"Quite possibly the best Xbox Live game so far"
Crimson Skies was originally released on the PC in 2000 and three years later it has returned. Refined and re-made for the Xbox, it fast became one of the most anticipated games of 2002/3. With numerous delays attributed to adding Xbox Live has the long wait been worth it? The answer is a solid yes.
You play as Nathan Zachery, a pilot with the Fortune Hunters. The Fortune Hunters are one of the games numerous factions/squads which are made up of fighter planes. These factions fight over territory and smuggling areas but as the storyline wears on a treacherous tale unfolds. A good friend of yours, Doc is murdered for some technology he had been working on and you make it your mission to avenge his murder and find out what this technology is.
Crimson Skies as you have probably guessed is a flight simulator, but with a few changes from the norm. The first difference is that is completely arcade oriented with easy to use controls and the focus more on the action rather then the simulation. It is set in an alternate 1930's with many of the planes represented in the game coming from that era. Most of the single player campaign missions are quite linear and can become quite repetitive at times. The campaign composes of a number of missions, and these missions are broken into smaller sub-missions.
The sub-missions help you continue on your quest. For instance during the game you will be looking for a mine, and the man that can help you find it will only help if you perform some tasks first. Most of these sub-missions involve either escorting a friend, taking down remaining enemies, or carrying objects from one place to another. Whilst the single player campaign is satisfying, it most definitely is a lead in to the superb multiplayer options this game offers.
Through the campaign (or in multiplayer) you will encounter numerous planes to use. Each plane has different top speed, level of armour and weapons. Some planes have electricity emitting guns but feature low armour, whilst others are armed to the teeth but have slow moving speed. It will take a little bit of time to find the plane most suited to your fighting style, but in the single player campaign, the game dictates which plane you use at which time. Except at the beginning of missions. Along with this you can also earn upgrade tokens to build up the current plane you are using in the single player campaign and during missions, some people will offer to repair your plane or help in some other ways. This usually only occurs if you have completed their sub-mission first however. You usually have a friend named Betty along for the ride helping you finish mission objectives or taking down enemy planes.
Nathan will encounter many non-player characters during his travels. Some will be helpful and provide aircraft to use, others will be enemies wanting to take our illustrious hero down. As mentioned before, the territories feature numerous flying squads which Nathan must deal with. Most of these are fairly easy to take down but the actual moving bases, the zeppelins are not so easy. Each squad may have numerous zeppelins and these can launch reinforcement planes.
The Fortune Hunters have a zeppelin and at times it needs defending. The zeppelins are like the commanders in Total Annihilation. Take them out, and you take a good step forward in being able to win the battle. It can become repetitive, there is only so many times you can be told to take down the remaining enemies at the end of a mission before wanting to give up and move to multiplayer. You won't be encountering enemies only in planes however. Sometimes during the single player campaign it will become advantageous to take hold of a gun emplacement and take the remaining enemies down. Mixing the gameplay up makes the single player game more interesting.
One of the critical areas for Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge was always going to be the control structure and we are happy to report that it comes through with flying colours. Although it does take a little while to become accustomed to, the developers have ported the mouse/keyboard commands to console almost perfectly. You can also perform tricks such as loop the loops, and spins to turn backwards. This can be useful to elude enemies and the animations look fantastic. Some of the tricks can be very useful at times when being chased down by an enemy target and they are quite easy to perform with the two analogue sticks.
Throughout the storyline of Crimson Skies you will visit various different locales with different scenery and environments. They all look quite stunning. Such as in Sea Haven with mountainous islands and crystal blue sea and Arixo with deep canyons, perfect for dog fighting in. Each of the environments are heavily detailed and have suitable structures. For instance at Sea Haven just wharves and buildings exist whilst in Arixo, mines and other industrial buildings exist. You will also fly in skyscraper laden cities with the ability to weave between high rise buildings and fly low across the street.
Crimson Skies is a bit of a two sided game, the single player and multiplayer, with multiplayer being the far better section. On Xbox Live this game is absolutely superb. It was anticipated as one of the biggest titles to hit Live in 2003 and it lives up to that billing. There is already thousands of people playing it online and why wouldn't they be, the structure is fantastic. The game offers deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture the flag and a mode where you have to capture a chicken to win points. Flying planes in old school dog fighting is one of the most addictive possibilities on Live to date. If you have Xbox Live, you have to own this game.
On the visual side of things, Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge is very impressive with a long draw distance and highly detailed environments. There is a bit of slowdown at times when the action gets overly hectic, but for most of the game its rock solid and looks great. The planes have a damage model, with flames and other mechanical problems being displayed. On the sound side of things, the cinematic, 1930's-like soundtrack really adds to the single player campaign. The planes sound quite good, as do the weapons when discharged.
Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge is one of the better games for the Xbox in 2003. If you have an Xbox Live account you simply must own this game. It has great graphics, fun gameplay and excellent controls. The wait for the game to add Live support has definitely been worth it. With plans for downloadable content in the future, this game is just going to get better and better. So fire up those engines and get flying!