Blazing Angels 2: Secret Missions of World War II
Developed by: Ubisoft Romania
Published by: Ubisoft
Genre: Flight Combat (Simulation/Arcade)
PC, Playstation 3, Xbox 360
I have always had a fascination with trains and planes and things that move. And like the typical fascination insuch, it's a romanticised fasinaction from the days of old: steam trains and propeller aircraft from 1948 and before. I went searching for Blazing Angels because I had a serious jones for things with boxy wings and a large spinner in front, and the ability to navigate with said spinning boxy thing. And in the respect of a game to play, I found one that was pretty decent, but not without foibles. It is an excellent game, but the description falters to good due to many many minor nitpicks.
Blazing Angels 2 is a sequel to a game of similar caliber that I have not yet played, with an excellent sense of where fun emanates from when flying a plane, and a fairly good detection of what makes a good flying experience great. Additionally, the Singleplayer campaign does a good job of giving rudiments and challenges both to the player in their ability to pilot, while having sub-par story and narrative thrown in to also train their ears on how to drown out the human voice.
In the Singleplayer campaign you play as the daring American Captain Christopher Robinson with his comrades, the gallant Eddie "Teach" Thatcher, Milo "Miles" Winchester and James "Cowboy" Thorpe. All of the voice actors fit their role and do their part, but it brings me to my first and foremost complaint, the writing. For lack of more adequate term, the writing is.. bad.
Cutscene after the Fourth mission:
Robinson: So lets start with the basics then. Which unit are you assigned to?
Captured German Pilot: A secret one, Captain. Very secret, very special unit.
Robinson: Oh. And how's that working for you?
German Pilot: [Laughter] Let's not play any more games, Captain. You have me here because you want me to tell you something secret, something you don't know.
(The entire time Robinson is trying to do a very poor David Caruso impression, and the Pilot is doing a very poor 'Evil Nazi' impression.)
Apart from the below average writing, the voice acting for the characters otherwise is fitting for your average Heroic Tale of the Adventuring Pilot Who Could Do Anything, sort of voices. Teach Thatcher is an excellent pilot who has the special ability to distract enemy fighters and draw them straight into your gunsights, Miles Winchester can repair your plane on the fly, and Cowboy Thorpe can go on a wild rampage to destroy a healthy number of aircraft at an unhealthy speed. And appropriately they sound the part, Teach is a forty-something from Britain, Miles sounds like he served in the Navy off the West coast of USA and Cowboy sounds like your average pretentious 17 year old from Midland USA.
The story goes that Robinson is an extremely capable Pilot that worked under the American government in a thing called "Project Wildcard: To go in, do the impossible, fly out again and never breathe a word of what [we] were doing." In order the missions take us from the understatedly Ficticious attack on Pentacola, United States to German Lake Country, The Aegean Sea, Egyptland, Paris (on a combo forced stealth section/escort mission, no less), Unknownistovok, Soviet Union, The North Pole, Moscow, Three Gorges, China, Rangoon, The South China Sea, Missile Defense from Nazi Secret Submarines in San Fransisco, The Himalayas, AustroswitzerLand, Rome, The infamous Eagle's Nest, Dennmark (Apparently the best place to launch a defensive counterattack by air against the D-Day Landings), and Mordor, which suspiciously has an identical topology, lake and all, to Pentacola, USA. Having the Luftwaffe in possession of the big bad boss machine, their giant flying aircraft carrier with a shield generator is fine, but at least take into account some slight realism, like being able to set up a military base in Cairo next to the Pyramids, Zeppelin and all, when the Zeppelin is the size of three Pyramids, in less than eight minutes. And by that level of thinking, the fact that near the Nile river there are trees, not just along the sides of streets like Los Angeles. And in that mission they also label incorrectly the Me-323, a six-engined transport aircraft, labeled in-game as a Me-321 which was a Glider variant that was never built. You see how easily I get irked by the minor faults.
But regardless how I think about an extremely long list of what could have been better, what would have been pushed further, what should have been researched more exhaustively, they can't bring down the fact that how well the aircraft handle with the inept adaptations for its controls for the mouse and keyboard, over two joysticks and triggers instead, it is a fantastic game to play, ignoring the story, skippable cutscenes and motivations.
The game plays like a fully modernized 1943, complete with cheats to either cut the mission short with victory, or increasing the damage of your weapons to a point that it makes damage against other craft realistic, eg: 8 bullets to the wing cuts it in half, as opposed to 300 to the fuselage make it start falling. Playing the game in arcade mode is very pick-up-and-play, allowing you to rake up on average 30 air kills or more, and sometimes double that on ground targets, complete with congratulatory Score in the top right, and a kill streak counter- in some missions it is not hard to rack up a 20+ kill streak on ground-based targets. The more points you obtain in a mission, the more points that can be spent on upgrades to all of the 43 unlockable aircraft for increased health or more damage from your guns.
The planes vary in make and manufacturer between 1938 and 1945 from Britain, United States, Germany and Japan, all in various takes of realism. All of the aircraft existed, either as production service or on paper prototype (Gotha 229, I'm looking at you) in any numbers the level designers thought would be appropriate for the difficulty of the level. Such as in the second last level, somewhere in the order of 15 to 30 Gotha Jet planes attack you at various intervals, yet only 6 Prototypes ever were built, including the three that were built unarmed and the one that was an unpowered glider. Or in the last level where the big boss battle is between you and a Fighter/Carrier set of craft that only existed on paper because it was so massive and expensive. But out of the 50 aircraft in the game, only 7 are unplayable, and all that are playable have three different paint schemes, each with customizable colours, so in the respect of the roster, my only complaint that the Stuka has no dive-bombing siren.
By technical standards it's average for something that's made in 2007, and therefore quite competent in that respect, giving excellent native resolution outputs. Awkwardly enough, the game has a hard limiter to 60 frames per second or 30 frames per second depending upon how demanding the scenario you're playing is, and also unfortunately falls into the category of games in the past and near present, that real is brown. Personally I can't imagine putting a simple Leveling video effect overtop of the rendering acceleration (like shown) would affect the framerate all that much. Additionally, playing without a constant three-kilometer fog gets rather annoying. I understand having a limited Visleaf so that your computer doesn't catch fire from trying to render everything in the entire level at once, but must it be uniform for all levels in all weather at all times of day?
Apart from those things the game boasts a quite an efficient engine, being able to render in the order of 200,000 facing surfaces complete with Soft Particles with less than half of the processor allocation of Team Fortress 2, at higher resolution- even though this game is very demanding on anyone's computer, because it was not originally made for PC.
All in all it's a very fun game with many tiny little faults. If you are one who can get used to navigating using your sense of virtual balance, and clever enough to outwit the best of pilots, and clever enough to turn off the speech volume in-game, the this is a buy you probably won't regret, but couldn't go wrong renting.