This review is dedicated to Colin's dogs, Pascal and Cidr. Such good boys.
Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge is one of the games that always gets mentioned when discussing the best Xbox exclusives, and despite the fact that I've had the game since I bought my Xbox back in 2012, it wasn't until this week that I actually played it. I'm not sure why I put it off so long; I absolutely adore flight combat sims. I had played some of the multiplayer previously (locally, obviously), but man, I had no idea just how great a game I was missing out on.
So Crimson Skies takes place in an alternate universe 1930s where the United States broke up into a handful of nations following the end of World War I, and instead of automobiles and large tanks, airplanes and airships became the dominant means of transportation and combat. With the collapse of the United States government and relatively weakness of the various resulting governments, air piracy as ballooned into a major source of criminal activity. You play as Nathan Zachary, and the game begins the morning that your character wakes up to a gun in his face. Nathan spent the previous night gambling - unsuccessfully - and lost his prized fighter plane as well as his pirate airship. The first part of the game consists of getting back that which you lost and settling the score with the Ragin' Cajuns, the rival pirate gang to whom you lost your aforementioned aircrafts. After that, you visit an old friend, end up stumbling on a potentially apocalyptic evil plot, and set out to thwart the bad guy and save the world. Or at least Chicago.
The game consists of four pseudo-open world areas and a final boss fight. You can collect money from completing various mission, and you earn upgrade tokens either by finding them hidden in the world or by completing story missions. With money and upgrade tokens, you can upgrade each of your planes (of which there are a total of 12) to give them slight stat bumps. It's rarely a dramatic increase - a couple of points in each of the three stats (defense, speed, and firepower), but it helps. In addition to the main story missions, there are a handful of side missions, and each area has a race on which you can wager money. The controls are fairly simple, and I mean that in the best way possible; your airplanes control beautifully, and flying feels like swimming through a pool of cream. The left stick steers, the right stick rolls, and clicking the right stick before moving both sticks in a certain direction can perform a few special maneuvers. The B button brakes, the Y button accelerates, and the X button is your general "action" button to take a plane lying in the environment, initiate a mission, or enter an AA gun. The right trigger fires your primary weapon of which you have unlimited ammo, and the left trigger fires your secondary weapon of which ammo is finite. The multiplayer is basically dogfight deathmatches, and it's IMMENSELY fun.
The sound design in the game is fantastic. The voice acting is decent - not horrible, but nothing special - but the music fits the situations, and the sound effects are great. Slower, more powerful weapons have a really meaty bass to them, and the faster firing weapons are loud and proud. Nathan has some fantastic one-liners, as well - the kind that are stupidly lame but freaking amazing nonetheless (hell, probably BECAUSE they're so lame). The visuals are a bit more polarizing; while the actual gameplay looks fantastic - especially in 480p if you have component cables - the cut scenes feel a bit...off. In general, they look fine, but they look just a little murky, almost as if the video compression weren't quite right. I can't quite put my finger on it or put it into words, but the cut scenes just didn't look as clear as I might have hoped. A very eloquent and precise description, I know.
Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge definitely deserves the praise it gets, and it's definitely one of the Xbox's best exclusives. Most modern flight combat sims don't hit the perfect balance and control that Crimson Skies manages, and each of the various planes from which one can choose feels unique and has its own pros and cons. My personal issue with the cut scenes aside (and truthfully, they still look good for the time), Crimson Skies does almost everything right. It looks great, it sounds great, it plays great, and while the story isn't amazing, it's interesting enough to keep you going with humorous dialogue to keep you entertained. Combine that with some simply brilliant level design (especially the last area, holy crap), and you've got a must-have for any Xbox collector.
My Rating - 5 Neps
I'm Mr. Deck
And I like to play video games. I like to collect video games. I like to talk about video games, and I like to write about video games. During the day, I teach history at a high school in central North Carolina; during the night, I spend my spare time gaming. Then I write about it.