Originally released on the Xbox 360 and other platforms nine months ago, Blazing Angels: Squadrons of WWII is now getting its turn on the PlayStation 3. Like the other versions, the PS3's Blazing Angels is a very standard mission-based air combat game that doesn't offer much of a challenge. But it's also the first flight game on the PlayStation 3, giving it some status as the first game to use the Sixaxis controller's tilt support for maneuvering an aircraft. That feels natural and works well, but it doesn't make up for the barren multiplayer servers and uninteresting single-player options.
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. If you're familiar with other versions of the game, you should know that all of the dialogue has been redone in the PS3 version of the game. Inexplicably, the story sequences now feature your pilot's voice. In other versions of the game, you remained silent. Every voice actor seems to have been replaced, and most of the new actors are worse than their counterparts in the other versions of the game. Your pilot frames each mission with a new pre-mission cutscene that shows the flow of the battle you're about to enter, and a bunch of speech that comes at the end of a mission. He's long-winded and you're still flying your plane, so you'll just have to fly in circles while you wait for the guy to shut the heck up and get on with it.
When flying alongside your wingmen, 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 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.
Once you meet your team, the game skips around, putting you in many of the major air battles of the war. Aside from very serious frame rate problems here and there and some ugly-looking ground targets, the different spots you'll visit look nice, as do many of the plane models. But the whole game has a grainy look to it that can make objects in the distance hard to make out, even when running over a clean digital connection in the game's standard resolution of 720p. Over the course of the game 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.
The flying controls in Blazing Angels are kept pretty light. With the standard controls selected, 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. The game also offers a cockpit view, and you can hold down a button to look around the cockpit. In addition to the standard controls, you can opt for a slightly more simulation-oriented scheme, or you can play with the Sixaxis tilt controls turned on. This moves most of your major buttons up to the shoulders, and lets you fly the plane by tilting the controller. While it doesn't feel quite as precise as the standard control methods, flying with the Sixaxis feels right and makes the game a bit more fun than it would be otherwise.
In addition to its campaign missions and a pair of minicampaigns 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 easing off the throttle 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.
Outside of the standard matches, you can play a handful of the modes in a four-player co-op setting, 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 artificial intelligence-controlled counterparts, meaning that Joe won't be there to let you repair your plane by yourself. But you can ask another player to repair your plane, which has him press a sequence of buttons to complete the task. 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.
The main problem with all of the online modes is one that's currently plaguing much of the PlayStation 3's lineup--there's hardly anyone out there to play against. More than a week after the game's release, the solo leaderboards for Blazing Angels has fewer than 100 names on it. That means your chances for randomly finding active players out there are pretty bleak, and sure enough, we had trouble finding even one real person to play against, let alone a full 15 other players. Plus, the game doesn't have any built-in communication options in the lobby. The only way to communicate with other players is in-game, through the same order-giving system that you use in the single-player. Without voice chat support, the team modes are much less interesting.
There's enough action here to satisfy you if you know you're in the market for your basic WWII flight combat game, but the multiplayer is almost a total wash at this point, and the single-player is awfully 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 isn't a bad way to go.