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     " While technically a flight sim, CS plays far more arcade-ish. "

   Title: Crimson Skies by Microsoft

   Format: PC Flight Sim

   Reviewing Monkey: Cornelius

   The Hype: Be an air pirate in the early part of the 20th century! Hijack zeppelins, smite security forces and run amuck in the skies above a shattered America. You are dashing, daring, and dangerous. You are an air pirate...Could life get any better?

      What This Monkey Thought...

   Graphics: The first tidbits to notice about Crimson Skies (CS) are the wacky aircraft. These are all the planes you dreamed about as a kid, and Microsoft has brought them to life! When Microsoft acquired the FASA line and decided to make CS it was a stroke of genius. Then they wisely decided to add a whole ton of eye candy. The scenery is nicely detailed, and the aircraft are amazing. Great explosions and smoke effects, coupled with good aircraft damage animations make combat fun. The cut-scenes all use in game graphics and are quite nice as well. The only problem I had with the graphics was pop-up. Flying around in New York, the building would appear out of thin air, most of the time only feet in front of you. It sucks to be dogfighting and have a skyscraper appear 100 feet in front of you. Otherwise the graphics are good, not great, but good. 4 out of 5

   Sound: Microsoft really pulled out all the stops and it shows in the sound department. The voice actors sound like they were taken directly from the 30ís and transplanted here. It must be very confusing for them. The music is very appropriate for swashbuckling, and adds to the gameplay. Delightfully corny, without being annoying Microsoft did well. 5 out of 5

   Game Play: While technically a flight sim, CS plays far more arcade-ish. Not that this is a bad thing, but you hardcore sim-heads out there will probably be disappointed. Not from the game itself, mind you, but that the flight model is not true to life by any stretch. Microsoft is trying to appeal to those who are not the die-hard flight sim fans. Whew! That being said, CS is very fun to play, and a whole lot easier than your average flight sim. You just have to remember that the rules of physics are warped. The aircraft are insanely cool and diverse. You will find yourself in a lot of turning dogfights, but there is enough variety to keep things fresh. The different aircraft are marvelous, and each has marked strengths and weakness. All the flyable aircraft are fully customizable, down to the size of the engine, and the paint scheme. Combat is fun and easy, guns will actually train a few degrees to help you with those pesky deflection shots. Damage is done in more of a life-bar method. Your aircraft has 4 parts--2 wings, 1 nose and 1 tail. There are no critical hits, just good old-fashioned pounding through the armor until heís shot down. Once again this contributes to making the game easy to play. Unfortunately one could argue that this makes CS too simplistic, and they would have a good argument. There is a tendency for dogfights to just become a circling tornado where the tightest turn radius wins. Even with these flaws CS is a good combination of flight sim and FPS, just about anyone can jump in the cockpit and become an ace. Your fame and fortune awaits if you pick CS up now. 4 out of 5

   Level and Environment Designs: CS is set in various real world places, all of which posses many daring and dangerous locales to squeeze your plane into. Most of the levels have bridges to fly under or tunnels to buzz through, all of which help to increase your notoriety and loose pesky security aircraft from your six. All the environments are fully destructible, which means that if you are willing to shoot it enough, it will break. And as an added bonus, when you come back to a locale, all the stuff you broke is still broken. It this kind of attention to detail that we monkeys love. There are about 4 different kinds of missions, straight dogfighting, escort a zeppelin (or something else), air to ground, or a mix of any of the above. As an added bonus Microsoft decided to throw in barnstorming levels as well, where you have to follow aircraft through various hazards. You will either love or hate these missions, as they can be very difficult. My editor did much cursing whilst flying these levels, and threatened to fire me if I didnít get past them for him. I personally welcome the chance to collect unemployment. The only major gripe I have, though it is a pretty big one, is the way levels like New York handle building appearance. To simulate fog of war they have the buildings just "appear" out of the darkness (rather than have them slowly fade in from the fog). This is a problem because they often appear right off your nose and after things behind them have already come into view. Very frickin' annoying. 4 out of 5.

   Multiplayer: This is definitely CSís greatest weakness. In order for it to be any fun you need at least 6 other chimps to play with. I feel that LAN is the best way to play any multiplayer games, and even though CS holds the potential for up to 16 simians at once, but you will probably never invite that many over to your treeÖWhat with the poop flinging and all. With few participants gameplay plummets back to the "I can turn tighter than you so I win!" problem, which makes for very unexciting and frustrating flying. Even flying through the hazard areas are useless here, because if the chimp with the more maneuverable aircraft just waits for you to finish your harrowing acrobatics, you canít shake him anyway. Although CS has three different multiplayer modes (capture the flag, shoot down enemies zep, and straight death match) it still isnít enough. Moral of the story: get many people, and maybe it will be fun. 2 out of 5

   Replayability: This is Crimson Skiesí biggest problem. Once you are done with the story line there is nothing left to do but kill your friends, and replay old missions to get them perfect. While some of the levels are very cool to fly around in the same olí same olí syndrome kicks in. How cool would it be to make your own missions in a fully diverse and encompassing world? Plan raids, plunder air cargo, rescue buddies, hire yourself out to the highest bidder (no, not like that, sickos) and be a real privateer. I hope and dream of the day when Microsoft releases the expansion pack that will allow us to make these fantasies real. 2.5 out of 5

   Story/Dramatics: After the stock market crash in the 1920ís America split into warring city-states, and the booming transportation infrastructure was wiped out in the following years. The only way to move goods efficiently is with giant zeppelins. Unfortunately zeppelins are slow and vulnerable. This is where you come in; as Nathan Zachary, famed air pirate, you loot, pillage, plunder and rescue the occasional fair maiden.
   The whole setting is in the 30ís and the game is designed with that in mind. Cut scenes are done in black and white, with the cheesy 30ís voice-over. The characters are all 1930ís corny. Prominent people from the real world 1930ís are included, such as Howard Hughes, and his Spruce Goose. All the small details are included, and Microsoft has done a good job of drawing you into CSí universe. Unfortunately the story line is static, and there are not multiple paths. While it is a good story line it does need some variety. I am sincerely hoping this title does well, and Microsoft decides to publish a Privateer type game using this engine and world. Yes it is a dream, but ahhhh-- to be your own pirate, free to pillage as you chooseÖ. 3.75 out of 5

   Instructions and Learning Curve: This is possibly one of the coolest instruction books ever. Once again Microsoft has decided to stick with the 30ís theme, and it comes through wonderfully. It reads like a magazine dedicated to air piracy, and there are even ads in the book done in 30ís fashion for different aspects of gameplay. Even the instruction book pulls you into the CSí Universe. It may actually take flight sim buffs longer to learn this game than a total newbie. The flight model is so simplistic, that I often found myself over-thinking it. Someone who has never flown before would probably be able to jump right in however, and feel right at home. 4.5 out of 5

   Installation and Real System Requirements: CS is still a flight sim, and one with some pretty graphics to boot, so system requirements are a little stiff. I suggest a minimum of a P-II 300 with a good video card. Load times are a little on the long side, but the game does run seamlessly once it is loaded so the wait times are negated. For some weird reason the menu screens take the longest to load. I donít know why this is but it is bizarre. Fortunately the menus are not the reason you play the game so Iím not docking any points. As an interesting sidebar CS has the coolest installation entertainment ever. While you wait for the game to eat space on your hard drive a 30ís style radio show plays one of Nathan Zacharyís aerial adventures, which is really cool to listen to, and is worlds better than watching the completion meter plod across the screen. It also serves to suck you into the story line early, so have those speakers on when installing my little chimps. 3 out of 5

   The Verdict:

       Think of CS as a dumbed-down flight sim. A great in-between for those who want to play flight sims, but hate how realistic flight simulators are (you do know that is why they are called simulators donít you?). For you hard cores out there, this is a nice break from the grind of true to life combat missions. A wonderful game for the whole family!

   The Good: Pirates with kick ass aircraft!

   The Bad: Complete with Static story line, clumsy multiplayer, lagging menu screens, dogfights that almost always devolve into a turn radius battle.

   The Overall Ugly:

   What it's Worth:

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