Sunday, July 29, 2018

Aces of the Luftwaffe - Squadron (Xbox One) Review

Aces of the Luftwaffe - Squadron is a vertical plane shooting game, popularly referred to as a shmup (shoot-em-up).  I'm always happy to try out a new one.  It is set during around World War II, where you are eventually tasked with taking down some of the 3rd Reich's air forces.  It also has up to 4 player co-op, in case you wondered why it has the "Squadron" subtitle.

The game is broken down into 5 chapters, each with 5 stages in them.  The fifth stage is a boss fight.  As you complete each stage and chapter, the next opens up.  There's a story as well, as every stage has some dialogue to set up the mission, and banter between the squadron mates.  While the voice work isn't great by any stretch of the imagination, the story is okay.  It does make a strange turn toward the end, though.

In addition, each stage has a specific extra mission that, if completed, awards extra medals that can be used to level up your squadron.  Several of theses extra missions are staying in one place for a few seconds to drop or pick something up, or destroying a certain number of a specific enemy.  Boss fights have the all important "survive" extra missions, where you have to...well, not die.  Yeah, that one isn't that inspired, I agree.  The most unique one is when you have to remain undetected.  Enemy aircraft will have searchlights, and you have to maneuver your squad around them with out triggering the alarm.  Thankfully you can't shoot until you are detected.  It's a neat idea, and one that I felt was pulled off pretty well.

Adding even more unique mechanics to the game, there are several points in the story when one of your pilots will be afflicted with the disorder that they suffer from.  When Mark is feeling the affects of the poison in his body, you have to move very slowly until it subsides.  When John is angry, you either steer clear, or get wrecked.  Steve will fall asleep in the middle of the battle...somehow.  Strangely, defending him wakes him up faster, where I would think him getting shot would wake him up right quick.  Melissa just has a fear of heights.  Great thing for a pilot.  In another strange twist, hers is the easiest disorder to deal with.  She just leaves.  No special condition, no real inconvenience.  Her firepower is missing, but that's no different from when she gets shot down.  These happen at set points in the story, so at least you can plan around them.  I like the idea the developers had for these, as it makes the pilots more unique, but it can be a pain to deal with.

I definitely would not have expected this in this type of game, but there are full-blown skill trees.  Each character has several skills they can learn, both passive and active.  When you level up, or find a hidden skill coin, these are saved to your profile and later used to buy skills.  There are skills to make the pilots do more damage, increase dodge chance (very useful for the AI), and even ones that have a chance to active.  These are my favorite, solely because of Steve's skill that can slow down time.  This helped me out of more than one jam.  All learned active skills are available, and you cycle to the one you want.  They share the same cooldown though, so you don't get several at the same time.  While I haven't done it yet, the skill coins can be refunded and spent anew.  It costs some medals to do so.

While the game has some new and interesting things, there are also some problems.  You can get new ships to fly, but they are random drops from bosses, complete with rarities.  This isn't too bad, since the skills on the ships I have are not very good.  I'm not a fan of random drops like that, though.  Speaking of which, gun upgrades are also random.  You have to collect a crate to upgrade, and those are usually random upon enemy defeat.  Considering you are pathetically weak without the upgrades later in the game, this is not good.  The power ups also have ammo, so they can run out.  Conserving ammo is not really a thing to force in a shoot-em-up's kind of the point to shoot everything.

But of course everything will shoot you.  It's not bad on the easier levels, but toward the end and on higher difficulties, bullet spreads and enemy attack intervals ensures there are times you just can't do anything except get hit.  That chance increases when the screen shakes from your supposed helpful skills, or when the UI/dialogue/explosions cover up valuable screen space.  Plane movement is sometimes wonky, moving you faster than normal.  Maybe it's the "wind resistance" that one plane partially protects against?  I don't know, they don't really tell you that.  Speaking of movement, you can't go all the way to the bottom of the screen.  It actually hurts your dodging ability, since so may big things (like bosses) take up too much of the screen.  That last inch would make a world of difference.  Add in spotty hit detection, and it's a recipe for going down.  Plus, there is no way to dodge everything and not have the wing-men get hit.  They will die plenty of times, and there isn't much you can do about it.

Oh, and that third boss.  You have to go into her shield to damage her?  How on earth would we figure that out?  The shield blocks shots, and you take a ton of collision damage, so why would you fly into the shield, unless you died several times and gave up trying to figure out what to do?

I feel like these would be less of a problem if a few things were different.  For one, the bomb ability should get rid of bullets.  That's baseline for a shmup.  Second, you need a reliable spread shot.  Pretty much every shot is focused toward the front exclusively, with very little capable of hitting outside of that.  When the only plausible or safe way to hit an enemy is from an angle, this is killer.  Very high level power-ups will give some kind of area attacks, but they tend to be very weak.  So even if you could get them, they aren't much help.

Overall, Aces of Luftwaffe - Squadron had some fun.  There are a some problems I had with the game, but it was enjoyable outside of the problem missions.  I would encourage shmup fans to give it a try.

The Good:
Unique pilots, ships, and skills.  Skill trees!

The Bad:
Hard to maneuver around shots while not getting something hit.  Shots are front focused, which is not the best thing to force in a shmup.

The SaHD:
It took me awhile to realize it, but they only refer to the enemy as "Germans" and "Krauts", not "Nazis".  And wait, that isn't the right symbol on that UFO...

(Review code for Aces of the Luftwaffe - Squadron was received from the publisher)

No comments:

Post a Comment