In recent months my hopes of finally seeing a decent air-combat styled game arriving on Xbox One have been slowly diminishing with each disappointing release that has arrived. After being entirely let down by the WWII arcade-styled Iron Wings, and finding Blue Angels Aerobatic Flight Simulator to have very little in the way of actual realistic flight simulation, my hopes of finding an enjoyable flight based game were pinned on the latest air-based combat adventure, in the hope it has what it takes to finally bring players an enjoyable flight experience on Xbox One. The game in question is Flying Tigers: Shadows Over China, but can it fill the void left by the previous poor flight themed releases?
The story of Flying Tigers: Shadows Over China takes us back to the frequently resurfacing era of World War II, with a number of different battles that take place throughout various stages of the war.
In this particular adventure however, players aren’t just taking on the talents of the many highly trained military personnel of the United States Army Air Forces and the Royal Air Force. You see, they are also playing the part of some of the most under-appreciated American Volunteer Group squadrons that helped to defend China against Japan’s attacks in the China-Burma-India Theatre of World War II.
There are a couple of ways to play the game with Single Player and Multiplayer options both available.
In Single Player there are four different options to choose from – Campaign, Dogfight, Challenge and Free Flight. The campaign in FTSOC doesn’t immediately drop you into the cockpits of the world’s finest air forces, with a lot of the time instead being spent controlling the actions of a secret president-issued executive order that has been authorised to board ships to Burma, in order to help strengthen China’s Air Force and deter air raids from the Japanese.
Unfortunately, whilst that may sound rather exciting on paper, the actual missions available – of which there are a decent number – fail to bring any real enjoyment or match that early excitement. Instead they suffer from a rather distinct amount of repetition throughout. Most missions consist of nothing more than simply doing the same shoot and destroy objectives in a different location, swapping between aircraft depending on what target you’re shooting at. For a game that focuses on air based combat, this isn’t exactly unexpected, but it could, and would, have been much better to have had more variety to each mission – if only to spice things up a bit.
Another disappointment with the campaign is just how lifeless the actual story is. Other than the end of mission reports that appear to give you the current situation on what’s just gone down, there’s very little else in the way of story to engage in at all. Whilst there are many different people that speak to you during the missions, there is never a point in which any of them feel particularly vital to the game, and with no real connection made between any of them, it’s easy to forget what they’ve been talking about. Despite being on the side of a defensive nation, it’s the lack of connection to anything of value that’s portrayed in the game that makes each mission feels more like you are being led to kill simply for the purpose of it, rather than being a part of a country’s invaluable defensive efforts.
Away from that though and players have the option of Dogfight, Challenge or Free Flight modes.
Free Flight is hardly in need of explanation with the name summing up what can be expected as players fly freely without any objectives to worry about. Dogfight on the other hand is a rather enjoyable game mode, and instead of the simplistic and boring nature of the campaign, players are allowed to focus purely on combat. It helps the game feel a lot better for it too. After choosing the plane you wish to pilot, those you wish for your enemies to be in, and the location for the battle to take place, you can then choose from the two mini-modes within Dogfight – Avenging Ace and Survival. Avenging Ace is my preferred mode of the two and here you can choose the difficulty, control style, location, weather and number of enemies – between 2-10 – before heading out in combat to take them down. This where the real beauty of Flying Tigers’ combat really shows. Unlike the campaign which guides players to a specific playstyle in how you take down your enemies, Dogfight allows you to take them down as you see fit, and no matter if you choose the very basic Arcade control style or the full Pitch/Roll control style, combat is quite enjoyable.
As for the survival aspect of Dogfight, it’s pretty obvious what you can expect. You have an endless number of enemies that will be coming to attack you for your chosen period of time, with your goal being to survive to the end. The problem is that it doesn’t feel very natural to the whole premise of the game. But at least it is another challenge for those that are interested by a survival based option.
The final mode available in Single Player is Challenge. This gives players the option of five unique missions with very specific goals to complete. From survival to flag capturing and destroying all enemies, there is enough variety to warrant an inclusion, but for me, it all feels more like a streamlined version of the kind of thing you can find within the already boring campaign offering and was one I quickly found tiresome. However, those with a competitive streak about them will be pleased to know that the Challenge mode does come complete with leaderboards, should you wish to stick your name up there with the best of them.
Flying Tigers: Shadows Over China delivers one more thing for fans of competitive play – the multiplayer offering.
Five different options are available; Dogfight VS, Team Dogfight, Rocket Match VS, Team Rocket Match and Flagbusters. Unfortunately, the online player base isn’t exactly brimming with players, or consistent with good connections. This has meant that despite hours of trying I have still only been able to get in a couple of games with the Dogfight VS mode. Even then, those were limited to one or two players in opposition, rather than a full game of eight players. If you’re hoping for some online multiplayer then you best have some friends that are also willing to jump in to fill up the numbers.
The only other big points of interest in regards Flying Tigers are in the control scheme and the visuals. Whilst the controls aren’t exactly flight simulation standard, or indeed anywhere close to it, they are rather accessible. With very basic options allowing players to utilise their full arsenal of weaponry and switch between the cockpit and third person cams, as well as fluid plane control, things are simple enough that anyone can pick up and play without any real confusion.
As for the visuals, Flying Tigers: Shadows Over China is generally a rather beautiful game. With each plane sporting a true to life appearance of their real-life counterparts and each location showing a realistic and well detailed setting, the developers have really put the effort in to make things feel as realistic as possible, whilst retaining a completely arcade-style feel. One slight niggle I did notice however was that some planes, especially the Spitfire MK. VC and the Buffalo MK. I – the two planes I spent the most time with – did tend to look rather smaller and compact in size than they should be when the camera was held in a diagonal angle from the plane. This wasn’t something that affected the game in any way, and there is every chance it could just be the way the camera moves, but it was something that I found myself distracted by on several occasions.
Flying Tigers: Shadows Over China may have proven to be a bit of a let down with its campaign, but that doesn’t detract from the fact that the combat is rather enjoyable. With Dogfight proving to be the best mode on offer, it would have been nice to see some better objective based modes included, but if you’re after a game to tide you over until the next air based adventure, or are simply looking for something a bit better than other similar offerings, then Flying Tigers: Shadows Over China is one to consider.