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Are you going to buy an Xbox One X This Holiday Season?

Hope to Receive it as a Gift

Game Profile
 Written by Glenn Wigmore  on March 23, 2006

Hands-On Preview: Let slip the dogs of war?

The Xbox Live Marketplace is continuing to provide plenty of content to its users whether it arrives in the form of avatars, background themes, downloadable games, and non-game content like movie trailers. One of the greatest boons to the service at the moment is the availability of demos for disc-based games. Not only does this allow users to sample games before they purchase, but it also acts as a (free) surrogate for the usual practice of buying magazines that feature demo discs. The most recent demo on the Marketplace is Blazing Angels, a World War II-themed shooter from Ubisoft. The title will be available on ?current generation? platforms, but the featured release (as has been the case in the past) seems to be the Xbox 360 version. If this demo provides any indication, the full game should enable gamers to enjoy high-flying aerial battles that are stylishly presented and gritty in their execution.

The demo in question contains three levels, with each mission demonstrating different aspects of Blazing Angels' gameplay. The first mission is a tutorial that familiarizes you with a basic ?crop duster? style warplane. You'll be acquainted with an American with a southern accent, and he will serve as the other inhabit of your plane. He'll run you through the basic maneuvers, which include taking off, speed control, barrel rolls, loops, firing, and the ?follow? technique. The second mission takes place over a harbor and requires you to defend a convoy of ships as they are leaving port, as well as bomb some incoming destroyers. The final mission puts you right in the heart of London, tasking you to fly up and down the Thames and dispatch the many fighter squadrons who are attempting to bomb parliament buildings as well as the London Tower.

The first thing of note about Blazing Angels is the way in which it presents the action. Everything is bathed in a sort of grayish hue that provides a historical, yet slightly exaggerated flavor to the proceedings. The effect is similar to the filtering technique used in Need for Speed: Most Wanted, and it is quite arresting to the senses. This being said, the technique, somewhat like in Need for Speed, does seem to be covering up a bit for the average nature to some of the ground objects. On the other hand, when the action turns to London and there are buildings as far as the eye can see, plus smoke billowing out of bombed-out areas and the clouds are rolling in, the feeling is pretty epic. Add to this scenario the presence of German fighter squadrons rolling in with guns blazing and it can be quite riveting. Of additional note are the effective-looking machine guns (that also sound pretty good) and the blurring look used for extreme speed.

There have been other plane games, though, and these experiences can start to look quite similar. Ubisoft decided to parry this with the use of the ?follow? camera; essentially, it is a targeting system that allows you to view enemies ? from whatever angle ? while you're still flying. The end result of activating this feature is a cinematic look that can create some truly memorable moments in the sky, whether it's a near collision at high speed or a dramatic top-down view of some enemy pilot's last moments. Admittedly, this camera angle does introduce some problems, as the action can get quite hard to follow, and it is often best to use this feature to center the plane's ?gaze? and then proceed normally from there. Certain sequences proved difficult when staying in ?follow? view, as it became difficult to judge distance and altitude. To Ubisoft's credit, though, this camera angle allows for some dramatic presentation, and it creates a sense of height and disorientation, but in a way that would be comparable to that of a real fighter pilot. A nice little touch that layers on top of this is the inclusion of ?blackout? effects; this simulates the sensation of passing out when the height or G-force becomes too great (and you will experience this if you use the ?follow? camera a lot).

Most other elements of the game play as expected, with the control sticks handling movement and throttle speed and the R-trigger firing the guns. Clicking in the right stick is used for bombing ground targets, and, if the demo is any indication, you'll have to do this a great deal and sometimes at high speeds in order to survive.

The other wrinkle to the gameplay is the inclusion of a squad that helps you tackle the incoming Luftwaffe and the like. Joe is the southerner you met in the tutorial, and his basic role is to fix your ship in midair ? accomplished by a button-pressing minigame. Tom is the competent fighter, and his specialty is protection. Essentially, Tom helps get dudes off your tail by shooting them down or distracting them. Frank, the heavy-hitter of the trio, is your go-to guy for getting rid of stubborn flying aces and hardened bombing targets. He is the best fighter you've got and he can also perform a serious attack move that will really deal some damage. Each member can also be ordered around with basic formation commands (attack, defend, standard formation), and these orders seemed quite important in the later parts of the demo for dealing with the throng of German fighters. In fact, one final sequence even required you to rely on them to get a bunch of aces off your back? yes, they do know what they're doing, and no, they don't fire like Slippy Toad from Star Fox on SNES. Having a squad definitely adds a nice mix to the gameplay, especially when teamed with defensive stands, bombing runs, escorts, and all-out dogfights.

Blazing Angels is slated to ship with a reasonably sized campaign component and some co-op and adversarial multiplayer modes. This initial demo impression is, more or less, on the positive side of the ledger, and it seems Ubisoft is putting a few changes into the formula that games like Crimson Skies laid out a few years ago.

Final Thoughts
There's a good deal of features in this game and it looks to be shaping up as another solid entry in Ubisoft's portfolio. Look for a review of Blazing Angels at Gaming Target in the near future.

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