Monday, October 31, 2011

Sky Gamblers Flies For Dogfights

There have been about 70 World War I flight sims on the market at one time or another since Atari released the Red Baron in 1981. Game play has always been all over the map, which is why most of them enjoyed a quick pickup of interest before falling off the radar, usually to more modern aircraft.

But there is one World War I flight sim that could have a longer shelf life. Rise Of Glory: Sky Gamblers invested development in the flight controls to create a realistic flight experience with better maneuverability than any combat flight simulator for the iPad, iPod, or iPhone.

Sky Gamblers wins with a richer, more complex control system.

There are some people who are complaining about the controls, but it is the controls that make for such rewarding game play. Pilots can control the planes with a combination of tilt (three-axis gyro), rudder (on-screen touch), throttle (on-screen touch), and finger motions (special maneuvers).

The primary complaints are related to using the three-axis gyro (tilt) component. Ignore them. The learning curve is quick, and the dual movement controls (three-axis tilt combined with touch variations) are what add a dynamic to aero-stunt flying in combat. If you can master those combinations, finger motions for special maneuvers aren't even needed. The responsiveness is that good.

Sky Gamblers offers up a diversity of vintage flying experiences.

The planes are modeled off of eight different designs (with two versions each). Two of them are based on the most famous from history: Sopwith Camel, which was piloted by Major William Barker; and the Fokker Dr. I, which was the mount of the Red Baron Manfred von Richthofen. With the possible exception of the Sopwith Triplane or Spad XIII, players gravitate to the more famous planes.

The most common exception is the Spad. Without question, the Spad was the most capable fighter toward the latter part of World War I. But much like real lift, there are tradeoffs in the game. The Spad is significantly faster, but feels less maneuverable than the Sopwith Camel or Fokker.

Maneuverability is important, especially while playing against real opponents. At faster speeds, you lose too much of it. (That's not a game fault, it's a flight truism.)

Other planes in the game include the Bleriot, BE2, RE8, PFALZ, and Albatros. All are unlocked by playing the campaign, which is especially important before taking the game online.

Some people don't seem to know this, because it's not uncommon to see players attempting to fly a Bleriot against pilots with the Sopwiths, Fokkers, or Spads. They don't have a chance.

Campaigns, dogfights, customs, and online options. 

The campaign is the best place to start for another reason, with the player piloting a Bleriot with tutorial instructions to understand the basics of the game and get a feel for the flight. Some missions are harder than others (and it took me awhile to understand the 'photo' mission), but playing the campaigns is the best way to understand the flight controls.

Each mission focuses on different elements, ranging from strafing or bombing ground units to dogfights and taking out balloons. While many people like to bypass campaigns and head to online game play, it's very much a mistake in Sky Gamblers.

Likewise, dogfight missions are progressively more challenging in head-to-head fights against aggressive artificial intelligence pilots. The level of difficultly increases with game play against various mixes and matches between the number of enemies and wing men. I've personally found that it's always a good idea to play at least one dogfight mission before joining the online games.

Custom games are also worthwhile for the same reason. It's the best chance to learn some of the online scenarios — free for all, team deathmatch, defend the base, and capture the flag — before playing online. But eventually, online is where you will want to play. Nothing beats the online challenges with up to eight players per game (or on a local WiFi).

When you do play online, expect most gamers to play free for all or capture the flag. This may change as more people pick up the game (almost all games develop loose friendships, alliances, and clans after awhile).

Anyone playing will also find that human opponents are easier than the artificial intelligence for now. As players pick up more tricks (such as not flying away from opponents and using the throttle to enhance maneuverability), it will be very likely to change.

The game does have a ranking system based on kills versus deaths, with kills earning two points and deaths equally one point. The system is fair instead of harsh, giving everyone the opportunity to move up quickly (unless they fly a Bleriot, which is like a knife in a gunfight).

Sky Glamblers was developed by a division of Namco Bandai. 

Sky Gamblers was the creation of Namco North America, Inc. It has dozens of titles, but is possibly best known for the cinematic Ace Combat, which is becoming even more video-realistic this year. It's safe to assume its experience with flight sims and the iPad, iPod, and iPhone platform paid off.

Even better, Namco Bandai seems to have learned its lesson about in-game purchases. Last year, the company launched Ace Combat for the iPhone and iPad, but players complained. I'm glad they did. Requiring people to make in-game purchases has made flight games like Skies of Glory (World War II themed) and F.A.S.T. (modern aircraft), both by SGN, largely unplayable.

Sky Gamblers: Rise Of Glory Takes Flight At 8.3 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Namco Bandai has developed a near-perfect flight game with Sky Gamblers. Hands down, it is the best historic flight combat app available. The only way to make it better is to continue to build out the campaign scenarios and add more features to customize the planes.

Rise Of Glory: Sky Gamblers is available for download in the iTunes App Store. If you are interested in World War I, consider renting (don't buy) The Red Baron, which is short on story but fun for the aerial flying. The better movie is easily The Blue Max. You can also find The Red Fighter Pilot: The Autobiography of the Red Baron by Manfred von Richthofen on Amazon. There is much less is written about Major William Barker, to whom history has been less kind, despite his numerous accomplishments and receipt of the Victoria Cross.
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