Frag the friendly skies.
When it comes to flying, few can compete with the aces at GR. Ben spent his formative years at Space Camp, Duke is a master biplane pilot and I used to be responsible for guarding the skies above the GR compound in our Danger Zeppelin. We love to fly and it shows.
So it's no surprise that we were all curious when a little action flight game called Yager touched down in the office. Hailed by some European gaming publications as the best thing since sliced bread (or Halo, to be exact), Yager has just now made its way across the ocean and on to store shelves stateside. But while it looks pretty enough for an action flight game, its super-sized Euro appeal seems to have been lost in translation.
You play the role of Magnus Tide, a rogue freelance pilot who's obviously been reading up on The Idiot's Guide to Being Han Solo. He's just bounced back from some sort of vague mishap and is fighting to regain some lost respect. In order to do so, Magnus has taken up a commission with Proteus forces to defend his homeworld from a mysterious piratical threat. Naturally, there are other players in this power struggle, leading to a few surprises along the way. This story isn't quite as cheesy as it sounds and manages to do a decent job of moving the game along.
Magnus' ride of choice is the Sagittarius, a sleek looking VTOL (Vertical Take Off and Landing) craft with the speed and firepower of a fighter and maneuverability of a chopper. Weapon configuration varies from mission to mission, but includes toys such as a recharging pulse gun, rapid fire machine guns and a rail gun for long distance pot shots. The weapons aren't very creative; for the most part, you'll stick to the basics.
You do encounter quite a number of different enemy craft in Yager, but it's a shame that you don't get to experiment with any of them. Just the ability to customize the payload of the Sagittarius for each mission would have been nice, but alas, no such luck.
Controlling the Sagittarius is a little odd at first, but you'll pick up the basics in no time. Most important is learning how and when to switch from hover to jet mode, since doing so at the wrong time can mean the difference between who gets shot down and who doesn't. One minor annoyance with the control is the way the game requires you to scroll through the weapon selection. In the middle of a dogfight, you might find yourself trying to hold down a target lock on an enemy while simultaneous attempting to switch from your pulse gun to machine guns – not an easy task.
Yager's nearly two dozen levels have you undertake a variety of missions with pretty simple objectives like "find X" and "destroy Y." Everything takes place planetside, so you won't have to worry about losing your bearings. However, a few of the missions have more personality than any action flight game deserves. One of them has you manning a turret over your favorite bar as one of your pals catapults random furniture into the air for targets, while another arms you with a hose. Sweet.
Old Wing Commander vets may be a little disappointed to hear that Yager's mission structure is as linear as they come. Most missions provide you with secondary or even tertiary objectives, but either you must complete these to advance or you can ignore them altogether. Fail a primary objective and it's do-over time.
It's important to pay close attention to your com system during missions, as various characters will check in with you to update your mission goals. If you manage to miss an update, then you're pretty much out of luck. There's no 'mission screen' to tell you what your detailed objectives are, although the map screen might say something brief like 'defend this' or 'find this.' Without listening to the communications, you might not know exactly what 'this' is.
For a game that's already a few years old, Yager still looks pretty good. The ships are modeled nicely and there are some cool explosions when things go boom. The landscape is a little less impressive since there's not usually much ambience to punctuate the action, but the overall visual package isn't bad.
The only thing that looks weird is Yager's broken sense of speed. Even in jet mode at full throttle, you'll be slowly cruising along without a care in the world. The only time you ever really feel like you're going places is if you manage to find a boost power-up.
The sound effects are fine and the voice work is decent. Tide's adventures cross paths with a variety of characters, from the sharp military types to the country bumpkin, so you'll be hearing from an interesting cast.
It's just too bad that there isn't a good reason to stick around after the fighting's done. The result of your mission performance is tied to your profile and tracks things like weapon accuracy, health and objectives completed. Good performances will unlock profiles of the ships in the game, but that's about it. Compared toCrimson Skies and its fantastic multiplayer, Yager feels far too thin.
Yet for the budget-friendly price of $20, it makes much more sense. It's been a while since the Xbox has seen a good flight game and Yager's quirky missions will certainly keep you occupied for a spell. But with a handful of small problems and little replay value, there's isn't enough to keep you coming back for more.