B-17: Fortress in the Sky is a simplistic World War II-themed shoot-'em-up that lacks variety and panache.
- Not your typical shoot-'em-up
- Radio chatter, engines, and guns combine for authentic wartime audio.
- Gunning down tiny airplanes and dropping bombs on fuzzy ground targets gets old quick
- You hardly have any control over your own plane
- All 25 missions are basically the same
- Graphics vary from plain to just plain ugly.
B-17: Fortress in the Sky for the Nintendo DS is a port of a PC game that was originally published in 2001 under the title B-17 Gunner: Air War Over Germany. "Gunner" being the relevant word, as this lighthearted World War II shoot-'em-up puts the CPU in charge of flying the legendary B-17 aircraft while you primarily focus on aiming its numerous gun turrets. If you like blowing stuff up, you may enjoy shooting down German aircraft and destroying their factories for a short while. Unfortunately, there isn't enough variety or glitz here to hold your attention for much more than a half hour or so, let alone the four or five hours it takes to complete all 25 missions.
Each mission follows the same formula. After an automatic take-off sequence, you'll find yourself on autopilot flying over enemy territory. During the first, third, and fifth legs of the journey, you have to defend the B-17 from German Messerschmitt and Focke-Wulf aircraft. The CPU does the flying; all you have to do is tap the shoulder buttons to cycle through the nine different gunner positions and shoot down any enemy planes you see. During the second leg of the trip, you'll come under anti-aircraft fire. The game will switch to a top-down view showing the terrain below. Your job is to move the plane left and right to avoid the puffs of smoke that represent the exploding AA shells. That's it, seriously. The fourth leg of the trip is the actual bombing run. It's similar to the anti-aircraft run, except that you're supposed to press down on the directional pad to lower the plane's altitude, and tap the A button to drop bombs onto factories and other targets below.
As you can see, the game is a shoot-'em-up more than anything else. During the defensive legs of the trip, all you're doing is switching turret views, positioning the turrets, and holding the fire button. You can use the stylus to change gunner views, but there's really no reason to because tapping the shoulder buttons is just as quick. The AA and bombing runs are the only instances when you have any control over the aircraft's movement, and that only entails banking left and right and adjusting altitude to a limited extent. If the shooting were varied, that sort of simplicity would be fine. However, the shooting just isn't varied. The defensive legs always involve using the machine guns against the same cookie-cutter airplanes, and the bombing runs simply involve unloading an unlimited supply of bombs onto ground targets that don't fight back. Even if you truly love blowing stuff up, you will succumb to the repetition after five or six missions.
The sparse visuals don't do much to bolster the experience. The 3D turret views give you a good idea of what the B-17's guns looked like, but the incoming German aircraft are barely recognizable unless they're right on top of you. During the AA and bombing runs, the lame two-dimensional B-17 mock-up and the flat scrolling maps will make you wonder why they bothered making this game for the DS in the first place. Buildings and factories are tough to see, given that everything is colored in shades of gray and green, and the U-boats and anti-aircraft guns below have no animation to speak of. If not for a map of Europe and the city names being shown during the mission briefings, you'd never know you were supposed to be flying over Germany, France, and other occupied territories. The game doesn't even need both screens because the only function the lower screen serves is to tell you how much armor you have left and which turret is the active one.
Ironically, the developers did put some effort into the audio. The machine guns are loud, and you can hear the engines of passing planes as they whiz by. The whining noise that bombs make as they fall sounds especially lifelike. Recorded crew comments like "Jerries at six o'clock" also add to the chaos. Thanks to the combination of all of these elements, the game does a good job of conveying the auditory pandemonium that crews must have had to endure while flying through unfriendly skies in such a hulk of an aircraft.
In the process of porting the game from the PC to the DS, Skyworks wisely fleshed things out a bit by incorporating the anti-aircraft portions and by giving players more turrets to juggle. It's just too bad they didn't do anything to make the actual shooting seem more interesting--or less repetitive.