When it comes to gaming, it seems like 1917-1948 have given us no shortage of material. I’m guessing when the majority of the earth is at war, you may find yourself with a few compelling topics. However, when gamers re-create these tenuous times from our living rooms, most of these battles have been fought on the ground. With controllers firmly in hand, we’ve run though streets, up the hills and onto the beaches of the world to fight the battles that we know so well.

Along those lines, we’ve also seen a whole lot of air combat in games. Usually in space, or over an alternate earth-like planet. The speed and freedom of flight are perfect subjects for the world of gaming. Although, with the exception of flight sims, we haven’t had that much of a chance to easily take the helm of real planes under real situations. 

Combining both of these standards into one game, Blazing Angels: Squadrons of WWII brings with it the comfort of two topics we know well as presenting the 360’s first air combat game. Does it live up to it’s lofty goals or is there a reason there aren’t many other WWII air combat games?

Getting a close up look at the planes reveals plenty of detail, right down to the rivets. The weapons provide smoke trails and leave explosions that light up the skies. Flying through the smoke of a newly downed bomber provides a intense sense of disorientation and may even make you squint though the wreckage.  Cities have all the landmarks and layout but lack a ‘living’ feel even as you speed by in your fighter. 

The graphics in Blazing Angels provide a great deal of realism to the times they represent, but his is both the plus and minus. Why weren’t WW2 era planes painted bright colors? I guess you really don’t want draw all that much attention to yourself when someone is trying to kill you. What you are left with are gray planes, gray skies, gray cities and gray smoke.

While there is nothing ‘wrong’ with the what’s present, it’s rather monotonous. At worst, the color palette makes things tough to see. At best, it’s a little stale. The detail in the cities and planes are all present, but when you are chasing a little red marker on a sea of gray, you can’t really appreciate any of them. It does the job, but sometimes leaves you wanting more.

Flip a coin here. The greatness of the score and sound effects are cancelled out by the repeating, stereotypical chatter of everyone else in the air. I’m going to give the developers the benefit of the doubt with the pilot communication. When there are 30 planes in the air that all look alike, I’m sure the over-the-top accents and comments are in place to better give you an idea of who, exactly, is saying what. If they were toned down, in the heat of battle it might tough to decipher just who’s telling you what. A lame excuse, but it’s the only one that comes to mind.

The other sounds of the game are very well done. Explosions, rockets launched and the score all add to the realism, especially in surround. For the few moments that everyone is quiet, the sound is great.

Easy to pick up and fly, the control scheme works fairly well. Using the left stick to steer and the right to control body roll and speed, you’ll be zipping around in no time. Left trigger to fire primary weapons and clicking the left unleashes your arsenal on the world. The D-pad is invited to the party as well and allows you to communicate to your wingmen. You can also change formations and ask for some mid-air repair through the D-pad as well.

The problems come in when you need to fight, and especially bomb. There is no free-look camera. The left trigger provides a, sometimes disorienting chase cam, for your next target but this proves useless for bombing where only the correct flight speed allows you to see if your ground targets are lined up. Not good. It’s almost like they really didn’t think it through.

Another issue is the ‘camera’ mode. Some missions require you to do a little recon work but taking a picture of battleship shouldn’t be tougher than sinking one.

Do you want to take down a batch of fighters? Bombers? Over and over? If your answer is “YES” to those questions, this is the perfect game for you! Otherwise the monotony may drive you away. Sure, sometimes you take pictures or go after ground targets but they are short little commercials in the epic mini-series of this game. You hit that 30 second skip on the Tivo and your back to the show…The dogfight show.
The differences in locations and enemies really don’t add too much. Whether you’re trailing a German bomber or a Japanese fighter, it doesn’t matter. Wave after wave, after wave, after wave, it all just blends together. I’m sure when my grandfather hopped into his plane as a gunner during WWII, he wasn’t bored after about 15 minutes but I was.

There’s very little strategy involved as well. You can’t really hide, sneak up on your enemy or create diversions when you’re both in planes. Just chase each other around until someone gets shot down. Speaking of being shot down, you probably won’t be that guy. While you can fail missions by running out of time or having certain targets destroyed, chances are you’ll never actually be taken out by the enemy. One of your wingman can repair your plane while in the air (yeah, I know) by ordering you through a few button presses. As long as he stays in the air, you will too.

There’s really nothing wrong with the game but there isn’t anything that makes you feel like pressing on. After a very short time, you’ve seen it all.

On the bright side, you can have some fun with this title online. Playing against others over Live gives the game some extra legs. There are some interesting modes with teams, solo and even co-op missions. There are the standard dogfights, as expected, but some of the other modes make things more interesting. For example, Seek and Destroy, where the winner is the first to shoot down all other players. Also, Capture the Base, in which your team gets points by landing a plane at a base then defending against an opponent from taking it back by landing on it themselves. If you can find a good group of people, the online play may make the whole experience very worthwhile.

This was tough. Blazing Angels does one thing and does it pretty well. Unfortunately it only does that one thing. There’s no compelling reason to press on after the first wave of fighters in Dunkirk. War has been an entertaining topic in video games but Blazing Angels manages to take something so compelling and turn it into a bit of a snooze fest.

In a game like Crimson Skies you have creative license to do whatever you want. That goes for the planes, the enemies, the story and even the world. Trying to accurately recreate history ties your hands a bit and, in this game, it shows. Pearl Harbor is Pearl Harbor. You can’t spice it up with a different story. Blazing Angels is a victim of its subject matter. Maybe this is why there aren’t many WWII air combat games.