Blazing Angels: Squadrons of WWII Preview

We check out a playable demo of Ubisoft's upcoming World War II combat flight sim.

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Currently in development for the Xbox and the Xbox 360 at Ubisoft Romania, Blazing Angels: Squadrons of WWII is a combat flight simulator in which you'll get to fly in some of the Second World War's most memorable air battles. The finished game will boast Xbox Live support for up to 16 players in competitive and team-based gameplay modes, as well as a number of single-player missions in which you'll fly alongside three CPU-controlled wingmen. We've recently received single-player demos of Blazing Angels: Squadrons of WWII for both the Xbox and the Xbox 360, and we're pleased to report that the game not only looks great, but also promises to strike a great balance between the realism of a flight sim and the accessibility of an arcade-style shooter.

One of the main reasons why Blazing Angels: Squadrons of WWII is relatively simple to pick up and play is because of its default control setup, which makes it quite easy to perform spectacular air acrobatics using both analog sticks. You'll simply use the left stick to control your pitch and turn, and the right stick to adjust your speed and perform barrel rolls. You'll also need to rotate the right analog stick to start your propellers before taking off in certain aircraft, though most of the missions included in our demos started us in the air. By far the most useful of Blazing Angels: Squadrons of WWII's controls is the ability to keep your chosen target in view at all times by holding down the left shoulder button. By doing this, the camera moves wherever it needs to be to keep both your own plane and your enemy or objective in shot, and then you fly normally until you're back at something resembling the default behind-the-aircraft cam and your target is in your sights. The rest of the game's controls are equally intuitive and make it surprisingly uncomplicated to select enemies, to fire primary and secondary weapons, and even to issue orders to your three very different wingmen.

The mission locations are even more varied than the objectives.
The mission locations are even more varied than the objectives.

Tom, Joe, and Frank won't be flying alongside you in all of Blazing Angels: Squadrons of WWII's missions, but when you do have the pleasure of their company, you'll find that you're part of a small but perfectly formed group that wouldn't look out of place heading into an online role-playing game's dungeon. None of the wingmen are of elfish descent, and none of them have ever slayed a dragon armed only with a two-handed axe. But their clearly defined roles in the skies of World War II aren't dissimilar to those assigned to group members in massively multiplayer games such as World of Warcraft. Tom, for example, is described as the "shield" (or "tank") of the group, and like any orc warrior worth his salt, he does a great job of convincing enemies to concentrate their attacks on him using a taunt command when instructed to do so. Joe, on the other hand, is the group's healer--a mechanical wizard with the ability to repair your aircraft on the fly (pun intended), provided you hit the correct combination of buttons after you ask him for help and are prompted to do so. And that just leaves you and Frank, who will be doing the lion's share of the actual killing.

You'll give orders to your wingmen simply by tapping the directional pad a couple of times--once in the direction that corresponds to the guy you want to give the order to, and then again in the direction used to give your chosen order. The order options vary according to the special skills of the pilot that you're giving them to, and there's also a set of orders that can be used to give a command to your entire squadron. When giving orders to an individual, for example, your options will always include asking him to defend you, to engage your target, or to engage all enemies--the fourth of your options will be specific to the wingman in question. Wingmen are generally very quick to respond to any orders that you give to them, though we should probably point out that their special skills include cooldown timers that determine how frequently you can use them--otherwise you could order Joe to repair your aircraft every time the paint got scratched, for example.

Blazing Angels: Squadrons of WWII will feature around 40 different aircraft for you to take the controls of, and although we've only had the opportunity to fly a fraction of them, there has been no shortage of variety. The dogfight training and bombing training missions present in our Xbox demo, for example, saw us taking the controls of a P-40 fighter plane and a Japanese dive-bomber, respectively. The P-40 was very maneuverable and had only forward-firing guns, while the dive-bomber felt relatively sluggish and benefited from a rear-mounted gun turret. Our CPU wingman, Joe, used this gun turret to defend us from other aircraft as we concentrated on bombing battleships in the harbor below. The other three missions available in our Xbox demo of Blazing Angels: Squadrons of WWII included taking out German ground forces in Paris from the comfort of a P-51 Mustang cockpit, defending the Midway airstrip from Japanese bombers in a P-38 Lightning, and preventing German bombers from hitting London's Houses of Parliament in a Supermarine Spitfire. Our Xbox 360 demo version of the game featured only two campaign levels: the aforementioned London mission, and one in which we had to defend Pearl Harbor from Japanese attack in a P-40C.

If you're going to fly the unfriendly skies, bring friends.
If you're going to fly the unfriendly skies, bring friends.

Each of the missions has multiple objectives that come into play as you progress. Some of the objectives that you'll be tasked with midmission amount to little more than additional waves than enemies, while others really mix things up with escort duties and such. The London mission, for example, saw us flying alongside around a dozen other British pilots and defending the Houses of Parliament from a group of German He-111 bombers with a BF-109 escort. After defeating that wave, we were tasked with taking down two additional waves--each larger than the last. With the Houses of Parliament saved, our next objective was to protect the Tower of London from a group of 12 Stuka dive-bombers flying low and fast along the river Thames. And shortly after we took care of them, we were set upon by a German flying ace and seven members of his squadron. The flying ace posed a far greater challenge than his comrades when it came to trying to line him up in our sights, and we're hoping that there will be plenty of comparable adversaries in the finished game.

One of the really neat things about Blazing Angels: Squadrons of WWII is that when you shoot an enemy aircraft (or any target that you've selected), you can keep the left shoulder button depressed as you fly away and watch the enemy's last moments. The demises of your adversaries are made all the more spectacular by the thick, black smoke that they leave behind, which will often hang in the air for a time and reduce your visibility if you fly through it. This smoke effect gives the whole game a quite gritty feel, and it's really quite impressive when you see the blue skies above Pearl Harbor filling with dark clouds of smoke as a result of the explosions happening on the land, on the sea, and in the air. In addition to the aforementioned black smoke, you'll be able to fly through great-looking volumetric cloud formations, and you'll occasionally need to keep an eye out for fire from flak defenses on the ground.

The playable demos of Blazing Angels: Squadrons of WWII that we've been flying with have really whetted our appetites, and we can't wait to get our hands on some more-complete versions of the game. We'll bring you more information on Blazing Angels: Squadrons of WWII as its March release date approaches.

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