Sunday, November 4, 2007

Review: Send the Axis crashing and burning with "Blazing Angels 2"

After taking the Xbox Live "Blazing Angels 2" demo for test flight, I knew I would be in for a good ride.

The Xbox 360 flight simulator, published by Ubisoft, puts you back in the pilot's seat during WWII. The game is set in early 1940, before the U.S. got involved in WWII. You are a member of a group of flyboys that takes secret, clandestine missions that normal pilots aren't skilled enough to perform. You are part of Operation Wild Card, and are not bound by rules - which I find funny because you have some many, like flying under enemy radar. More on this later ...

You will find yourself traveling all over the world, fighting in some very, very exotic locales. From the hot sands and pyramids of Egypt to a twisting valley in Southeast Asia, you will find yourself a long way from home.

The game starts with you flying at an airshow. It's modern day, with supersonic jets flying overhead and crowds as far as the eye can see. This training session test pilot's skills at close maneuvering and basic navigation. You have roughly 10 targets to hit before you are *transported* back to a WWII theater. Just seeing the jets made me want to see Ubisoft's answer to NamcoBandai's "Ace Combat 6" or Taito's "Over-G Fighters."

There are several different gaming modes in "Blazing Angels 2." Of course, there's the Campaign mode, which is essentially the single player mode. You can select what missions to fly, and can refly missions have you unlocked. There's also a very deep multiplayer mode. You can choose to fly against an opponent via splitscreen, or take to the unfriendly skies online. On Xbox Live, you can play solo mode, co-op mode and squadron mode.

In solo mode, you have a few modes - Dogfight (classic deathmatch mode where every man is for himself), Aces High (the first player to kill another becomes the Ace. If a gamer kills an Ace, they become the Ace - and have to avoid getting shot down. The winner is the ace who has the most kills or the time runs out), Seek and Destroy (a gamer must kill every other person once until time runs out or a preset score limit is reached). The Co-op modes include: Kamikaze(where the gamer has to protect a base against the suicide bombers. The game ends if the base is lost or the enemy wave is turned back), Campaign (which allows several players to compete missions together) and Skirmish (allows players to compete the Skirmish missions together without worried of fixed objectives or time limits). The Squadron modes include: Dogfight (air combat with teams involved in deathmatches), Assault (two teams are split and must either attack or defend a base), Kamikaze (it's pretty much the same as mentioned above, but the players on the attacking team must crash into enemy targets), Capture the Flag (teams try to fly through the enemy base's flag) and Epic Battles (team-based, multipart battles where teams have to complete a series of objectives).

Also on Live, you can select their a quick match, a custom match (a match meeting your search criteria) and create a match. Of course, there's a leaderboard to track online progress as well.

The gameplay is very solid. You can expect to do missions ranging from defending a fleet to snatching a top secret airplane - and having to fly under enemy radar to finish your task. The learning curve, however, isn't easy. You may have to crash a few times to get missions accomplished. That first mission is your friend ...

The enemy AI isn't a pushover either. They can be relentless - and formidable opponents. Your wingman are good, but should be better. Comeon, they were Top Guns before Tom Cruise was born! They should have mad skills.

The graphics are sweet. From Cairo, Egypt to the Himalayas, the scenes are stunning visually. The framerate can stutter at times, but with some much action onscreen, you will be too busy trying to bring it to the Axis to notice.

The controls are forgiving at times, and pretty dead-on. Controlling your plane during your mission can be hard, but other times it's a breeze. The first mission should be replayed if you are having trouble.

The sounds are good - especially the AAA whizzing past you - or the pesky bandit you can't seem to shake.

The vast array of planes you can fly is insane. It's a great mix of real (and fictional) aircraft that will keep virtual pilots aloft for hours. However, there's no downloadable content, which would definitely add several hours to gameplay.

You can also customize your planes, changing paint schemes and upgrading your weapons. Head to your hangar and see the different ways you can trick out your airplane.

"Blazing Angels 2" pulls off WWII air combat much, much better than "Blazing Angels." If you are ready for some secret missions, flying behind enemy lines and bringing the fight to the Axis on their home turf, check out "Blazing Angels 2."

Why should I care: "Blazing Angels 2" features some pretty sweet flying in exotic locales. Too bad you couldn't land, take a few photos for the folks back home and fight the Axis.

The good: Stunning graphics, good controls, a large pool of aircraft, deep multiplayer modes and co-op gameplay, killer sounds and Kamikaze mode

The bad:
Annoying wingmen, controls can be harder during missions, no downloadable content and replay value

The ugly:
If you get tracked by enemy radar, forget about it ...

Overall: 8.0 (out of 10):
It's a good WWII flight sim with a touch of adventure and excitement. The enemy A.I. is solid and the graphics are killer, but the steep learning curve may put some gamers into a tailspin. The replay value is a concern as well. However, if you loved "Blazing Angels," you can't pass up "Blazing Angels 2." See you in the wild blue yonder!

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