Much like Nintendo's seminal Pilotwings, Sky Odyssey blends aspects of flight simulation with an easy to pick up but difficult to master gameplay system. It also brings a light adventure story to the table, and the crux of the gameplay is focused on the completion of real-world tasks, as opposed to the predominantly acrobatic dealings of Pilotwings. While similarities exist between the two titles, Activision's Sky Odyssey is not a Pilotwings clone, but instead a truly excellent game in its own right.
There is no shortage of gameplay modes in Sky Odyssey. There are free flight, target, and sky canvas modes, all of which are noteworthy. The real meaty center of the game, however, is its adventure mode. This mode puts you on a chain of islands where you must complete a string of missions, each with its own set of goals, which vary wildly from mission to mission. For example, in one mission you'll fly into an underground cavern and make a water landing at an ancient ruin in order to recover a piece of a lost map, while the next will have you flying from point A to point B and negotiating a midair refueling along the way. The maps themselves share the same eclectic nature as the mission objectives, ranging from rolling countrysides and high-walled ravines to underground caves and the eye of a thunderstorm. And these maps are big. The missions can take anywhere from five to 20 minutes to complete, giving the 18-mission adventure mode a fair amount of length. One of the game's few real rubs is its sheer difficulty - Sky Odyssey is by no account an easy game. Normal and easy modes are included, but most levels will require at least two tries before completing them successfully, even in easy mode. This can prove to be occasionally frustrating, but the constant variety in mission goals, combined with the variety and magnitude of the maps, will certainly keep you engrossed and eagerly awaiting the next mission.
Of course, all this would be for naught if the gameplay weren't worthwhile, and Sky Odyssey really delivers in this department. There is a plethora of aircraft you can fly, such as vintage biplanes, experimental military planes, helicopters, and UFOs. Each aircraft controls differently and can be customized with different wings, tails, propellers, engines, and just about anything else you could imagine. These customizations have a pretty significant impact, as some missions are impassible without modifying a specific component of your craft. The developers keep things interesting by constantly mixing up the weather effects, which are nothing short of outstanding. Headwinds, tailwinds, updrafts, downdrafts, turbulence - there is no shortage of weather in Sky Odyssey, and your aircraft of choice reacts very realistically to it, forcing you to navigate your flights based not only on physical obstacles, but also on the constantly shifting weather conditions.
If there is an outstanding flaw in Sky Odyssey, it's in the graphics. What makes it especially disappointing is that the game has some spectacular visuals but gets hung up in the particulars. The planes are modeled true to their real-world counterparts, the environments are all well designed and a pleasure to look at, and the different effects - such as rain, snow, and the vapor trails that come off your wings - are the kinds of details that really make for an immersive game. The problems come when the game's great design and the PS2 hardware collide, as Sky Odyssey has all the telltale signs of an unoptimized PS2 game. It suffers from a heavy amount of aliasing, and the draw-in distance is closer than it should be and is only sporadically camouflaged with fog. There is also occasional slowdown, usually during a major onscreen events, such as a rockslide. These blemishes keep Sky Odyssey from being a truly spectacular game.
Sky Odyssey is not a game for everyone - the slow-paced missions and the flight simulation influences will turn away those looking for pure arcade action. But those that are willing to overlook the game's graphical imperfections and can grapple with its relatively steep learning curve will be rewarded with a fully satisfying game experience.