Last year's Lethal Skies Elite Pilot: Team SW for the PlayStation 2 was an aerial combat sim from Sammy Studios that catered to both hard-core sim fans and casual gamers just looking for a fast-action combat experience. This year's follow-up, Lethal Skies II, continues this formula and adds more of what made the original a solid game. Fans of the first Lethal Skies will find this sequel provides more planes to fly, a large assortment of new missions, and general improvements to almost every aspect of the game.
The storyline in Lethal Skies II is actually pretty creative, though as you might imagine, it serves mostly as a vehicle to get you up in the air as often as possible. The game takes place in the near future, when ozone degradation has really worked over the global ecosystem and the land is torn by conflict and strife. You play as part of an aerial peacekeeping force that becomes embroiled in a war with a mysterious military faction. The story unfolds pretty evenly--you'll experience some plot elements in the midst of a mission (brought to life by the appearance of new enemies and radio chatter among your wingmen), and you'll also observe developments during mission briefings and between-mission cutscenes. Plot in a game like Lethal Skies II isn't essential, but it's nice to have an extra motivation to keep you playing.
Of course, Lethal Skies II's meat is its combat, and the missions on offer should be satisfying for flight combat sim fans of varying levels of skill and dedication. You start out each mission with a briefing that states the situation and your objectives, and you get a chance to customize plane selection and armament for both yourself and your wingmen. Each mission has plane and weapon presets tailored to the situation, so if you'd rather skip the customization step, you can jump straight into the action. The various planes in the game have different strengths and weaknesses, of course, so it will always benefit you to try out different combinations of aircraft and weapons to see which works best given a particular level's terrain and mission parameters.
Once you're in the air, you've got all the control options and abilities you'd expect from a combat flight sim--on-the-fly weapons selection, throttle and rudder control, a targeting system, a variety of perspectives, and a GPS system to show you the location of nearby friendlies and hostiles. Your mission objectives range from search and destroy to reconnaissance to evasion, and the setting for each one always varies a lot--you'll fly over urban areas, the desert, the ocean, and other terrain during daytime and at night. The graphics in Lethal Skies II look clean and feature very highly detailed planes, and the action always moves at a consistently high frame rate.
Lethal Skies II features a number of subtle improvements over its predecessor in addition to its overt changes to the core gameplay. The game has an elaborate new replay system after each mission that lets you watch the whole thing over again while changing between several movie-like camera angles in real time. Two-player support is also included using either a split screen on one PS2 or two televisions and two PS2s via the built-in i.Link port. The presentation of the game has also been enhanced to have a slightly more extreme, almost comic-book-like feel--the between-mission menus are very colorful and look a bit wild, which fits with the tone of the game pretty well.
So far, it looks as though Lethal Skies II should be quite satisfying for fans of both the previous game and combat flight sims in general. Between the accessible gameplay, the plethora of planes and missions, and the attention to storyline and between-mission presentations, Lethal Skies II has a lot to offer. The build we played seemed pretty complete, with no glaring issues, so the game should have no problem making its September release date. We'll bring you more on the game soon.