Release Date: October 21, 2003
Pre-order 'CRIMSON SKIES: High Road to Revenge': Xbox
Wow! What a difference a year makes. When Crimson Skies was first shown to the public over a year ago, it's great graphics grabbed peoples eye. Unfortunately the game play on the other hand did not. While it was far from bad, Crimson Skies did need some work. Thankfully Microsoft decided to hold the game back and do just that. After playing the latest build quite a bit, it is easy to tell that the extra time spent with the game has really paid off. Not only has the game play been greatly improved, but the graphics themselves have been bumped up too!
Crimson Skies is an arcade based flying game with it's core game play being centered around action. You play the role of Nathan, who is a high rolling pilot with little fear that’s ready to take on the world ala Indiana Jones. You will see this right off the bat as he finds him self in a bind at the very start of the game that he has to get out of. This is all shown by one of the games many pre rendered cut scenes. All of these are very well done, with great voice actors used and really help move the story along nicely. This is pretty rare for an action based title these days. Speaking of story, the game is based in an alternate universe of the 1930's USA where great Zeppelins and aircraft rule the sky. As well as air pirates, who keep the friendly skies not so friendly.
The game play in Crimson Skies is very well done and put together. Even though this is a pure action title with no sim elements to be found, CS still has a great deal of depth in it's game play. When you start out on one of the many levels in the game, your home base will be your Zeppelin. You can access this anytime during a level by simply flying up to it and hitting X when close to it. This will jump you to a cut-scene showing your plane landing inside of it and then taking you to the inside of the ship. You can do any number of things once inside, from selecting different missions, upgrading your planes and selecting different planes to use. Once done you jump in your plane and you will see a cut scene of you flying back out and will be back to business.
Each of the levels will have many different missions that you have to complete to move through the game, as well as progress the story. Thankfully each one of these is very well designed and often offers many things to do. Most involve some heavy air to air combat at some point, but the missions are by far not limited to just this. Most have you taking out many ground targets as well, such as turrets and even boats. The Air battles in CS are amazing as well as massive; you will often find your self taking on 20-30 planes and Zeppelins at a time. As well as some ground targets too. The AI is not mind-blowing, but it still puts up a great fight and with planes going every which way, expect some frantic battles. Even with all of this action going on the screen, the frame rate stays pretty steady at 30 fps with only a few drops here and there in this build. The controls are also rock solid and each of the games 10 planes handle great. Performing special movies like mid air 360 turns and roles are a walk in the park. All of this is handled by pushing down the right joystick and then moving it in a certain direction. Works very well and makes pulling off complex movies pretty easy. Although it does drain your special moves meter.
Besides the dog fighting, there are also times and places on the level where you can land your craft, get out and man some AA guns. This is really awesome to be able to do this in real time, on the fly, with no stop in action. A great example of this was in one mission you were escorting this ship to a place with your plane. While doing so, the ship and you started to be attacked by a lot of planes, at first you hold them off, but more and more start coming, as well as boats too. In the middle of the mission you can land your plane on the deck of the ship by simply flying over to it and pressing X, which then a short in-game cut scene will show you landing and getting out and jumping into one of the ships AA guns. Once there you can now take on the planes and boats with the powerful AA guns. Even better, the ship has a few different sets of AA guns at different locations on the ship. You can actually switch between these on the fly to get the best angle to take on the incoming bad guys. This is not only very impressive, but adds a whole another level of depth to the game play by giving you different options. And yes you can even do this in multiplayer too, in the middle of a 16 player online dog fight, you can land and get out of your plane at different parts in the level and man AA guns, then jump back in your plane and take off again.
Besides the levels main missions, you have the option of flying around the large levels and finding different side missions as well to earn extra money for plane upgrades. Just like GTA, you get to pick when and how you do your missions to some degree. The game will never say "you must do this, or that first", you have total control and freedom to choose what ever missions you want to do, as well as the options of finding other side missions to do as well. This freedom of choice is a very welcome feature.
As most of you probably have noticed by now, Crimson Skies looks great. In fact, I will go on record and say it is easy 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 easily some of the best seen so far on Xbox if not the best. And there’s more to it then just pretty looks, it's being rendered in multiple passes which helps keep it from getting that classic "tiled" look that most games suffer from when you are a great distance from the texture. The lighting effects are also top notch as are the explosions, which again, are some of the more impressive seen to date. They are big, fiery and light up the world nicely. You can also see lots of debris flying from them as well, 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 fallow your shots and watch as they impact the sides of the air ships leaving fiery holes. And even as you shoot more and more in contained areas, you will see them take heavy damage and blow up and catch fire. Very very impressive and adds even more detail to the game.
The sound is also very good. The explosions and gun fire sound great, and all of the voice actors are very well done and really fit in well with the theme of this game. Crimson Skies will support 16 player online play via Xbox Live when it ships this fall. All of the basic modes of play and features will be there, such as the classic death match and team death match as well as some new modes of play that we will cover in detail later. So far we have only been able to play it on a LAN, but so far so good. Assuming the online play is as smooth, this is going to be a killer online title this fall, and a must have for anyone with Xbox Live, regardless if they like flight based games or not. Crimson Skies will also support downloadable content too, but so far nothing has been revealed yet. But just the thought of being able, at some point, to add even more stuff to a game that already has a ton of reply value just rocks.
Even though Crimson Skies was delayed over a year, the extra time has really paid off. They took an average title, and turned it into one of the best Xbox games this year. That is saying a lot and much kudos to the development team on this one. Their hard work has really paid off.
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