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Game Over Online ~ Crimson Skies

GameOver Game Reviews - Crimson Skies (c) Microsoft, Reviewed by - Rorschach

Game & Publisher Crimson Skies (c) Microsoft
System Requirements Windows 9x, Pentium 233, 32MB Ram, 300MB HDD, 3D Accelerator, 4x CD-ROM
Overall Rating 74%
Date Published Sunday, November 12th, 2000 at 07:54 PM

Divider Left By: Rorschach Divider Right

I started off my last review with a one-line summary that captured the entire flavor of the game quickly for those with short attention spans. I liked that approach so much, I'm going to try it again. Hmmm. How about: Crimson Skies - A rousing, swashbuckler adventure and an enormous, bug-ridden pain in the ass! With lines like that one, I can't understand why game companies don't hire me to write their box text.

Let me make one thing perfectly clear (with much waddling of jowls), I am not a big aircraft buff, either of near WWII - the era of Crimson Skies - or any other era. I played Aces of the Pacific about 8 years ago, then moved on to Wing Commander. As a whole, I found that I liked having shields more than not, and I've never looked back since. A friend of mine was once trying to sell me on the beauty of the Aces flight model. "See? See? The Zero is more maneuverable, but the Corsair is faster and has a lower stall speed." Or maybe it was the other way around. Or maybe I've gotten it completely wrong; I wasn't listening. I was watching Monty Python - he had an incredibly complete Monty Python videotape collection. My point is that I'm likely to write things some of you (meaning dweebs and shut-ins) will find stupid (meaning historically inaccurate). In my defense, I can only quote William Shatner, "You want some dope airfare or a fly rental car? Then you know what to do, dog!" No, no, not that William Shatner quote - the other one, "Get a life. Move out of your parents' basement." Fortunately for me, Crimson Skies is not supposed to be a historically accurate combat flight simulator. It's more of an action/arcade/adventure kind of thing that has thrown most of the real physics of flying out the window. Airplane designs that have never seen the light of day populate these skies, including dual fuselage, push-driven biplanes with counter-rotating propellers, and zeppelins that behave more like aircraft carriers. I could be wrong; maybe somebody somewhere did build such planes. Dweebs, shut-ins, any comments?

Transport yourself back to 1937. No, not our 1937, stupid - some other 1937. A 1937 in which the great depression has torn the USA into fragmented city-states, fracturing the transcontinental railroad that was the backbone of commerce and trade across the US. Sort of a post-apocalyptic US, only sans the apocalypse. Without railroads to move goods around, another method of conveyance had to be found. Fortunately, the National Football League was still many years off, so the blimps were available. Well-born the era of the zeppelin, despite the existence of both trucks and ships that you frequently see during the missions, and with them naturally came air pirates to hijack them. That's you, Nathan Zachary, leader of a group of a group of air pirates known as the Fortune Hunters, roguishly handsome, devil-may-care, pencil-moustached, baggy flying breeches and long, silk flying ascot, terror of the skies, secret affection of the ladies, daredevil, and soldier-of-fortune. Oh wait, that's my resume.

Your mission (actually missions, about 25 of them) is to dogfight, bomb, recon, dogfight, defend, dogfight, hijack, and dogfight your way across these unfriendly skies (awww, I was hoping I wasn't going to use that one). These missions sometimes change in flight through scripted events, and that's where I ran into the first problem. Well, actually that's where I ran into the second problem, but the first problem is so big I figure I'll leave it to it's own paragraph a little later in the review. This problem is that the scripted events are scripted to run in a certain order, but you can do stuff in a different order. While this doesn't cause the game to crash or make the mission unsolvable or anything, the comments your copilots and enemies toss in become confused. For example, in the very first mission an enemy blimp appears, and just for the hell of it I let a couple of rockets fly at what I believed to be the control room (the little room that hangs under a blimp - I'm pretty sure it has some technical name, but I can't think of it at the moment). The blimp explodes, and my wingman (wingwoman) says "Look at it burn!" or something like that, but then makes a suggestion about aiming for the fuel tanks underneath it. This sort of thing happened in lots of missions, owing the large number of scripted events that take place. As an interesting aside, and harking back to games even older than Wing Commander, you have no control over your wingmen at all. Their AI is OK, nothing dramatically special, as is the AI of the enemy, but if you come to some scripted event, like a dogfight between you and some ace, even if your wingmen aren't doing anything, they won't help. They're just off circling somewhere waiting for the next plot event that they are supposed to participate in. I'm out of ammo, half in flames, the whole mission is in jeopardy - but they just don't care, and you can't tell them to. I'm uncertain if the game designers made them that way to build in some of the more dramatic script events, or if they were simply too lazy to put a wingman communication and control system in.

But before you get to play the game at all, you've got to get to the first mission, and that's where I ran into the first problem. The level load times on this game are the longest I've seen since the first, unpatched version of Sin. And once you're in the game, hitting escape to return to the configuration menu to change the control configuration or graphics takes a load time that is almost as long. The menu response is sluggish while you're there, and then leaving the menu to return to the game is a lengthy wait. This problem will probably ultimately be solved with a patch. How often have we heard that in the past? But as it stands, the game is only marginally playable on my machine depending on my patience level, and from the buzz on various newsgroups, I'm one of the "lucky" ones. Apparently all these long load times are indicative of some memory leak, and for many the game locks up entirely. It didn't happen to me, but lots of people have reported it. I have had the game drop me into the windows blue screen of death several times without apparent cause forcing me to reboot the machine. There was also apparently a problem with single player campaign saves being overwritten by single player instant action and multiplayer games, but a patch now addresses that issue. Clearly a game that snuck out of the beta lab just a wee tad early.

As far as eye candy goes, Crimson Skies scores very well. The airplane models are well drawn. Smoke, fire, explosions, tracers, glare, sun, water, trees, buildings - they all look great! The cost of this is more horsepower than I've apparently got (P3-500 with a Diamond Viper 770 Ultra). With all detail levels set to high, frame rates would drop to the visual equivalent of a flip card movie when there were lots of things going on. Voice acting is much better than usual, with dialog often spoken with the correct amount of emotion and emphasis. The dialog during the mission layout, which is performed while looking at a map and photographs of your objectives, are especially well done, making you feel like you're listening to a group of buccaneers planning their next escapade. Jaunty music accompanies all. Both your wingmen and the enemies make inane comments throughout the dogfights that become repetitive very quickly, but I can't think of a single game of this type for which that wasn't the case. It goes almost without saying that when the graphics went to hell, the sound stuttered badly. Sometimes the sounds stuttered all on their own; given that it was accompanied by tons of hard drive activity, I suspect it's related to the memory leak.

The huge number of fatal and annoying bugs is unfortunate, because Crimson Skies would be a very good game without them, and maybe a few patches down the road will be. With a little more patience in beta testing, it could have come out a winner. As it stands, I think word of mouth will hold it on store shelves while patching issues are worked out, and the next hot game to come along will keep it there.

[ 40/50 ] Gameplay
[ 07/10 ] Plotline
[ 09/10 ] Graphics
[ 09/10 ] Sound
[ 07/10 ] Controls
[ 02/10 ] Bugs


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