Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge Review

Ever dream of flying a modified 1930’s warplane in a spectacular close-range dogfight? The upcoming Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge will be right up your alley then. The original Crimson Skies game was released on the PC in October 2000. When they were thinking of games for the upcoming Xbox system, Microsoft apparently decided that this would be a great franchise to bring over to the Xbox.

A lot has happened since then, chronicled quite extensively in Discovery Channel’s Xbox special. The Lead Designer was fired after a disappointing showing of a mostly done version at E3 in 2002. A new designer from Totally Games (X-Wing, TIE Fighter, etc. on computer) came on and the staff that was left seemed to be refreshed with the change of pace. They decided to pretty much scrap what was already made. A new graphics engine, all-new cutscenes, new planes and eventually Live support (even in the early days of the new version there was no Live support) were added to the game. Somehow Ed Fries saw something special in the game and put extra money into it.

The original actors are still around to re-record their voiceovers as well as some new ones and they are still as funny as ever. Between some missions you will be treated to some well rendered, often comical, cutscenes to connect the current portion of the storyline with where you are headed.

The original Crimson Skies came out three years ago. Through the process of rebuilding this game, Microsoft redesigned the graphics engine to take advantage of the robust hardware of the Xbox instead of the graphics at the time the concept was pitched (circa 2001).

The graphics are better than you can see in the screenshots in this review and simply are jaw-dropping in motion. Little details such as decals on the planes or the water spray you throw about as you get a bit close to the water all adds to the overall flavor of the title. The drawing distance is extreme and the sky is expansive. Don’t like hanging out in the open? Try heading down into the well-drawn caverns and try your luck where the stakes are a bit higher. When and if you smack a wall you will see minor flame-outs and sputtering from your engine’s exhaust system. Smoke begins to billow from your engines and it obscures things a bit, just as one might expect in that situation. All this eye candy comes with no noticeable framerate issues and only an occasional minor clipping glitch.

I’ve included a lot of shots just to show you how great this title really looks.

Crimson Skies for the PC had a jazzy ‘flapper’ 1940’s kind of feel to the music. That style has been replaced with a more jazz-rock fusion in this game. I think it will appeal more to players and is generally less jarring than its predecessor. The tracks are varied enough to stay fresh for a few hours and if it begins to grate on you it is simple to adjust the volume to your liking. The original ‘theme’ music to Crimson Skies is still present and you will hear that quite often as you initially load the game or enter the Pandora (your Zeppelin).

The guns, missiles, flame-outs, engines and pretty much everything else is spot on. The voices are comical and ‘super-hero-like’ when they are supposed to be and utilize the voice-actors from the previous PC version. All in all, a well done affair.

The game is set up for complete ease of use. It really was as simple as picking up the controller and taking the short tutorial on the way to my first mission. In no time I was pulling loops and barrel rolls to rip holes in some enemy planes. The controls are as you would expect in a game like this. The left analog controls flight, right analog controls the rotation. Right trigger is the machine gun, the left trigger is the missiles. The X button activates missions, selects the ‘landing’ options and is the general ‘use’ button. The black button swoops the camera to the nearest enemy and shows you where you need to head for your next prey. The B button is for brakes and the Y is for turbo. Depressing the thumbsticks in different configurations will perform all the tricks you will want to do while dogfighting, but only if you have enough ‘fuel’ in your special meter. Just as a fun side note, you can even put your plane in a flat spin if you are not careful with what crazy stunts you pull while low on ‘special’.

Speaking of crazy…eventually you will be given the opportunity to pick up a few extra planes (10 to be precise) but not all of them are actually planes. Each plane (ok, I’ll spoil one…it’s a Gyrocopter) has their own speed, boost, brakes, turn radius and general maneuverability. Want to hover and snipe at long distances? Use the Gyrocopter. Want to be able to withstand a bit more abuse, maybe the Devastator will be more your speed. Any way you slice it, each plane handles differently but the controls remain deceptively simple. Even if you could forget them, you are shown a ‘cheat sheet’ of them every time you load from one area to another.

The game’s story is very interesting. To fit with the light-hearted cavalier style of the game, not all missions are as rough and tumble and often feature a good heaping dose of humor as well. The first area, an island-city called Sea Haven, is the primary source of your first few missions. You can try a race based on flying through debris scattered about the island and maybe make a few dollars betting on yourself in the process or you might give a shot at defending the island from incoming invaders via flak cannons. It’s entirely up to you and this open ended method simply makes the game that much more enjoyable.

You will spend quite a bit just jetting around Sea Haven, but as you move the game forward there will be four more areas filled with tons of missions varying from “Help my sheriff with our little Gyrocopter problem” to “Take out that Zeppelin!” in scope. As you move from location to location, occasionally you are ‘treated’ to boss fights. I’m not going to let the cat out of the bag, save to ask this one question: “When is a Zeppelin not a Zeppelin? How about when it transforms into a giant death-dealing robotic spider?”

Now taking on giant uber-spiders isn’t going to be easy, but Crimson Skies has you covered. As you fly around the different areas you can find ‘upgrade tokens’ that serve as your method (well…that and some cash) to upgrade your plane a bit. A new paintjob and some increased stats later and you will have yourself a more specialized craft. Some planes lose speed in exchange for armor, some pick up minor increases to all stats. It all depends on what you like. Once again…this game proves to be very open ended.

Unfortunately, there is a downside to the gameplay section: the difficulty level. Since you cannot select a difficulty level (at least in this build), when you encounter a mission that is very difficult you may find yourself playing it quite a bit. A good example might be the missions where you are required to use the Gyrocopter. While it is fast and maneuverable, it can’t take any real damage. You will have to use it’s ‘hover-and-snipe’ mode to take the enemy out before they can close to guns or missiles range and make the best use of your surroundings to survive. Thankfully, these missions are few and far between.

We all know that you came here to hear about, Xbox Live options. While the original Crimson Skies only supported 8 players, this version supports voice chat (of course) and up to 15 players via the Xbox Live matchmaking service with the ability to have a guest play as one of the other 15 players. Put on top of that a full 16 player System Link support, 4 player split screen, and the ability to download new content including planes and maps and you have yourself one of the big Live titles of this holiday season. Lets check out the multiplayer modes in a bit more expanded fashion:

Keep Away and Team Keep Away: You will be flying around the expansive levels looking for money. Once you grab the cash, you are officially ‘it’. The other players will be on you faster than you can say “Cat in a Hat” and it’s your job to hold onto that loot for two minutes. Sound easy? Guess again!

Wild Chicken: This mode is just odd. You ‘catch’ a bird on your wing and then attempt to fly it to the enemy goal. The enemy will be trying to hammer the poor thing off your wings and take the little guy from you. Think of it like football with bullets and birds and flying. Ok, so it’s nothing like football.

Dogfight and Team Dogfight: Tell me you don’t need an explanation for this.

Flag Heist: My alltime favorite…Capture the Flag baby!

The multiplayer modes are all pretty varied and smack talking will occur. You can customize the modes a bit varying the time limits and number of points, but the real variety comes from the smack-talking yahoo’s that you will be teaching to eat hot lead. It’s all about the hot lead.

This title was in great peril of being just another flight sim when it was starting to be made. Fast forward two years, a new Lead Designer, a metric ton of improvements later and you have a title destined for greatness. This title is a great way to kick off the holiday season and should be a part of any Live player’s library.

Ron Burke is the Editor in Chief for Gaming Trend. Currently living in Fort Worth, Texas, Ron is an old-school gamer who enjoys CRPGs, action/adventure, platformers, music games, and has recently gotten into tabletop gaming. Ron is also a fourth degree black belt, with a Master's rank in Matsumura Seito Shōrin-ryū, Moo Duk Kwan Tang Soo Do, Universal Tang Soo Do Alliance, and International Tang Soo Do Federation. He also holds ranks in several other styles in his search to be a well-rounded fighter. Ron has been married to Gaming Trend Editor, Laura Burke, for 21 years. They have three dogs - Pazuzu (Irish Terrier), Atë, and Calliope (both Australian Kelpie/Pit Bull mixes).
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