While the World War II-era arcade combat flight game genre has bee pretty well ignored in recent years, there have still been a smattering of these kinds of titles that have snuck into my console now and again. From the underrated previous-generation gems Heroes of the Pacific and Secret Weapons over Normandy to Ubsisoft’s new Blazing Angels: Squadrons of WWII, there should always be a place for accessible, rollicking dogfight-based games in everyone’s game life. To that end, Blazing Angels delivers a solid, challenging, and fun experience. While it lacks some of the spit and polish I’d like to see in a true next-generation title, there’s still more than enough visceral airborne thrills and chills to keep anyone entertained for a good long time.
There aren’t many theaters of war that you won’t get into in Angels. Since the campaign follows a group of American pilots from the very beginning of hostilities all the way through the end, by the time the world has been rid of Hitler and Hirohito, you’ll have spent time in England, France, North Africa, Pearl Harbor, Midway, Berlin, and others. An exhaustive list of aircraft from the era fills up the skies – to be sure, folks who know their ME-109s from their Spitfires and Hurricanes have got a lot of information to chew on. There are over forty different planes that you’ll eventually have the option to pilot, starting out with a bucket of bolts for initial training (which goes awry very quickly) all the way through the German jets that made their appearance right as the Nazi regime was in its death throes. To say that the folks at Ubisoft did their homework would be an understatement.
Blazing Angels is a solid if unspectacular arcadey combat sim that offers up plenty of fun – guns, bombs, explosions, and fire aplenty.
Controlling your flying jalopy is straightforward enough using the basic arcade controls, but an added bonus is the ability to use the Sixaxis tilt functionality to pitch, yaw, and otherwise manipulate through space. It’ll take some time to get used to it for sure, especially if you’re used to the more modern-era kinds of flying games that feature supersonic-speed machines. It’s not hard to jump right in to the game and go, although the difference between surviving a level and mastering it is substantial indeed.
Dogfights are fast and furious. For the most part, any planes you battle in the air will be mano-a-mano with your right-trigger-propelled machine guns. Unlike some other air combat games, leading your targets isn’t nearly as crucial as it normally would be. More often than not, aiming squarely at the target will inflict the damage necessary to take them out of the air. On the other hand, secondary weapons vary all the time, depending on the mission targets and specific aircraft. Sometimes they’ll be bombs, rockets, or torpedoes. A personal favorite is the rockets, which come in handy to take out enemy machine gun nests and anti-aircraft emplacements; there’s nothing like a good old-fashioned fuel-propelled exploder to open up those holes in enemy lines.
Objectives, weapons, and tactics can and will differ greatly with each mission. Early on in the war, for example, helping to rescue trapped British soldiers in Dunkirk will mostly involve you with trying to shoot down waves of German Luftwaffe planes or dive-bombing naval threats to your fellow troops. Other missions will involve reconnaissance photography, tactical bombing of key bridges or military installations, and protecting vital buildings or landmarks. At various times, you’ll need the help of your buddies in a pinch. Each crew member brings different skills to the table, from assisting in mid-flight repair - Unrealistic? Yes. Helpful? Also yes. - attacking threats, or diverting an enemy’s attention from you. Each of these is crucial in helping you survive and succeed; without them, you’d have no hope.
From a visual standpoint, Blazing Angels is hit and miss. At times, you’ll be wowed by all of the action on-screen, from the exploding planes, burning buildings or tanks on the ground, and cities or towns that look pretty sweet from afar. On the other hand, there will be occasions when you’ll see some very bland landscapes that don’t look or seem next-generation in any regard. Some of the coolest visuals are the cutscenes that introduce the various chapters, which have the look of old-time grainy movies and the Frank Capra-esque “Why We Fight” films. So much of the game takes place at breakneck speed that it’s hard to really be too down on the eye candy, but for the most part you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference between Blazing Angels on the PS3 and a good-looking last-generation game of the same ilk. It’s nothing ugly by any stretch, but a bit more graphical muscle-flexing would have been nice.
There’s an expansive multiplayer mode that works very well in the limited number of games that I was able to scare up. For one reason or another, the online community is pretty sparse these days (although I thinks it’s less to do with Blazing Angels than an overall lackluster PS3 online implementation; there are plenty of other PS3 titles I’ve played without much happening on the network). The games were lag-free, but for some reason did not support any voice chat, which certainly takes away from the experience. Overall, though, online dogfighting adds an extra layer of replayability that builds up the value of the game.
Blazing Angels is a solid if unspectacular arcadey combat sim that offers up plenty of fun – guns, bombs, explosions, and fire aplenty. If you’re at all a fan of the genre, you won’t be disappointed by the variety of aircraft and missions. Even if you’re not, it’s an extremely accessible game that offers plenty of depth and options for newbies and hardcore fliers alike. If you’ve ever wanted to take a tour of the Second World War from the unfriendly skies, Blazing Angels does a fine job bringing you there.