One of the cons about being a primarily Nintendo and Microsoft fan is that I never had the chance to experience most of the Ace Combat franchise. When I think about popular flight games that broke through to the mainstream, Namco’s simulation is the first to pop into mind. There are plenty of flying moments in games, but sadly the most relevant flight game I’ve played recently is the minigame in Wii Sports Resort! Flying Tigers: Shadows Over China retells the true events of American volunteer pilots who protected China from Japan during World War II. The game provides a healthy amount of content with a single player campaign, online multiplayer and challenge modes. In my experience, this is a trip to the orient that you will want to take.
As a volunteer pilot stationed in China, you take on a variety of missions during World War II. You pilot a number of different planes that utilize machine guns, bombs and/or torpedos. 12 story missions keep you on your toes and are typically broken up into a few sections. You might find yourself performing reconnaissance, bombing a convoy and then taking down a fleet of gunners all in one mission. The story is told through fully voiced cutscenes that seamlessly transition into gameplay. ACE MADDOX did a great job explaining why you are in a particular area and what your motivations are as an allied pilot. The critical part of me wants to say that the story is a bit brief, some may finish it in one sitting but 2-3 is more realistic for most gamers. Three difficulty options range from casual to hard meaning that pilots of all skill levels should experience an appropriate level of challenge.
Flying Tigers offers two different methods of control, arcade and pitch/roll. Arcade controls are great for beginners, you control the altitude with the left stick and use the bumpers for sharp turns. Flight simulator pros might prefer the pitch/roll style of control, as it is definitely a more advanced way to play. Flying is easy for the most part, with a helpful HUD showing your speed and altitude. Making things even more accessible is the TazerTime slow-mo mode that can be toggled on for a short period of time. This slows down time and allows you to focus on an enemy with your machine guns. The circular reticule for your guns can easily be lined up with a crosshair that indicates the enemy is within range. This mode requires a brief cooldown before it can be used again, along with your machine guns and bombs, to avoid spamming. Most planes can perform barrel rolls and more advanced planes can do loop-de-loops to break the lock-on of enemy pilots. There are also some sections where you must land your plane, either on the water or ground. This proves to be a fun challenge as you have to make sure speeds and angles are just right or you will crash. Lastly, you can choose to play the entire game from the pilot perspective or from a third person perspective behind the plane with a couple of wide settings in between.
Online multiplayer is a welcome inclusion in any ID@XBOX game, and Flying Tigers is no exception. It’s very easy to host or join one of the 5 available multiplayer modes. Dogfight and team dogfight are akin to similar deathmatch and team deathmatch modes. You can set your location, weather type, max number of players and victory goals in all multiplayer modes. It was easy to create a private match and invite a friend as well as join a multiplayer session already in progress. Rocket and team rocket match is a battle mode where all planes are equipped with rockets, which typically take one shot to kill. Lastly there is flagbusters mode, which is similar to capture the flag modes in many games. The time I spent online was quite enjoyable, and will go a long way in extending replay value and hours invested.
There are three other modes included in Flying Tigers: dogfight, challenge and free flight. Free flight is a relaxing mode with no enemies, great for those who just want to fly at their own leisure. Dogfight is a player versus computer mode where you can battle up to 10 enemies at once. Lastly, Challenge mode is 5 separate challenges, some timed and some objective based, along with a leaderboard showing best results. Challenge modes are tied to achievements, which was nice motivation for me to come back to them. But you won’t be able to choose your own plane or adjust settings in challenge mode, hence the challenge.
It’s clear that a lot of time and effort went into the presentation values in Flying Tigers: Shadows over China. The menus are clear and appealing with beautiful art and text to provide some background into what you’re doing. The missions will begin with an in-engine cutscene and voicework that transitions seemlessly into gameplay. Graphically the game looks very nice, especially in motion, although some lower-res assets are easy to spot when you are landed. I’m playing on an original Xbox One and I didn’t notice much slowdown or any graphical problems throughout the campaign. I was surprised by the quality of the voice acting, while it won’t win any awards like AAA blockbusters, I found it to be more than suitable. The music is fitting with plenty of tense and dramatic moments, but the sound of gunfire and explosions could have benefitted from more pop. There is a nice variety of allied and Japanese planes and each one has a few paint schemes to choose from. I’m not sure how big of a team ACE MADDOX has, but they deserve a lot of praise for their attention to detail.
To call Flying Tigers: Shadows over China a pleasant surprise would be an understatement. Going in completely blind I was expecting a boring history lesson with ancient planes. What I got was a compelling story with flight gameplay that is fun and exciting. The challenge modes are a welcome change of pace and online multiplayer can potentially extend replay value for years. The price is currently listed at $18.99 USD, but the quality content and overall experience is easily worth double that. If the subject matter and genre interests you even slightly, then I would recommend you try Flying Tigers: Shadows over China.