Blazing Angels: Squadrons of WWII (Xbox 360)
MSRP: $59.99
Number of Players: 1-16 players (via Xbox Live)
Developer: Ubisoft Romania
Publisher: Ubisoft

out of

Being a huge World War II aviation buff, I was very excited to hear about the development of Blazing Angels: Squadrons of WWII for the Xbox 360. The more I heard, the more I salivated. Not only would you be able to fly some of the most interesting planes in the war -- like the Messerschmidt 262 jet fighter and the North American P-51D Mustang -- you'd also be able to see the view from the cockpit as you flew the game's various missions. As an added bonus, you'd be able to take to the air on Xbox Live and battle with gamers from all over the world. The multiplayer air-to-air combat that I loved so much in Crimson Skies would now feature my favorite airplanes. How could that miss?

Well, unfortunately, reality has visited me in the form of the finished product. Blazing Angels' developers had some lofty ideas but, when the time came to get it out the door, Ubisoft apparently had to get rid of a few things and rushed a few others.

First to go was the in-cockpit view. The game now features a third-person view situated behind the tail of whatever plane you choose to fly. A unique camera enables you to track your targets while you're flying so you can maneuver to a better angle of attack. OK, I'll accept the trade-off.

Then there's the storyline, or what the game's campaign mode tries to pass off as one. Blazing Angels follows a group of Yank volunteer pilots from Dunkirk in 1940 to their involvement in the U.S. air domination over the skies of Berlin in 1945, and makes a few pitstops in the Pacific theater for some action at Pearl Harbor, Midway and Guadalcanal. Through 18 missions, a nice selection of weapons keeps things interesting as you'll not only dogfight other planes, but you'll use rockets and bombs to take out bunkers, destroy enemy ships and tear apart tanks and gun emplacements too. One level's attempt at putting you in the ball turret of a B-17 bomber is the only real clunker in the bunch.

Each member of the squadron possesses a "special ability" that you may use to your advantage during a myriad of air combat scenarios. By using the d-pad, you can select which one you need at a particular time. Frank is a bit of a hothead and his "special ability" is attacking enemy planes that may be giving you a bit of trouble. Tom's "ability" is a knack for taunting enemy pilots and getting them to leave you alone for a bit. Joe is your health power-up specialist. Calling on him causes a combination of buttons to appear at the top of the screen. Following them in order will repair your plane. Which brings us to our next problem: there's no limit on the times you can use Joe (or Frank or Tom, for that matter, but the usefulness of their abilities is questionable anyway.)

In short, the game's single player mode is incredibly easy -- save for a few frustrating "navigate through a narrow corridor" levels that require trial and error until you've replayed them enough times to know when and where to turn. The fact that each level contains checkpoints that don't require you to start from the beginning everytime you die is appreciated, but I was able to get through 15 of the 18 missions on the first try. The multiplayer mode is much more interesting and challenging but it's no better than the one found in Crimson Skies which is available for $19.99 these days.

There are some positives to Blazing Angels. Even though it is too easy, it still manages to be fun. Blasting enemy planes out of the sky is always a thrill and there's nothing terribly wrong with the game's control scheme. Although the voice-acting is horrible and some of the enemy voices are so politically incorrect that they border on offensive, there's enough going on to keep your attention focused on the action rather than the lack of variety in the radio chatter. The graphics, while far from the best the Xbox 360 can muster, do a decent enough job displaying the planes at a nice level of detail.

I'd hoped Blazing Angels would beat Crimson Skies out as my favorite air combat game, but it doesn't come close in either the single or multiplayer games. The game was obviously rushed -- the numerous spelling mistakes are another clue to that -- so it's just a shame that the developers didn't take just a bit more time to give us what was initially promised. Why pay $60.00 for an air combat game that features a mediocre single-player mode and a multiplayer mode that brings nothing new to the table? (Strangely, the Xbox version of the game, which is not terribly different graphics-wise, is only $39.99.) A rental, if anything, Blazing Angels is just plain disappointing.

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