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MIA - Crimson Skies

Cause we're lea-ving, on a jet plane!

Another work week has come and is going and you know what that means.  That’s right; it’s time for another fantastic installment of Missing in Action!

For those unaware, let me explain how MIA works.  MIA is a column where we pick out a game or franchise of old, dust it off and present it for a possible current generation entry 

To qualify for the MIA treatment the game or franchise cannot have appeared on any of the current generation consoles, nor can a new title be currently in development, though unconfirmed rumors, speculation and hearsay are certainly permissible.  Also the title or franchise must be well served by a current generation entry.

This week I present to you for your consideration – Crimson Skies!

Developed by Zipper Interactive (MechWarrior 3, SOCOM series) and published by Microsoft, Crimson Skies first soared onto PCs on September 17th, 2000. 

Skies takes place in an alternate 1930’s United States that has divided into several smaller self-governed regions due to the crash of Wall Street in 1929.  In this fractured, alternate world, travel by air has become the primary mode of transportation.  This naturally comes with its own set of problems, chief among them being the rise of a new class of criminal: the air pirate.

The player takes the role of Nathan Zachary, the leader of a group of Sky Pirates called the Fortune Hunters.  Zachary is a Robin Hood type of character who has taken it upon himself to strip the upper class of their wealth and privilege.

Skies gameplay is an amalgamation of flight simulator and arcade game mechanic sensibilities – allowing for tight control and the execution of flight maneuvers that wouldn’t normally be possible in real life.  The single player mode features various missions that mainly focus on bringing down enemy craft while trying to keep your plane safely in the air.  Through the use of aerial maneuvers and hazardous environmental areas called “Danger Zones” (Zipper did do a Top Gun game as well) the player can lose enemies and gain the upper hand in combat.

The game reviewed well and sold respectively enough to garner a sequel in the form of High Road to Revenge on the Xbox in 2003.  While there were tweaks here and there, the single player experience remained largely the same.  The real game changer was the addition of Xbox Live support. 

Being one of the first Xbox games to feature a true online experience, Crimson Skies: HRR created the blueprint to which future online games would be compared to.  There were initially four multiplayer modes:  Dogfight (a classic deathmatch mode), Flag Heist (a likewise classic capture the flag mode), Keep away (the objective being to hold on to an item for a set number of time) and Wild Chicken (think combination Death Match and Capture the Flag). 

Over the next two years Microsoft would add two additional modes via free DLC: Chicken Pox (a variation on Dogfight and Wild Chicken) and Gunheist (similar to Call of Duty's Domination).

Again, Crimson Skies: HRR was well received by critics but was relegated to cult status by mediocre sales.  Flight based games didn’t hold sway over audiences anymore and no further editions have been planned, though HRR has since made its way to the XBLA on the 360.

Crimson Skies is the kind of series that was never appreciated as much as it should have been. The rich and interesting universe in which its set, coupled with fun and dynamic gameplay made it a gripping experience for those that actually gave the game a shot.

Remember, this is a world where flight is the primary mode of transportation.  This has in turn resulted in cities and towns being constructed to accommodate this trend.  Think of it this way, cities would resemble the world of TailSpin, only without the talking anthropomorphic animals.  Isn’t that a world that you would like to see more of?  Of course it is.  The question is how can we best utilize this world?

I certainly don’t think that every game should take place in a sandbox, but I really think that Crimson Skies would benefit from allowing the player to fly around the cities and through the day to day air traffic.  The world would be more immersive and would add a new level of excitement when you get into dog fights high above the city.

Another option would be to turn Crimson Skies into a MMORPG.  While I’m not a fan of that format myself, the world could be made infinitely more exciting and make group missions against rival gangs much more interesting.  Like I said, this game is most interesting because of the universe it takes place in.  There really isn’t anything like it in the video game world to compare it to, so it’s best to use that fact as a strength.

With modern technology we have the ability to do more than was possible when this game originally came out.  So it stands to reason that any future installment would have more environments, more vehicles and more upgradable options.  This is a game where the player identifies far more with their plane than they do with Zachary – and that’s okay.  The developers should go with that and find ways that players can truly make that plane their own.  A slew of customization options is needed and will help to make each aerial vehicle unique.

So there you have it.  Crimson Skies is a fantastically underrated series from the past that deserves another chance.  If you haven’t played it and you have a 360 do yourself a favor and check it out on the XBLA. 

Share your thoughts and add to the discussion by sounding off in the comments section below.



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