Xbox 360 Review: Blazing Angels

It's not as if the world needed another arcade-styled flight game. We have Ace Combat to take care of that. It's not as if we needed another game set in World War II either. However, none of that is relevant to the gameplay of Blazing Angels, a wild take on the War with enough of a hook to keep you playing.

There is something that needs to be known immediately. Blazing Angels does little to challenge the player, and the 18-mission campaign is brief because of it. It's focus is offering thrills, sights, and intense combat that make it infinitely replayable.

Set inside an alternate spin on WWII, Angels follows the well known conflicts and inserts its own along the way. Most of the missions use the actual events to increase the intensity, or provide a new perspective. The D-Day battle in particular becomes a fresh way to experience the war's most overused entertainment set piece by bombing bunkers or silencing troops trying to make the advance on beached allied soldiers.

That's one of numerous unforgettable moments. A fight above Paris involves taking out AA guns perched atop the Eiffel Tower and sweeping in-between buildings at low altitudes to take out approaching tanks. With the superb detailing of the cityscape and no noticeable draw-in, this is a feast of epic game playing.

As is probably expected, not all of the game's missions are that thrilling. An early outing sticking the player with the task of flying blind in a sandstorm to find German encampments should forever be outcast by those who are patient enough to deal with it. Another forcing sharp turns through a London river (with the city banking both sides) with limited altitude is one of the (unfairly) toughest in the game.

There's also the issue of aggravating dialogue that is not only repetitive, but dangerously close to being offensive. If it's not offensive, it's disrespectful. To turn the Japanese pilots (who for some reason speak English with horribly clich├ęd accents) who bombed Pearl Harbor into blubbering fools is unforgivable. Even in Blazing Angel's fantasy world, it's not right regardless of your feelings on the attack. It's also in sharp contrast to the superb soundtrack that maintains a serious tone throughout.

Flight is difficult to separate in video games from one to the next. Angels offers a few options to differentiate it, and make it a recommendation even to those who have eagerly awaited the new Ace Combat title. The majority of missions offer wingmen who are at your command. While not always the brightest pilots to take command, they do help when a request is made, and will actually shoot down enemy planes regularly. It's something that's sorely lacking from flight titles for years.

One wingman offers the ability to quickly fix your plane as it takes damage through a brief, un-interruptive mini-game. The problem is that it's too easy, and almost impossible to completely screw up. As such, taking damage isn't the threat it should be, unless you're flying solo without him.

The targeting system is the key feature here, and it's greatest innovation. While it eliminates the cockpit view for the sake of implementing it, Angels allows the player to stay focused on a target as they fly by holding the L trigger. This eliminates the need for a radar (though it wouldn't have hurt), makes finding the right enemy painless, and does so without being too disorienting initially when switching to new targets.

The only issues with this is watching your altitude. Since you're focused on a target, you can easily flip upside down and not know it until you're a few feet above the ground. Some missions present this problem worse than others, especially those that use the bloom effect a little too well.

Still, you'll have few issues replaying these missions, and the generous checkpoint system means you'll lose little time. Once the campaign is completed, you can tackle a few other modes, like the side missions, ace mode, or an arcade survival test. Ace presents one-on-one battles against all unlocked planes, and can be surprisingly intense.

Where Blazing Angels misses is online play. It has the requisite amount of modes, allows for 16 players, and has no lag. There's a reason for the latter though, and that's because no one is playing. Even on a Saturday night, the lobby is barren. You can count the number of people online with one hand, and to find more than one game available should be an occasion to celebrate with full cake, ice cream, and party hats.

That's one of the crimes of the current game industry. While Blazing Angels isn't completely original, it separates itself enough to be an Xbox 360 highlight. If the online play is any indication, no one knows this. It deserves to be recognized for what it does right, though try and ignore the inexcusable dialogue as much as possible.

(**** out of *****)

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