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Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge (Xbox) artwork

Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge (Xbox) review

"Fifteen years later, the cracks are starting to show..."

Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge (Xbox) image

It's funny how one segment or a chunk of a campaign can hamper a game. Remember when Battletoads was a passable brawler until you hit a certain vehicle section? Or when the first Castlevania was a frustrating good time when Medusa heads weren't around? Well, I've got a new one for you: Remember when Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge was an above average flight shooter before its story reached South America?

This sophomore installment is a breezy, pulp sci-fi throwback with plenty of action and variety. It takes you to an alternate version of 1930s America, in which the country has been split into several nation-states. Technology evolved such that everyone owns a personal, high tech airplane instead of a car. Gangs, crime syndicates and odd factions roam the skies, including one group called the Fortune Hunters. You play their leader, Nathan Zachary, your average Han Solo-ish antihero who enjoys plundering the wealthy and loathes fascism.

Straight away, you battle law enforcement and criminal goons alike, while completing missions for common folk. The action impressively maintains a quick pace, even with numerous enemies and allies on the battlefield, not to mention neutral NCPs floating around, AA guns, weaponized zeppelins and countless other moving parts. Best of all, you don't have to fuss with realistic play control or physics. It's less of a hardcore flight simulator and more akin to Star Wars: Rogue Squadron, with a fairly laid back control scheme and a lenient learning curve.

Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge (Xbox) image

You aren't limited to Zachary's trademark plane, The Devastator, either. You steal and unlock numerous new crafts as you advance, plus you can upgrade most of them once. Of course, you need cash and upgrade tokens (which are found in levels or earned by completing missions) to do so. Sadly, you don't get to make any in-depth modifications to your planes, such as honing attack power, armor or fire rate to your liking. All improvements come in huge, multi-stat boosts instead.

As you progress, missions become more hectic and varied. You might engage in a huge conflict in downtown Chicago, simply taking on planes. Eventually, one of your allies screams about zeppelins, and you aim your reticle at those instead. Meanwhile, a villain attempts to move some of his assets out of the city via train, so you also need to destroy a bridge to prevent that from happening. Finally, you nab explosives and deliver them to your foe's warehouse before they explode, just to give the guy one last kick in the junk.

However, not all of the campaign's attempts at variety are hits. One whole chapter revolves around completing mini-game-like trials for the Navajo, and it's almost entirely filler. Two of the trials are overly simple and lack action or excitement. I mean, shooting a bunch of slow moving balloons doesn't even sound entertaining on paper, much less in practice. The third task revolves around following a plane very closely without falling behind. One wrong turn and the mission's over. You might want to get your favorite profanity ready for that one, as your guide dances all over a rocky canyon.

Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge (Xbox) image

For a fair portion, High Road is a fun, campy, somewhat self-aware shooter. Unfortunately, Nathan eventually flies to South America, and he isn't the only thing that goes south at that point...

Upon arrival, you enter a dogfight against a fascist group called Die Spinne, whose planes shoot bolts of electricity. These blasts temporarily stun you, and you can't avoid them. Worse than that, they come at you from all angles, shocking you relentlessly and draining your hit points quickly. Despite the beating you take, this section is doable.

From there, you move into some pretty standard action sequences, sadly sandwiched between more filler segments. You engage in a cool shootout, then you enter a competitive mini-game with one of the lesser characters. You return to gunning down planes and wrecking enemy bases, then slip into a tiresome sub-mission that involves collecting artifacts. You don't even need to obtain all of them, either. You can just grab one and then screw around the rest of the time, and you'll still advance to the next stage.

Tired of collecting artifacts? Too bad, because the next major story event revolves around snatching hidden pieces of a giant relic. One of the map markers for those pieces sits on a volcano, obviously indicating that the item is somewhere beneath it. However, it doesn't tell you how to get to the thing, so you end up flying all over the arena, looking for anything that might serve as an entrance to a cave or subterranean temple. If you're lucky, you might happen upon a slim, completely unnoticeable slot a statue's mouth, which takes you through a perilous tunnel and straight to your objective. Seriously, it took me an hour to find this thing during my playthrough. Would it have killed someone to place a beacon at the entrance?

Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge (Xbox) image

You endure all of that so you can enter the real nightmare. After you rebuild the relic, you navigate the corridors of a massive temple, decked out with obstacle courses from hell and tight squeezes that practically force you to hold the brake through the entire level. However, you'll also need to hit the thrust occasionally to get around giant pendulums or pass between crushing walls, all while trying not to lose control. Did I mention that you'll be taking a few blind turns as well, and that a couple of corners lead you in circles? Oh, and if you bump into a wall, there's a decent chance you'll cause the camera to freak out, and you won't know where you're heading or how you're oriented. Left often becomes up, and you become dead. Little of what you experience here is genuinely worthwhile or as exciting as it should be, and proves rather stressful and aggravating.

As you might've guessed, this leads up to a long, tricky escape stage. Although this segment is technically a new mission, the game doesn't autosave here. You must complete both of these levels--getting through and exiting the temple--in one sitting. Escaping is only easier than entering because you should be used to the temple's tricks by now. However, during my playthrough I made a huge mistake here. I swapped out The Devastator for a Die Spinne plane because its armor was nearly depleted. The escape stage concludes with a battle against multiple electricity-shooting zeppelins who gank you in mere minutes. I ended up having to restart both missions, making damn sure The Devastator made it to that part in one piece. Only then did I succeed, though I contemplated rage quitting. It almost wasn't worth the effort going through these tedious, drawn out challenges a second time.

Thankfully, Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge ends with a killer final boss that helps you to forget about its apparent self-sabotage in South America. Ultimately, it's a decent, action-packed trip, marred by a hefty chunk of heinous content. I can appreciate the creativity that went into those jungle levels, but their execution was no less disappointing. They drag down what could've been an example of an aged action game that mostly stood the test of time. Instead, this title has become more of a middling product, where great thrills eventually devolve into frustrating misadventures.


JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Staff review by Joseph Shaffer (May 05, 2019)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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hastypixels posted May 05, 2019:

I'd been interested in Crimson Skies for some time but I wasn't in a position to play it - nor did I have a console it was available on. In spite of its flaws, it seems I might've had a good time with it.
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LeVar_Ravel posted May 05, 2019:

Hi Joe,

Do you know if this is anything like the original Crimson Skies for PC? I remember CS as a creative game, decent overall, except if you failed, sometimes you'd have to listen to the same long stretches of dialogue over again. The Hollywood director was funny the first time, but "FOLLOW the plane in FRONT of you!" wears out its welcome.
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LeVar_Ravel posted May 05, 2019:

"Left often becomes up, and you become dead."

Ha ha! Sounds like they were going for a Fly Into The Death Star level!
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JoeTheDestroyer posted May 05, 2019:

It's not entirely bad. I had a decent time with the first 2/3 of it, but the last bit was infuriating at times. It helps if you know what you're getting into at that point.

As far as I know, this one takes place in the same time line as the original Crimson Skies, but it's not a direct sequel. I've read that there are numerous differences. This one allows you to skip cutscenes if you have to restart. The upgrades in the original are almost more in-depth, where this one only allows you to do a single, bit upgrade. Plus, I've heard the first one is more of an arcade-style shooter (I've not played the original, though I want to), where this one is very mission-based.

And yeah, the temple was a bit like going through a Death Star, come to think of it. I did actually say "Stay on target" to myself a few times.

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