were more difficult to bypass than their appearances let on.
Right in the middle of the action, you can also land your plane at many different spots in a level and get out and man the gun turrets to take on the planes from the ground. While some skirmishes require you to fend off scores of incoming airplanes by manning regular machine guns, flak cannons, or player-guided missiles, there are also small networks of turrets that are located at different spots on a Zeppelin or building, and you can switch between these to get a better angle and to avoid being hit. This adds a good bit of depth to the game play by giving you more offensive options and really helps to mix things up a little.
When dog fighting, you are able to make use of some advanced maneuvers like 180-degree turns, barrel rolls, and other special moves via the game’s combo system. Instead of manually turning your plane around with the joystick, you just push down on the right joystick and move it in different directions. All of the combos are very simple to perform, and this feature really helps to keep the action fast-paced, adding even more depth to the game play. The rest of the controls are a breeze to master, and they handle great, which allows you to focus more on the combat and special moves instead of trying to keep your plane in the air.
Speaking of planes, you start off with a single airship, but you can expand your selection to include all 10 aircrafts by stealing enemy planes, which will automatically be stored and become available in your home base’s inventory. The aircrafts all differ greatly in armor, speed, firepower, and handling, and when you begin a new mission, you can select the plane that you think is appropriate for the tasks at hand. Each plane has a primary and secondary weapon, all of which are variations on the classic machine guns, rockets, cannons, and missiles. Surely the most conniving weapon is the Tesla Cannon, which shoots a beam of electricity at opponents, momentarily stalling their engines.
Graphically, Crimson Skies looks great, and I will even go on the record and say that it is easily one of the best-looking Xbox titles out there. The levels are big and very detailed, with mostly high-detail texture maps. The water is some of the best seen so far on Xbox, and there’s more to it than just pretty looks because it's being rendered in multiple passes, which helps keep it from getting that classic "tiled" look that most games suffer from when viewing the texture from a great distance. The lighting effects are also top notch, as are the explosions, which are big, fiery and light up the world nicely. You can also see lots of debris flying from them, which always rocks! When shooting some of the larger objects in the game, like the Zeppelins, you will notice that they take real-time damage, just like the buildings do in Mech Assault. You can follow your shots and watch as they impact the sides of the air ships, sometimes while 20-30 other objects are on the screen. Despite all of the action, the frame rate stays steady and locked in at 30 FPS with not much slowdown, even during the biggest battles. The sound is also very well done; the actors did a really good job with the scripts, and the explosions and gun fire sound great as well.
As good as Crimson Skies single player campaign is, the multiplayer mode is where it's at, supporting up to 16 players online via Xbox Live with all of the standard XBL features enabled. There are five different maps to choose from and six different game play modes which include your standard death match, team death match, capture the flag, and a wacky points-based game called "wild chicken." In this mode, you try to catch a flying chicken and bring it back to your home base for extra bonus points, all while you either take out or avoid your opponents. To give you an idea of the level of detail present in this game, the “wild chicken” constantly clucks and leaves a steady trail of feathers in its wake. All of these modes are a blast to play over XBL and will keep you busy for months to come. MS has done it again with some great net code, and even with a full server of 16 players, you will be hard-pressed to find lag most of the time. Crimson Skies is such a fun and smooth game to play online that it has now overtaken Return to Castle Wolfenstein as my favorite XBL game.
In a key time of the year for MS, Crimson Skies has come through as the first of probably many popular Xbox titles available this holiday season. Crimson Skies is the complete package, from a deep single player mode to one of the best online components out there. If you have Xbox Live, this title is easily a must-have for your collection. If you don't, the single player mode alone justifies the purchase, and the four-player split screen is a blast, much like that of Halo's. The next big game for Xbox is here, so go out and get a copy of Crimson Skies today!
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