Genre: Arcade Flight
Publisher: XS Games
Developer: Kando Games
Release Date: September 18, 2008
Ever since I first booted up Ace Combat, I've reserved a special place in my heart for flight combat games. Among the more exciting sensations in all of gaming is that of pushing a super jet to the very limits of human endurance, along with the adrenaline rush that comes with twisting, looping and diving in order to lock onto an enemy and fire off a missile. Unfortunately, Rebel Raiders: Operation Nighthawk for the Wii can't deliver any thrills whatsoever, and you are left with a soulless waste of effort, a game that would have been better left forgotten by the annals of history.
The story in Raiders is your typical generic farce: An evil government creates worldwide totalitarian regime, and it's up to a rag-tag group of rebels to rage against the machine. It's essentially the cut and paste Star Wars/Ace Combat rip-off, but with absolutely zero depth. I'm willing to forgive an unoriginal story in a game when it's at least presented in a convincing manner, but Raiders isn't even trying. The script is terrible, with the dialogue appearing to have been run through a Babelfish translation and stuck directly into the game, and the delivery of the lines is so unconvincing that you begin to wonder if Kando just recorded the table reading of the script and used that as the final version. Furthermore, every character in the game is completely unremarkable, and you don't develop any sort of bond to anyone in the universe. This is likely because all of the game's personalities are conveyed via static image during missions, and everyone is referred to by call sign rather than by name. The result is that you're left really not caring about these rebellious spirits, and you kind of wish they would just hang it up so that you could end this atrocious mess of a game.
In addition to illustrating how not to tell a story, Raiders also teaches us all the wrong ways to utilize the Wii's unique control scheme. Obviously, motion-sensing seems like the perfect way to play a flight game, and with more work, that very well may be true, but the scheme laid out here suffers from a severe lack of fine-tuning. You use the Nunchuk to control the pitch and yaw of your craft, pointing it up and down and rolling it from side to side to maneuver. The problem is that game doesn't seem to be very good at registering fine adjustments, so your time in the sky will look much less graceful than if you were playing the game with a traditional flight stick or dual analog controller. While you will adjust to the controls eventually, they never click just right, and you'll still spend way too much time slamming into rock walls or losing your missile lock because it's so difficult to command your aircraft.
Matters are only made worse by the button layout, which proves once more that trying to shoehorn a bunch of controls onto the simplified Wiimote and Nunchuk just doesn't work. The commands are mapped in such a way that you will always be frantically searching for the right button while trying to keep your jet from succumbing to enemy fire. Again, the setup is functional, but it's far from intuitive.
Further enhancing the agony of playing Raiders are the graphics, which would barely qualify as last-gen. This version is actually a remake of a game which appeared on the PS2 and PC several years ago, but the visuals still manage to look dated by those standards. Environments are flat and boring, and the planes themselves feature almost no detail whatsoever. Animations are also limited, with your craft jerking hard every time you turn, rather than smoothly gliding from one position to the next. The fact that the graphics received no upgrades whatsoever (I know the Wii isn't a powerhouse by any means, but it can look so much better than this) speaks to the developers' lack of faith in their own product. They decided it wasn't worth it to put forth the effort to make this game look respectable, so you really shouldn't waste your time playing it.
Raiders tries to make up for its glaring shortcomings by offering a large number of missions, but even this attempt is misguided due to the simple fact that all of the missions unfold in almost the same way, and none of them are any fun to play. Nearly every outing begins with you dogfighting against enemy jets, chasing them around in an attempt to shoot them down before you die of boredom. After a while, those jets will almost always be joined either by bombers or land-based turrets that, even though they've been present the entire time, have only now decided to activate and pose a serious threat. The gimmick with the bombers and turrets is that they can only be destroyed using your ship's gun, rendering your missiles or other special weapons worthless. No reason is ever given for this special "missile-resistant" armor, and that's probably because it's just an attempt to artificially increase the game's difficulty and lengthen the missions. Sometimes, when you're really lucky, a level will end with you fighting a destroyer, but these objectives devolve into simple "shoot the glowing weak spot" affairs and almost always end with the enemies fleeing before you can deliver the killing blow. I can only imagine how much morale suffers when you put your life on the line again and again, simply to see the enemy retreat once the tide of battle swings, but sadly, that is simply the way of things with Raiders — all of the work, but none of the payoff you've come to expect from a game.
As I reflect on Rebel Raiders: Operation Nighthawk, I'm left trying to decide if the game does anything right. But the more I think about it, the more the game proves itself as nothing more but simple shovelware. Sure, everything about the title is perfectly functional, but there's not a fun moment to be had. The fact that you can fly your plane directly into a rock wall or an enemy and not immediately explode saps any remaining realism (True story: At one point in the game, I got stuck when I ran into a ground turret. How does that happen to a jet flying at Mach 2?!), and the repetitive mission structure means boredom will set in fast. Furthermore, the uninspired knockoff story line, coupled with the terrible script and bottom-of-the-bin production values, mean that there's nothing to like about this game. Stay far, far away from this wasted effort; it has spectacularly crashed and burned, and now lies a smoldering heap atop the Wii's mountain of shovelware games.