Crimson Skies Impressions

Microsoft's new alternate-history air combat game is now available. Look inside for our first impressions of the game, plus 19 new screens.

If you've heard anything about Crimson Skies, then you know it's not your typical combat flight simulation - it takes place in an alternate history where, in 1937, pirates rule the skies. Between its original and distinctive plane designs and stylish single-player campaign, Crimson Skies gives a very strong first impression. Only a few seconds into the game's '30s-propaganda-newsreel-style intro, you'll realize that Crimson Skies has an inspired concept.

Though the game doesn't offer a tutorial, it's very easy to pick up and play because the planes in this alternate 1937 are apparently very responsive. Their unusual designs - many of the planes have propellers in the back rather than in the front - apparently make these dogfighters a lot more nimble in the sky than the World War II-era prop planes you may be familiar with. The game's default view places the camera directly behind your aircraft, which best shows off the highly detailed 3D plane model and its multiple moving parts and articulated pilot and turret gunner. There's also a first-person cockpit view. Your plane is equipped with machine guns and rockets, and the game seems to be fairly forgiving about letting you hit your enemies with these direct-fire weapons. Meanwhile, your own plane seems to hold up quite well under fire, as even when it's smoking and burning from sustained enemy attacks, it still manages to keep flying.

Crimson Skies was developed by Zipper Interactive, whose previous project was last year's MechWarrior 3. As in that game, Crimson Skies features great graphics and lets you fully customize your vehicle. Crimson Skies also comes packaged with an authentic-looking '30s-era manual in the style of a flight magazine that, while fairly short, provides a lot of flying tips and background on the game's setting. The Crimson Skies campaign gets off to a quick start, placing you in the role of American air pirate Nathan Zachary, who seeks fame and fortune in his troubled alternate reality. There's also a multiplayer mode and a quick-battle mode.

The setting of Crimson Skies is reminiscent of Interplay's post-nuclear role-playing game, Fallout, as it also combines high-tech mechanical designs with a stylish retro setting. Crimson Skies even has a cool jazzy soundtrack that adds extra ambience. The game is now available in stores for around US$40. Stay tuned for GameSpot's full review of Crimson Skies later this week.

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