When I first saw Blazing Angels on the Xbox at E3 a few years ago, the game looked impressive indeed. The environments were impressive and the amount of planes on the screen invoked the feeling of a grand aerial battle. With the transition to the Xbox 360 though, Blazing Angels: Squadrons of WWII gives the next generation console owner an above average game.
Blazing Angels: Squadrons of WWII puts you in the seat of various WWII fighters and bombers commanding an elite squadron of four pilots including you. Along for the ride in most missions are Tom, Joe, and Frank. Each pilot has a specialty that will help you through the game. Tom can draw off any enemies on your tail. Frank’s the Max Sterling of the group in that he can take out enemies left and right and now break a sweat. If you’re in need of repair, you call on Joe to help patch you up. When available, each pilot can be called upon by a push of the directional pad. After you use them, you won’t be able to call on them again for a short period of time. You can use them as many times as you wish so long as you wait for the requisite amount of time to pass.
Because Frank and Tom are so effective, they sometimes make the game too easy. When a few Germans are on your tail, calling on Tom will always result in any enemy aircraft to break off their attack on you. It would’ve been nice to have some randomness in terms of if the chasing airplanes would stop following you and go after Tom. Frank’s an even bigger advantage in that he’ll take down three or four fighters before he’s done. I almost felt cheating when asking Frank to take out a few fighters because he was so deadly.
If you’re in need of repair, you’ll be treated to a mini-game of four button pushing sequences when Joe is called upon. No matter how badly damage you are, a successful completion of the button sequence will result in a fully repaired and operational plane. Messing up in the sequence will cause you to waste your repair and you’ll be forced to wait until you can call on Joe again. Since you can use it an unlimited of times, the repair feature can make certain levels really easy thus allowing you to relax a bit. I also found that the father you get into the game, the easier the sequence gets. No two buttons repeat in the later levels so when the symbols pop up, you know they won’t be displayed again as you finish off the sequence.
Your squadron is pretty much invulnerable so you won’t have to worry about them. I’ve always found relying on NPCs to be a lot better in games when you aren’t spending too much time trying to protect them. The developers took that variable out of the equation so you can concentrate on keeping yourself alive and there will be times in the second half of the game where the action’s hot and hectic and you’ll be glad the other three can fend for themselves. I did say pretty much invulnerable as there’s a mission or two where you have to protect Joe but that’s about the extent of keeping your buddies alive.
Ubisoft has made the controls pretty easy for anyone to pick up. The left stick is used to control the pitch and yaw while the right stick controls the speed and roll. By combining the two, you’ll be able to perform some impressive maneuvers when dog fighting. Pressing down on the right stick will also activate any secondary weapon such as bombs or missiles. Some missions will simulate spinning the propeller by having you start the plane via rotating an analog stick. Overall, it wasn’t too hard to get used to so you shouldn’t have too much trouble picking up the gamepad and flying under control.
Enemies encompass ground, sea, and air units. You’ll be asked ot take out a convey in some missions, ace German fighters in another, and even some ships with your missiles. Thankfully, the enemies are pretty well labeled so that you’re not going to be firing on your allies. Each type of enemy is also represented by a different symbol so you can easily tell what type of enemy unit they are. This can help in some missions where you’re equipped with missiles and need to take out some ground targets: just line up and fire away before you are in their range.
Speaking of secondary weapons, you’ll have an unlimited supply of bombs or missiles so you don’t have to worry about running out. Like calling on your squad mates, it just takes some time to regenerate after you fire your entire payload. This does help those that aren’t accurate in bombing runs as you’ll get plenty of chances to hit the target. Depending on the secondary weapon you have, your reticule will change to help you aim. For torpedoes, you’ll have a horizontal and vertical bar that turns green when it’s an optimal time to launch. For bombing runs, you’ll be aided by a circle on the ground. These visual cues helps in taking out your objectives a lot easier and makes for a less frustrating experience.
I do like the variety of missions that Blazing Angels offers here. You’re not stuck in dog fighting scenarios all the time as you’ll perform bombing runs as well as protecting other squadrons and sinking battleships. Star Wars fans will feel at home in one of the later missions featuring a run through a trench in a glacier complete with turrets on the ground, pillars to dodge, and enemy planes dropping down to take out. You’ll have to take out a few factories at the end of the level by dropping some bombs down the smokestacks reminiscent of Luke’s bombing of the thermal exhaust port. While you spend most of the time in the air, there’s one mission where you are forced to make a landing and switch planes. Another mission will have you pilot the B-17 Flying Fortress with the ability to switch between various gunner positions to take out incoming fighters.
There are a few levels that will have you tearing your hair out. The trench run is one of them as you’ll have to fly a pretty long time to get to your objective. Luckily, there are a few checkpoints that you will be able to start from in case you do die before you get there. It’s just getting there even from the checkpoints that’s a pain. One other really frustrating mission has you flying low in the canals to take out a few radar stations. Fly too high and you’re toast in a matter of moments. After taking out the stations, you’re left to fend for yourself from a good number of really good German pilots before your squadron arrives. You’ll have to do all this without a benefit of a repair. That means if you take a few shots by flying too high in the canals you’re pretty much toast when the German fighters arrive. I had to start the mission over a few times because my health was so low and dodging the German fighters were no easy task either.
Graphically, the game switches from being visually appealing to bland. Most of the impressive parts stem from the architecture of the environment. The Paris level is an example of an impressive display of buildings and scenery. Flying around the Eiffel Tower, you get to see some good detail in the model. The planes though aren’t too detailed but are adequately modeled. The impressive part is when a few dozen planes are weaving in and out in the air around you depicting an epic dog fight. Smoke effects are pretty effective and flying through thick black smoke can render you a little disoriented. On the Xbox, the game has a more impressive look but on the Xbox 360 it just looks like an average title.
Voice acting isn’t too bad but the Germans and Japanese do feature some pretty bad overacting. It does get annoying sometimes with Frank, Tom, and Joe repeating a lot of their phrases but they do offer some verbal cues that can help with your decision making.
Xbox Live features include a few multiplayer modes such as Capture the Base, dog fighting, and even co-op mode. If you have a friend with the game, you’re able to go through the campaign with a human squad mate. I’m glad that Ubisoft included this as it’s a lot more fun playing with someone you know than computer squad mates. Kamikaze mode offers a unique experience as one team plays as the Japanese hell-bent on crashing their planes into the objective while the other team tries to take down the Japanese before the target can be destroyed. The Xbox Live portion of the game does offer some good replay value for this title.
Blazing Angels: Squadrons of WWII is a decent title but it’s not a title to show off the 360 or one that really takes advantage of the system. It’s easy to get into and the multiplayer portion shines in this title. The single player campaign isn’t too bad but can be long and repetitive at certain points. When it’s all said and done, the game is a good rental and fun to play with others.