Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge

Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge

Written by Charles Husemann on 11/3/2003 for Xbox  
More On: Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge
There are many ways to gauge the hype behind a game. You can count the press releases issued, check other gaming sites, or see what the magazines are saying. Personally, I can gauge the hot titles by the number of e-mail requests I get for a game from the other GN staffers. I think I had four e-mails from Charlie alone for this game so I knew the buzz was strong. With the recent spate of highly anticipated but disappointing games, I can report that Crimson Skies lives up to most of the hype.

Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge takes place in an alternate America during the 1930’s. In this alternate America, the US is thrust into strife right after the stock market crash of 1929. America has been broken into several sovereign nation states and the roads and bridges that joined the original states have been destroyed. This has forced almost all of the commerce and travel to the air. You play Nathan Zachary, the leader of the Fortune Hunters. The Fortune Hunters are a group of air pirates who roam the country seeking their fortune (and a little bit of fame). With the crash and depression, this isn’t exactly an honest living but it’s a living just the same.

The single player side of Crimson Skies has you investigating the death of one of Nathan’s close friends. This investigation leads you across the country to track down the killer and the reason why he was killed. The plot is fairly solid and has a kind of “Indiana Jones in the sky” feel to it. It is a little predictable at points but it’s not dull. The single player portion is broken up across four chapters with each chapter-taking place in one area of the country. Each environment has it’s own unique personality that ties to the plot of the story. The environments provide some seriously cool dog fighting environments (there is an amazing sequence that takes place inside a cavern).

Most missions involve you destroying or protecting something (sometimes both at the same time). Variety in missions comes from things that are around the environment, including AA Guns, repair bays, and other planes that the enemy has lying around. These allow you to switch tactics if you want to try a different approach to a mission such as trying a different kind of aircraft or using the AA guns to eliminate larger enemies and then hop back into the plane to mop up the other planes. The bosses at the end of the level are excellent and well designed and I had a few “WOW” moments when fighting the bosses. You have a selection of 10 flying machines (nine planes and one gyro-copter) to get you through the game. The planes are divided into four categories, dogfighters, interceptors, zep-killers, and specialty planes with each category specializing in a combat role. The Interceptors are the fastest but lack some agility. Zep-killers feature the best weapons and armor but lack speed and the dogfighters are a mix between the two. The two specialty craft (a water plane and a gyro-copter) are very useful for certain missions but creative people will find other uses for these aircraft. New aircraft can be picked up during missions by simply landing and swapping out aircraft. This can be handy as it allows you to have multiple planes available for some missions, so you can wipe out escort craft with an Interceptor and then swap over to a Zep-killer to take out some of the heavies.

All of the planes can be upgraded during the game by spending tokens and money. Tokens are earned by completing certain mission objectives or by collecting the ones that are scattered about the map. You really have to explore the maps to find them all but given how much fun flying is it’s really not that bad of a thing. Money is a little easier to find as the game offers several ways to earn it. All of the levels contain a racing circuit where you can bet on how fast you can complete a course. Of course, those with a Grand Theft Auto mentality can go after the civilian Zeppelins and collect the money they are transporting.

You face a nice variety of enemies in the game. You have the afore-mentioned planes and zeppelins but you will have to take out guard towers, gun trucks, gun boats, and armed trains. The Zeppelins come in a variety of sizes and shapes but they are all big and heavily armed. Luckily you can disarm the zeppelins by taking out their AA gun and missile launchers before finishing them off. Clever pilots will remove all of the guns from one side of a Zeppelin in order to create a clear side to attack on. It takes a lot of shots to take a zeppelin down but you do get a nice, satisfying explosion when you finally do.

The first thing you notice when firing up Crimson Skies is the gorgeous graphics. Microsoft and Fasa Studios have done a great job of creating wonderfully detailed worlds for you to fly around in. The desert levels that start the game are beautiful but the game really shines once you get to Chicago. The buildings and architecture of the city are amazing and it’s a trip chasing planes through the buildings at the top levels and then following them down to the city streets (dodging civilian planes and bridges on the way down). Crimson Skies has some amazing water effects, from the rivers in Sea Haven to the lush waterfalls of the Lost City the game has some of the nicest water I’ve seen in a game so far.

The planes in Crimson Skies are well designed and keep well with the 1930’s theme. In keeping with the 1930’s era planes, you won’t see any jets but there is a nice variety of single wing planes and some groovy looking bi-planes (as well as a small gyro-copter for you helicopter fans out there). While each plane is well rendered, I do wish there had been more of a difference between a standard plane and one that was upgraded (the paint color changes but that was about it). It would also have been nice to have a few more damage states for the planes.
What’s a game without good sound? Thankfully Crimson Skies doesn’t answer that question as the in-game sound is rock solid. The background music during the single player mission has a nice semi-epic flavor and it”s well matched with the on screen action. There were a few occasions where the music wore a little thin (especially if you play in two to three hour marathon sessions) but it’s pretty solid for the most part. The rest of the in game sounds are decent but not something that’s going to differentiate the game.

The game play is really where Crimson Skies takes off. The control scheme is easy to pick up and master. The left thumbstick controls the direction of your plane, while the right stick controls the roll of the plane and the special moves (invoked by clicking the right trigger button). Special moves are a quick way to execute a quick turn-around or quick escapes to avoid enemies who sneak up on your six. The right and left triggers fire your primary and secondary weapons with the Y button controlling thrust and B for the brake. The A button is used only in AA guns and the gyrocopter to activate the zoom mode. The B button is used to accept missions during the game. The black button plays the important role of allowing you to find enemies behind you and by holding it you can turn your plane so that you can get a bead on enemy planes. This works well but I wish there was a button to allow you to rotate through all of the enemy planes rather than just being stuck with the ones closest to you. If you’re worried about remembering the controls, don’t worry. Crimson Skies only has one load screen and it’s of the controls so you’ll be seeing that diagram a lot.

The multiplayer is really where Crimson Skies is going to make a lot of money.
With six multi-player modes (deathmatch, team deathmatch, flag heist, keep away, team accumulate, and Wild chicken), multiplayer uses the familiar Xbox Live options so getting up and online isn’t a problem. The maps are solid and use the best parts of the single player game. There is a pretty cool thrill to chasing down an enemy through a canyon and finally getting a nice kill shot on them only to be taken out by his bastard teammate before you can finish him off.

There are two problems with the multiplayer side. The first is that there are only five maps included with the game. It looks additional maps (and possibly planes) will be available for download but five maps at the start is a bit limiting. The second problem is that there is a balance issue with the Piranha plane. The secondary lighting weapon on it is a bit too powerful for multiplayer play and I ran into a few matches where people were told not to play with the plane. It would have been nice to have a Mechassault or Midtown Madness 3 system where you can limit the types of planes involved in multiplayer.

At the end of the day, Crimson Skies is another solid Xbox title. It’s a lot of fun to play now and with future downloads the game can only get better.
With a fun single player campaign and excellent multiplayer, Crimson Skies is a blast to play.

Rating: 9.1 Excellent

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

About Author

Hi, my name is Charles Husemann and I've been gaming for longer than I care to admit. For me it's always been about competing and a burning off stress. It started off simply enough with Choplifter and Lode Runner on the Apple //e, then it was the curse of Tank and Yars Revenge on the 2600. The addiction subsided somewhat until I went to college where dramatic decreases in my GPA could be traced to the release of X:Com and Doom. I was a Microsoft Xbox MVP from 2009 to 2014
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