November 20, 2007
French publisher Ubisoft has been one of the most prolific publishers for the Xbox 360 from the very beginning, releasing more games at or near launch than any other publisher. As can be expected from such blanketed support, the 360 has received some great games from Ubisoft, as well as some not so great games. When Blazing Angels was first announced, people were quick to make comparisons to the original Xbox's stellar WWII aerial combat game, Crimson Skies. While Blazing Angels shoots for the same glory, it unfortunately goes down in flames early in the campaign, never to reach anywhere near the heights of Crimson Skies.
You start off as a rookie pilot that is all vim a vigor and by the end of the 18 mission campaign, you'll be a battle-hardened bad-ass fly-boy. Blazing Angels is no one man show, however. You and your three-man squad of destruction, known as the Angels of Dunkirk, are here to put your collective boots up the back end of those filthy Jerries and their buddies along the way. During your travels you'll fly the skies of London during the Battle of Britain, over the beaches of Hawaii at the battle of Pearl Harbor, and even take a trip over the deserts of Africa, among various other real battles of World War II, and a few not-so-realistic missions as well. Your squad consists of Joe, the mechanic, Tom, your personal aerial bodyguard, and Frank, who is ready to take the Luftwaffe down all by himself. They are always ready to lend a hand and help you out as you command. You can give them a group command to attack or help you out, but their real talents lie in their individual skills and luckily you can direct each of them independently to maximize their usefulness. Each member also has a special maneuver that recharges overtime and will crank their abilities up to 11. Frank is the best dog-fighter of the bunch and as such, he'll be your main pit-bull to send out after air-borne enemies. His special is like a one-man aerial Armageddon in which he'll quickly burn through multiple enemies in a hellfire of bullets, which is especially useful when your plane is being repaired in mid-air. Joe is the yokel for that job and once his wrench icon is full, you can call him over to fix your flying casket by completing a small button combo mini-game that is all the rage these days. Hit every button as they come up and you'll go from a smoking wreck to a spit-shined death dealer in no time. Last but not least is Tom who will, at your command, make himself a flying bullet magnet in hopes of distracting the enemies while you and the rest of your crew get the drop on them. When using your team's special maneuvers, they are actually pretty handy to have around. Unfortunately when not using these powerful attacks, they are downright useless at times. Often it will seem like you are the only one doing the fighting as your squad will just fly around shooting and missing pretty much everything, probably because that is what is happening.
The game does do a pretty decent job of keeping things fresh by changing the location and mission types regularly. While you'll mostly be going toe-to-toe with the Axis powers in the air, you will occasionally take part in bombing missions, escort runs, and even strafe ground forces. Oddly enough, tearing holes in ground forces is the most fun part of the game as the aerial combat has some serious problems at times. While the dog fights of Blazing Angels should be the most fun and well-crafted part of the game, it sadly is not. The enemy A.I. will, for the most part, fly in circles around you and your posse and engaging them can be a frustratingly annoying at times. You will often have to resort to locking onto an enemy and holding that lock as you try to out turn sharper than they, so you can finally get ahead and take them down. It seems the A.I. is too stupid to do anything else except fly along a set path that orbits yours, regardless of their number or type, save a couple of the latter levels in which they seem to smarten up finally. The aerial combat also has a serious problem with distances as the enemies will almost always fly so far away from you, the 'dot' of your reticule is bigger on the screen than they are. The few times you do pass an enemy at a medium range, the motion blur on screen is so much that you can barely make them out as they come by. While the blur and filters on the screen do give the game the proper style and sense of speed, it is overdone and by the end of the game, you'll swear you have petroleum jelly over your eyes, especially when flying full-tilt boogie.
The controls are, for the most part, serviceable although hardly perfect. The handling of the planes feels a bit off throughout most of the game and more often then not, you'll find yourself fighting the controls. The camera, on the other hand, does a good job of not getting in the way. The cinematic view the camera takes when you lock-on to an enemy looks great and keeps you in the action, although you may want to avoid going full speed during more advanced maneuvers as the ground can come up at you fast at times.
As mentioned before, the game does a good job of switching up the locales to keep things interesting and switching mission types does break up the monotony of the gameplay. However, even then you'll soon realize you are just switching between the same few mission types, just in a different setting. Even a little something to make the missions more unique would have been nice. There is, in fact, one mission that has you flying blindly through a sandstorm in which you'll need to locate German camps and take them out. Obviously as you can't see anything in the hale of sand, you'll rely on picking up terrestrial radio signals of the camps and pay attention to what they say over the radio, even if it is a little ridiculous that the Germans seem to talk over their radios in English. It was just about the only mission that offered any originality, even just barely. Little things like this for other missions would have gone a long way to staving off the boredom that eventually sets in while playing Blazing Angels. The story is entirely forgettable as well. The game attempts and ultimately fails to create the sense of camaraderie between you and your squad mates that Gears of War, for instance, gets so right. By the end of Blazing Angels you won't give a damn if your crew is burning alive in their aircraft or not.
Along with the robust (in length anyway) campaign mode of Blazing Angels, there is also an arcade mode and an aces mode, neither of which is that substantial. Arcade mode, in fact, is really rather boring. Unless you are a completionist or a total achievement junkie, arcade mode offers absolutely nothing new. The game also features up to 16 player online multiplayer. The game types are pretty basic but there is something quite satisfying about taking down your friends in an online dog fight, even if you'll be hard pressed to find anybody playing Blazing Angels online. Still, a game with four-player online co-op can't be all bad and while not very robust itself, co-op is a nice added touch that will give Blazing Angels some extra legs should you have three friends that are as masochistic as you.
The graphics of Blazing Angels is a tricky one. While flying at full speed with the motion blur and a slight tunnel vision in full effect, the game does look quite good, even if the effects impede gameplay. In still shots, the game looks almost like an oil painting. However as soon as you slow down, the graphical faults of the game start to become all too obvious. The most egregious is that the ground units and textures look downright shameful when you can actually see them. The ground textures are muddy and lack any real detail, as do buildings and ground structures. When not moving at a high speed, which is surprisingly common in this game as you'll be constantly turning to catch the enemy who always seems to be running away, the ground structures look like basic geometry with a poorly detailed texture just wrapped around them. Building edges that should be sharp look smooth and almost puffy at times. The game does do a great job with the sky, which almost always look fantastic, especially during missions over balmy London.
The sound of Blazing Angels is merely average as well. The orchestral music sounds like something right out of a WWII action movie and fits the mood perfectly, although it will grind on your nerves by the end of the game. Each aircraft sounds unique and the droning sound of the aircraft flying in unison is truly awesome at times, especially if you have surround sound. The big problem is the voice acting in the game. A lot of the banter form your wing-men just sounds ridiculous and even worse, they repeat themselves all the time. The worst offender is easily Joe who's overdone stereotypical southern drawl gets so annoying after a while, you'll forget all about the enemy and want to take him out, just to shut him up and save yourself from his down-home wisdom.
The achievements for Blazing Angels are lackluster, to say the least. There are 7 achievements worth 1000 points in Blazing Angels and none of them really offer any challenge or extra replay value to the game. Most achievements you'll get for just completing the game's various modes, while the Ace of Aces achievement might have you replaying a couple levels to get an ace ranking in campaign. The lack of number and variety of achievements in Blazing Angels makes it pretty obvious they were just tacked on and not given any real thought. All achievements can easily be earned in a single day if you can actually stomach the game that long.
At the end of the day, Blazing Angels smacks of a mediocre game that was shoveled out the door without the proper time to be tweaked and refined, most likely to capitalizing on the launch of the Xbox 360. It seems to have worked as Ubisoft has ordered a sequel which is now out. If you must have World War II era aerial combat on your 360, go with the sequel rather than the rather pitiful rough draft marked by the original.
A fantastic orchestral soundtrack and above average sound effects are mired by voice acting that will make you want to jump off a building. Twice.
While moving at high speeds, the game does a decent enough job of tricking you into thinking it's good looking, but when the action slows, it's obvious that without the motion blur and a cinematic camera, Blazing Angels is actually quite ugly.
Along with controls that are a hindrance the fact that aerial combat almost feels broken at times and that game's over-zealous use of motion blur actually hinders gameplay, it's obvious the game was not given the proper tweaking needed before launch. With more time, this game could have been at least decent.
The total package of Blazing Angels suffers at the hands of some major problems including stagnant gameplay and sub-par visuals. The presentation of the game however merely mediocre. complete with an utterly non-engaging story.
Completely tacked on and obviously so, the ease of the achievements are the main reason most people will ever play Blazing Angels. They are easy enough but don't add anything at all to the game.
A great concept, Blazing Angels fails to execute in almost all key areas. The A.I. in the game, both friendly and enemy, is just downright stupid, offering little challenge and yet still manages to be quite frustrating. It looks like a last-gen game and the fun factor is slim to none and will have worn off after about half an hour. All in all, it was mediocre as a launch title and now, almost two years later, it should be avoided like the plague.