Review by MS3FGX
Talk about dropping a bomb...
I have to admit, this is a fairly depressing review to write. I had (rather foolishly, I freely admit) hoped this game would have turned out good, or at the very least, passable. I have been waiting for a detailed flight simulator that made use of the DS's unique hardware features, and at the same time I am a bit of a WWII buff, so this game was immediately on my list of titles to take a look at. I was once a fool.
It all starts out well enough. Even the back of the box shows promise, with screen shots of what appears to be a very detailed game; you may even think you were getting yourself into a PC-style simulation. When you pop in the game, you will be presented with a very professional and classy interface, going all the way up to the pre-mission briefing. It all looks very nice, and lulls you into a false sense of quality.
Then the "mission" starts. Gameplay in "B-17: Fortress in the Sky" consists of three main components, which combine (mind numbingly) into what the game dares to call a mission. Essentially they are minigames which are simply stitched together with a mission briefing.
The first and largest part of the game is the defense of the bomber. You do this by switching to one of the turret positions on the B-17 and firing the mounted anti-aircraft at the approaching fighters. This sounds serviceable enough, except that the execution is so poor that it makes it more infuriating than anything else.
For starters, the game does not use the touch screen at all for input. Sure, you can hit the occasional button on the screen, but you can't use the touch screen to actually control the turret. This, coupled with the fact that the enemy planes approach at a completely straight line, makes hitting the planes much harder than it needs to be. Since they are coming directly at you, the only way to land a hit is get them exactly in the center of your line of fire, but since you only have digital control, you will almost always have trouble lining up the shot. You will either be too high, or too low, and no tapping of the D-pad is enough to perform the microscopic movements required. Simply adding in touch screen control for the turrets would have made this game much more enjoyable(certainly not to the point that I would ever suggest a person paying full price for it though).
The difficulty you will have in lining up a shot is only made worse by the way in which the enemy targets are presented. Your pilot will yell out the heading of the enemy as they approach, but this audio cue is often misleading or just plain wrong. Many times I would center my turret on the position that was called out to me, only to find I was getting hit from a completely different direction. This necessitates rapid switching between the gun positions, which is simply annoying and completely unrealistic (the computer doesn't man the other positions that you are not in).
As if to completely drain the proceedings of all enjoyment, the developers diabolically made the animation for the enemy plane being shot down the same as for the only evasive maneuver the planes are capable of (a slow elongated roll). So you may fire on a plane until you see it perform it's "death roll", then move on to the next target, only to find out that it is actually still intact.
After an indeterminate amount of amount of time (well, actually you can look at the map to see how close you are to things, but you won't care), the game will switch into the anti-aircraft avoidance mode. This is just completely horrendous. This particular mode wouldn't even have been impressive on the Game Boy Advance, and it just insulting on the DS. Basically, you move your inanimate 2.5D sprite of a B-17 left and right over the SNES-style ground textures while attempting to avoid the anti-aircraft fire, which is naturally impossible, as it is fired completely randomly. So you pretty much just move this sad little sprite around the screen for a minute or two praying that it will be over soon and you don't get killed by a AA shot that randomly pops up in your wing. It is no exaggeration to say that most Flash games are more advanced than this.
Whenever the fates deliver you from this painful experience, it is time for the final part of the game, the bombing run (or perhaps more turret defense, if you are lucky). The bombing run mode features the same impressive 1992-era graphics from the AA avoidance mode, except now you see the "action" through your bomb sight. Dropping bombs is just terrible for multiple reasons. First off, forget realism. You have infinite bombs, and can change altitude as if you were on an elevator. The bomb physics are completely laughable as well. The only thing that seems to effect their accuracy is how close you are to the arbitrary altitude that the game indicates you are supposed to be at (displayed by a line graph with another sad B-17 sprite over top). If you are too far above or below the mandated altitude, your bombs will illogically veer off to the left or right rather than falling straight down. Your bomb sight doesn't even correct for your forward motion, meaning you need to release the bombs well before the target actually lines up with the reticle. This is just pitiful considering one of the real B-17's most celebrated features was the highly advanced Norden bombsight, which allowed it to automatically correct for things like momentum and altitude changes.
Not that hitting the target is any big event. If you manage to hit the target with a bomb, the sprite that was representing the target (building, submarine, etc) is replaced or overlaid with a sprite of a crater. That's it. There is no explosion effect, save for a few pixels of orange to signify fire, or even a satisfying sound, simply a "piff" noise.
It is really incredible that games like this are still made. I scarcely can believe that it cost more than $500 to produce this game, after the cost of the development kit. I can't help but be reminded of some of the old Sega CD games, when developers were unsure of how to actually handle user interaction with new concepts like full motion video, so they focused on simple and repetitive button presses; banking on the fact that the player would be too engrossed with the visuals to notice the game was terrible.
If I had to really stretch, I could think of a handful of nice touches that at least show the developers made an attempt. The way the engines of your B-17 will slow down and eventually stop (complete with a decent sound effect) as the plane takes damage is pretty neat. The voice work is decent as well, even if it is repetitive and largely useless.
But then my mind is ripped back to the fact there is no possible replay value in this game. Even if you were crazy enough to want to go back and play the missions again, nothing will have changed. There is an adjustable difficulty level, but beyond that there is no way to change or alter the game to make it more interesting. You just follow the pre-determined flight path and try and do something useful. Forget about any multiplayer or different game modes, not that I can honestly say how that could have worked with the game being what it is.
As I said in the start, this is a depressing review. I don't know how it would be possible to make a more disgraceful "flight simulator" than this, I would not even call this a "flight approximator". Please don't buy this game at full price, if you feel you really need it (you perhaps were a B-17 gunner in a past life), then at least wait until it is dropped to the bargain bin (which may have happened by the time I submit this).
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