Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge

Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge

Greg Orlando

Be it high or low, all roads lead to chores, with Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge’s roguishly rough-hewn hero Nathan Zachary starring as everyone’s personal errand boy. Zachary, leader of the famed Fortune Hunters sky pirates, takes to the air for high adventure and, for the most part, gets it, save for the times he’s reduced to doing favors for shlubs, pikers, and mo-mos.

Revenge builds a solid foundation by supposing the United States has splintered, and that air combat is the preferred means of social discourse. Zachary and his cohorts travel from nation to nation in a huge zeppelin, hunting down a mystery, collecting new planes, acquiring cash-funded upgrades and repairs, and blasting everything with extreme prejudice. Missions string the play along, and when not in some grand undertaking, Zachary can explore some fairly intricate and overlarge game worlds.

Skies fall when Zachary becomes everybody’s pal, doing favors for them. He can’t buy information or use strong-arm tactics, so he has to kowtow to everyone for everything. Before he can find a hidden mine, flyboy must first rescue a sheriff’s errant deputy, knock out a rival gang’s hidden base, escort a zeppelin to safety, and steal some cargo while avoiding said sheriff’s security forces. After completing the required tasks, the players are directed to Navajo territory.

No lie: The Navajo set up three tests of skill to prove Zachary is worthy of crossing their airspace. Because it is imperative that those crossing a wasteland in a zeppelin need to be able to shoot hot-air balloons from an anti-aircraft gun, the Navajo set up a test wherein—wait for it—a player’s balloon-shooting skills are tested. When that’s done, Zachary will also have to defend the Native Americans’ statues, shepherd their truck convoys, and do everything save for perhaps juggle their cats and chew their food.

Here’s the game’s great downfall: Players never really feel in control. They’re defending other people’s stuff and wasting other people’s enemies, but never building an empire for themselves. The game creates an epic setting, and then lets players star as a ham-and-egger.

In defiance of the weak missions, air battles are frantic affairs, and they’re great. Revenge fills its skies with smart foes and hard-to-kill zeppelins; its ground-based enemies are deadly. Flak flies in from all directions; enemies perform loops and dives to avoid destruction. During a fight, players can swoop down and receive quick repairs, land at an airfield to steal a new plane, or ditch the plane to man an anti-aircraft gun or rocket launcher. Simple controls allow a player to concentrate on the matter at hand: the simple, visceral thrill of tracking an enemy, getting him in the plane’s gunsights, and then tearing the no-goodnik to pieces. The fights are good enough so as to make the lame “favors for everyone” mechanic seem unimportant.

Online and multiplayer play solidify Revenge’s place in the sun. Up to 16 players can compete via Xbox Live, and the shooting is just fine. With little lag and unpredictable foes, the game soars on wings that shine like gold.

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Copyright © 2004 Ziff Davis Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. Originally appearing in Xbox Nation.