Bargain Bin Laden #15: Crimson Skies

Today we reach back to hallowed antiquity in a loosely related sort of way. Back in The Day I covered an oft-overlooked title for BBL called Sky Odyssey, and it’s difficult to write up this week’s feature, Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge without feeling a few pangs of memory for that long-ago flight “sim”. They’re about as apples and oranges as you can get in most respects, save one: completely unrealistic flying. Stalling? The hell is that?

Before we get started, I wanted to say thanks to Brad for handling BBL in my absence last week. I was busy building the massive throne that I was to wear upon my back and carry my English professors ’round upon, but the good news is that I graduated before they had a chance to use it. So, I’ve got a degree now, which means I can smoke a pipe and say words like “indubitably”. So much for all of those people that said I’d never make it past third grade, right? Take that, Dad!

Oh, right, Crimson Skies. We should get on that. It’s dirt cheap, running around $3.99 or so, so you’ve really no excuse not to try it. Besides, it combines my three favorite elements in all of gaming: planes, guns, and planes with guns. So when you’re at church today [Ed note: Yeah, it’s late now, so let’s just pretend I wrote “next week”], don’t drop that fiver in the collection tray — pocket that sumbitch and pick up a copy of this game on the way home. Did you know God’s an Xbox man? He wants you to. Hit the jump for more!

Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge (Xbox)
Original Release: October 21, 2003
Developed by: Microsoft Game Studios
Bargain Binned: $3.99 at GameStop/EB Games, 100 Goozex points

I looked into Crimson Skies when IGN, in their Greatest Xbox Games retrospective, likened the experience to “playing an Indiana Jones movie in the air”. That’s a fine way of putting it, really — Crimson Skies is most certainly a flight combat game, but there’s so much crap to do that you’ll forget the game all centers around that single element of gameplay. 

Set within a complicated alternate history in which the mighty Union split into several nation-states after WWI and the Great Depression, Skies puts you in the pants of Nathan Zachary, an air pirate looking to squeeze some cash out of the wealthier citizens in his region to make back the money he lost in the big market crash. It’s a great story voiced by competent actors and filled with interesting twists along the way — not something you might expect from a game like Crimson Skies. This is where the Indiana Jones movie in the air bit comes into play; high production values, attention to detail and arcade-style play that coalesce into a very cinematic experience. Sure doesn’t hurt that the game is phenomenally pretty and holds its own against some current-gen efforts with ease, either.

Skies is a fast and loose arcade-style flight sim, similar to LucasArts’ Rogue Squadron series. As I stated earlier, the physics aren’t exactly accurate, y’know, at all. Hairpin turns, screaming ascents into the sky and high-velocity saves mere feet above the ground are commonplace, and it works in the game’s favor — Flight Simulator X this ain’t. Crimson Skies’ huge variety of planes, weapons, missiles and mission types keep the game fresh throughout the campaign.  

Skies‘ mission-oriented progression is implemented in a free-exploration hub kind of way, allowing you freedom to fly around various locales accepting missions, odd jobs, races, and other tasks by pressing the X button near a future employer. At any time you can opt to advance the plot by pursuing a particular mission, but there’s always plenty of opportunities to waste time, collect cash for upgrades, and shoot down some baddos.

The variety of mission types is what sets Crimson Skies apart from its sci-fi brethren — where games like FreeSpace and Rogue Squadron typically shove your nose in the same two mission types (destroy the enemies, escort the pansy-ass ship that explodes if you look at it wrong), Crimson Skies will have you man zeppelin gun turrets, anti-aircraft cannons, hijack planes mid-battle, and take out enemy hangars on top of the standard air combat fare. The inclusion of these turrets and AA guns really shake up the missions — similar to accepting missions, manning a turret is as easy as flying close to it and hitting the X button. Ain’t nothing like taking out six or seven planes in a dogfight before laying waste to an enemy zeppelin with a huge-ass cannon. It satisfies even the most curmudgeonly gamer.

The multiplayer’s great too — provided you can find anybody online anymore. Shame, too, that when a group is playing online, it’s typically the hardcore Skies players that’d sooner cut their own legs off than forego a round of dogfighting online. Alternatively, you could just hit up some of your buddies for some split-screen play, which always makes for a good time. Modes include dogfighting, team dogfighting, a king-of-the-hill game and even CTF, all of which are great fun with three friends on one console but really benefit from a big crew on Xbox Live. Just hit that quick match button and pray.

So why the low price? Crimson Skies‘ price is more or less determined by its ridiculous volume; Microsoft sold the hell out of this game, and players flooded the aftermarket with auctions and trade-ins, driving down the price of a used copy. Like most BBL selections, you can’t beat a game like this at such a price; the next time you’re at your favorite game shack positively stricken with remorse over the $60 you dropped on some crap WWII shooter, ease your sorrow with the best game available for under four bucks.

[Thanks to for the hook-up!]

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Aaron Linde
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