Still somewhat hot on the heels of Ubisoft's last World War II flight combat game, which was released on the Xbox and PlayStation 2 six months ago, comes Blazing Angels: Squadrons of WWII on the Xbox 360. This is about as standard as a mission-based flight game can get--you'll get to bomb targets, dogfight, and defend a lot of stuff in a variety of era-specific planes. While it's a competent package, it doesn't stand out in any way, even though it's the first of its kind on Microsoft's new console.
You play the role of a squadron leader in Blazing Angels, but you don't start out with a squadron to command. Instead, you're one of the few American pilots helping out the British flyboys. You'll jump right into training, but that doesn't last long, because you're quickly whisked away to protect Dunkirk. You'll meet your squadmates early on, and you'll always fly with the same crew, though a few spots here and there have you out on your own. Even then, your group will keep in touch via the radio. When flying alongside them, you'll be able to give them basic orders, such as to break off and attack or to come back to defend you. Each of your three comrades has a unique ability. Frank runs his mouth a lot, but he's also good at getting out there and knocking out targets when you turn him loose. Tom can taunt enemies to pull them off of you if you're under too much fire. And Joe can occasionally allow you to repair your plane via a series of button presses. Their voices are constantly coming at you over the radio, and they're well done. The enemy also chats it up a lot, in heavily accented, nearly broken English, no less. At times, the Japanese voice acting sounds flat-out racist, which casts a dark cloud over the rest of the game's usually-sharp audio.
Once you meet your team, the game skips around, putting you in many of the major air battles of the war. Aside from frame rate hitches here and there, and some pretty ugly-looking ground targets, the different spots you'll visit look nice, as do many of the plane models. You'll fly over Pearl Harbor and try to prevent as much damage as possible. You'll fly out over the desert of North Africa in search of Nazis in hiding. You'll fly at Midway and take out a sizable chunk of the Japanese fleet. Despite the frequent changes of scenery, the missions are very cut-and-dried. You're presented with objective after objective, and very few of them are difficult. Between the relative weakness of the forces you'll be facing and your ability to make repairs to your plane, you rarely get shot down unless you're doing something dumb, like flying too high when attempting to creep up on some radar towers that are surrounded by antiaircraft guns. Overall, the game does a good job of making you feel very powerful, but ultimately the victories seem hollow, because you rarely feel like you can fail. At least the game mixes dogfighting with bombing reasonably well. Torpedoing enemy cruisers and carriers is fun.
Flying planes in Blazing Angels is kept pretty light. Your throttle control is on the right stick, and you maneuver with the left, fire with the right trigger, and use the left trigger to get the camera to crane over and "follow" your current target. The follow cam takes some getting used to, as it can be pretty disorienting. Instead of flying straight ahead, you're often getting a view of the front of your plane. But it's useful for quickly reorienting yourself and pointing yourself at your target, which is key for shooting down enemy planes. Still, an onscreen arrow on the front of the HUD would have probably worked, too.
In addition to its 18 campaign missions and a pair of mini campaigns that open up after you beat the game, Blazing Angels has a few quick-start alternatives. Arcade mode gives you a timer and puts you up against waves of planes. Ace duel puts you up against a single ace pilot, both in the same plane. Beating him unlocks a new paint job for that plane. If the dogfighting were challenging, that might mean something, but instead you can get by just by hitting the brakes for a better turning radius and getting in behind your target.
In addition to some offline multiplayer options, you can get online and fly with up to 16 planes in one multiplayer match. There are three modes available for solo games. Dogfight is your aerial equivalent of deathmatch, and this one can also be played in team mode. Seek and destroy has you shooting down marked planes, and the winner is the pilot that can shoot down each other pilot in the game once. And aces high is a mode that pits the entire game against one ace player, who is the only player who can score points until he is shot down, creating a new ace. Team battles don't get aces high or seek and destroy, but three additional modes are here. Capture the base has players attempting to land on each other's runways to score points. Bombing run has you bombing each other's bases, and kamikaze lets you protect your ground targets from incoming kamikaze pilots. Overall, the competitive multiplayer is more exciting than the single-player, but only in larger groups.
Outside of the standard ranked matches, you can also play a handful of the modes in a four-player co-op setting either via system link or Xbox Live, including a campaign option that lets you play through versions of the missions found in the single-player campaign. These are a bit tougher, since you'll have to rely on humans instead of your AI-controlled counterparts, meaning that Joe won't be there to let you repair your plane by yourself, even though you'll still hear your squadmates giving advice over the radio. But even though you'll probably go down a little more frequently, you can respawn a number of times during the mission, which offsets the increased difficulty.
There's enough action here to satisfy you if you know you're in the market for your basic WWII flight combat game, but it's also very standard. If you're up for more of the same, or if you haven't played a WWII flight combat game in a good long time, Blazing Angels: Squadrons of WWII is worth checking out.