As the weekend of Remembrance and Veterans Day comes to a close in both my home countries, it seems apt that it was the height of my play time in Bomber Crew.
The title from Runner Duck and Curve Digital is a downright cute look into one of the most stressing jobs from the second world war. Bomber Crew follows a crew or, as it happened in my playthrough, many crews, of an RAF (Royal Air Force), Avro Lancaster or, as it happened, many Lancasters in what I found to be… one of the more accurate accounts of the War in games.
Is it true to life in its graphics?
Most certainly not old chap. However, you will experience overwhelming loss, likely over and over.
As it opens, you're exposed to a low poly viewing of an airbase. A pristine bird ready to take to the skies, after being prettified or in the case of the Jockey Jalopies, uglified with checkered paint, glowing Jack O’ Lanterns, and flames around the engines, which looking back, seems like a bad omen that should be avoided. Next were over to hand pick our crew from the fresh faces young men and women (this is historically accurate, see RAF pilot Lettice Curtis) ready to fight and, most assuredly, die in their time of service. The crew is outfitted with meager provisions and sent to the briefing. After a few successful missions, it was pretty clear that my first round draft pick was a natural crew sure to be written in the books as heroic. Its fate seemed apparent until its commander, who was using point-and-click instead of the intuitive keyboard shortcuts to switch between crew members, sent the pilot away from the rudder causing the whole lot of them to sink into the drink.
With only the irresponsible but incredibly loyal-to-orders pilot surviving.
As you may be able to tell, Bomber Crew is more of a strategy and management game than a simulation, and many times it's an unforgiving game of trial and error. As it progresses and combat thickens, the stress levels rise to a fever pitch. Bullets and shrapnel flying all around you while you try to keep the plane together, target enemies and let bombs loose at the right time. However, the developers at Runner Duck, in a post-release update, added a hotkey to slow down time, giving you a few extra moments to get your mind right and pull out of a miracle.
The title is set up in a series of recurring missions, allowing you to build funds and level up your crew. Along with those are critical missions, which advance the campaign. These can be very simple dashes across the channel, bomb a few factories and make your way back with low to medium risk, the only real trouble comes when an enemy ace is active in the area. These short runs are a bit of the grind which will allow you to equip your craft with much-needed armor, stronger weapons and things like Parachutes AND First Aid kits, not one of the other. If you move too fast, you may end up with a bombing run mission which, mid-way into it, might have you change course to intercept a German missile launch.
After a harrowing experience with our engineer performing fuel tank repairs on the wing... mid flight…
Which, I'm sure you’ve already figured out, ended with him falling to his death.
Suddenly, we get attacked seconds before reaching the channel. Two of our engines are put right out of commission. Quick on my feet, I decide to send my seven-year-old son, whose name I endowed to a team member through Bomber Crew’s customization setting. He was, after all, the primary bomber but also trained as an engineer. He could, I thought, at least get one of the engines back online to bring us home safely. Unfortunately, a navigation correction sent him soaring like an ineffective eagle. Then we had to make an emergency landing. Luckily the low poly, low building count version of London was conveniently placed to stop the slide of our aircraft after its unceremonious touchdown. This incident caused the words ‘DON'T EVER PUT ME ON THE WING AGAIN’ to echo through our house for hours.
Strategy comes into play, with time and resource management.
Do you spend your time repairing the hydraulics or taking a first aid kit to a downed soldier? Do you target incoming enemy planes or stay on your bomb sites to hit the target and not have to make a second run? Do you hold out hope to make an emergency landing and save everyone but instead have the rear of the plane fall off, crash and burn? Do you grab parachutes for the higher level airmen to bail out and leave the others to fend for themselves? These are the split-second decisions you’ll continually be making, and you won’t always make the right choice. Metacritic user ‘Terrier’ likens the game to “the Dark Souls of bomber games, ” and the comparison is apt. You will start after the previous ‘critical’ mission and will lose the experience of your crew and upgrades of the bomber. However, as you advance through the game, the quality of the crew increases and the bombers will come with a few upgrades, so it’s not starting completely over.
The only point Bomber Crew has against it is the grind of missions will become repetitive. You will fly the same runs over and over in order to gain money and experience. Especially after losing a crew you’ve painstakingly built up and knowing you’re going to have to go through it all again can be a real downer. The art style is deliberate, and while some gamers will really enjoy it, me being one of them, the lack of visual realism could detract from the experience for others who prefer a graphically rich game. All that being said, Bomber Crew is as well designed as it is rich. It’s also a title that will meet a variety of interests, whether simulation, strategy or History.
The Verdict: Great
Bomber Crew is a rich strategy sim that gets you into the action quickly. The low poly art style will make more bearable the tremendous death of your crew’s airmen, as your plane falls to pieces around them. As for the repetitive nature of missions, it will either become old hat, or, a necessary grind to get the most out of your plane and deal head on with the game's growing difficulty.