In our opinion the Crimson Skies game franchise is criminally under-rated. When it came out on PC a small amount of interest was generated but it hardly went on to become a blockbuster title. Which is a shame as it had a very original game world which was both refreshing and exciting. It's first appearance on the PC wasn't exactly perfect but it was still a very enjoyable game. Now Microsoft are taking a more arcade oriented approach with the franchise and it's heading for the Xbox.
Despite the fact that Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge will be a very different experience on the Xbox there are some similarities with the PC version of the game. The central hero Nathan Zachary is making a return appearance as the lead character in the game and the same focus on stunt flying, hidden secrets and general craziness is back again. The world of Crimson Skies is often compared to a 'swashbuckling Erroly Flynn movie' which is probably fair if Erroly Flynn movies took place in a parallel universe where the world has collapsed into tiny nation states and people fly rather than drive.
The real differences between the console and home computer versions of Crimson Skies are essentially the perspective and the control method. Rather than a standard flight sim cockpit view the console game runs in a third person perspective. The control system is also slightly more simplified allowing for daredevil flying and more fast paced combat. The flight model is definitely geared more to fans of arcade gaming rather than po-faced sim fans. We spent some time playing the game at this year's E3 and found it easy to pick up but still reasonably challenging.
Flying around in 'classic' planes that have been souped up to look like armoured hot rods is all well and good but where Crimson Skies really excels is in its 'set pieces'. The environments featured in each level have a number of different 'hot spots' that can be used to open new areas or destroy enemies. Examples of this include water towers that can be knocked down onto pursuing opponents or bridges that can be flown under. These sequences really add a movie like feel to the game. There are also rewards for pulling off dangerous stunts like flying through barns or caves.
Multiplayer has been included in the Xbox version of Crimson Skies. Players can indulge in four player split screen dogfighting or team up with friends to fight a squadron of computer opponents. It isn't completely clear whether there will be a system link up mode at this stage but we are quietly confident that Microsoft will see fit to include this option.
In our opinion Crimson Skies may well have found its spiritual home on the Xbox. The PC version was fun but sort of fell half way being a 'soft' flight sim and an arcade game. There can be no mistaking the developers intentions with the console version. It's shaping up to do for the Xbox what Rogue Leader did for the Gamecube.
Crimson Skies is due for release this December in PAL territories. Stay tuned for a full preview next month.