Crimson Skies had a previous incarnation as a cult favorite PC game of the same name and was in development for a port to the X-Box that was being rushed for release 1 year ago. Thank goodness that they waited because you know what they say…”Good things come to those who wait.” And man, was this game worth the wait! The original version was a toned down, arcade style shooter that would have no lasting appeal. This final version is anything but toned down.
Crimson Skies is simply st…nning. I was initially impressed when I was playing it on my 54” projection screen but I was completely blown away with the sharpness of the graphics when playing on my 30” LCD screen in 480p. The environments are beautiful with great detail observed in the water effects and environmental effects (lightning and rain). The frame rate never drops despite a lot of action on the screen at one time. You can switch views easily using the D-pad to switch from the behind the plane to the right, left and reverse views without skipping a beat. Crimson Skies definitely is a showcase game to demonstrate the processing power of the X-Box – to have so much activity on the screen without a loss of frame rate definitely makes this one of the most intense X-Box experiences you will have.
Crimson Skies is powered by music inspired by old swashbuckling movies. It works splendidly and absolutely adds to the cinematic experience that this game is intending to portray. The game was designed in Dolby Digital and the surround speakers were in overdrive here. Multiple sounds emitted from all 5 speakers producing not only a 3-D space experience (being attacked from all sides) but also a 3-D sound experience. The sound effects were also very well done – almost every weapon had a distinct sound and the environmental effects rounded out the gameplay experience. The thunder during the fights in the rainstorms were downright scary sometimes.
Crimson Skies, the single player mode, follows the story of Nathan Zachary, an air pirate in an alternate 1930’s reality where instead pirates being water-bound, they are found in the skies. He is basically an amalgamation of Indiana Jones and Han Solo – great pilot and not afraid to get into fisticuffs. Nathan flies of on missions to help comrades, rescue the ladies and take on the bad guys of the time. During his adventures Nathan is given the opportunity to upgrade his existing planes and obtain new ones – each with its own unique styling, weapons and personality. His adventures begin in what looks like an X-Wing inspired plane and quickly are introduced to the concepts of upgrading and finding new planes. To gain upgrades, you have to buy them and you get money by completing missions. Simple enough. But some of the early decisions you make in terms of deciding how to upgrade, and which planes, can have a significant impact on how you proceed through the game. The planes all differ in terms of armor, speed, and weapons. The different weapons range from your standard machine guns and rockets to air-to-air shotguns and lighting guns. This makes for some great visuals.
The game itself offers many different types of missions including racing, all out dogfights, and taking out the “big bad boss” type guys – in one mission think “awful giant spider from The Wild Wild West…the difference being that it works here. The mission parameters are well set out as the instructions are spoken to you (…no reading lines and lines of text…) and are clearly laid out on the maps and on the HUD (heads up display). The various actions that are available during the missions are what separate Crimson Skies from the other flying games. It is inevitable that your plane will sustain damage as you fly so there are repair bays that you can locate during battle, land, get repaired and reloaded and get back into battle. A nifty cut scene very smoothly shows your plane entering and leaving the bay. If Nathan finds a plane that he can pilot, a cut scene shows him landing, exiting and then entering his new plane. The most original option that is available in battle is to land and enter anti-aircraft guns and try to take out the baddies from the ground. And within the anti-aircraft guns there are options – machine guns, cannons and missile launchers, and the best part is that once launched, you can control the missile. Great stuff!
But the heart of this game is dog-fighting. And in that regard the game succeeds on all levels. The controls are basic and well conceived. As the game progresses you also learn new special moves which are achieved by simple and easily remembered dual motions with the thumbsticks. I noticed that the special moves really help in the single player but can really save your hide in the multiplayer games. And speaking of multiplayer…
In a word…WOW!
If you have only played first person shooters on X-Box Live then you are in for a treat! This is easily as addictive as Ghost Recon or MechAssault. The difference being that this is combat in full 3-D. Danger just doesn’t come from the front and the back, the left or the right but in all possible directions. The game options aren’t new – deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture the flag, keep away, etc. However, there is a unique version of capture the flag involving a flailing chicken as the flag. Visually, this is one of the funniest things that I have ever seen in video games. The online play with 15 other players is outstanding. I have heard of others experiencing difficulties when playing with 16 players but every time I logged on and played with 12+ players, I did not experience any significant slow down! This was very impressive and very fun. This is what X-Box Live is all about!
It will take you a while to finish this game in the one player mode and if that’s all you are going to do – the only replay value will be in trying to get all of the planes and find all of the secret places. Pretty routine stuff. But where this game shines is the online play where nothing is predictable. Every time you sign on it is a new experience and there is a decent learning curve so that even after a few games you will be significantly better.
This is an excellent all around game. The learning curve is such that novice game players will learn quickly, and as quickly will become addicted. For the experienced game player there is plenty here to keep you occupied with great missions, good AI and plenty of action that will result in many a late night. But multiplayer is where this game shines. It is hard to comprehend the amount of action and chaos that occurs when 16 pilots are in the sky all trying to outdo each other. In this holiday season there are some excellent X-Box live games out there. Crimson Skies should be right at the top.