When Xbox Live launched on the original Xbox, Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge was the title most Microsoft owners played when they wanted a break from the groundbreaking Halo 2. Known for arcadey aerial dogfights and the ability to play two-players online on the same console with one Xbox Live subscription, Crimson Skies was a well-received title. Strangely, there was never a sequel to this early online compatible game but Red Wings: Aces of the Sky feels like its long lost brother.
Although the story is not detailed and the overall presentation values are not as memorable as Microsoft’s original release, All in! Games nails the fast-paced arcadey nature of gameplay. The opening tutorial is quick and gets the player up to speed efficiently. Most importantly, the controls are responsive, easy to understand, and just feel right. At the press of a button, the player can perform a side-swiping barrel roll that not only dodges incoming fire but it can also be used as an offensive attack to melee kamikaze enemies. Being able to instantly flip with a 180 degree turn is also assigned to a meter that regenerates over time, preventing fights from getting cheap. There is even a hint of a typical first person shooter here as holding the left trigger zooms the scope for a more accurate shot. When enemies are within range, the cursor also slightly locks onto the enemy which might sound cheap on paper but makes a world on difference when in motion. There are many of these little touches that create the high overall fun factor from being addicting rather than frustrating. Once certain conditions are met, the player can even summon squad mates to take down specific targets or can snipe enemy fighters with a single hand pistol bullet.
Thankfully, mission objectives vary with each stage. Of course there are the typical “shoot down all the enemies” objectives but then the next mission will have you protecting friendlies, mowing down specific targets, flying through hoops with speed, and even get top-down bombing missions that completely change the gameplay and perspective. There are a few dozen missions in total, branching between two sides. Unfortunately, the story is the weakest link. The comic book cutscenes are cool but you won’t care the details behind each battle as long as you can fly and shoot down your enemies. Each stage also grades the player from one through three stars. Stars are then used to unlock upgrades and new planes so there is a worthwhile incentive to perform well. Unfortunately, there are moments of intense difficulty swings, sometimes pitting the player against a couple dozen fighter planes at once. Game overs also result in restarting the entire level; there are no checkpoints.
One cool feature is the ability to play local co-op with one other player in both the campaign and in the challenge mode. These challenge modes are essentially the “horde” mode of Red Wings and can unlock new plane skins which are tied to some Achievements. What makes this additional mode entertaining is the player can use as many lives as necessary to complete the challenge, albeit with a lower score. Two players can duke it out in local VS mode too.
Outside of annoying voice quips that repeat way too often and some balancing issues, there isn’t much holding back Red Wings: Aces of the Sky. The price is right at $20 as the presentation values are nowhere near as high as triple AAA titles but the gameplay offers the right mix of challenge, replayability, and overall fun factor thanks to responsive controls and numerous unlockables. It isn’t Crimson Skies 2, or even that Star Fox sequel fans are clamoring for, but this is one plane ticket you will want to punch.
Also available on PS4, PC, and Nintendo Switch. There is also a free 30-minute demo exclusive to Xbox One.