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Blazing Angels: Squadrons of WWII, a DVD-ROM in English by Ubisoft, distributed with a 28-page Hebrew-language user's manual by Hed Artzi Multimedia, requires Windows 2000 and up and a Pentium IV PC, for ages 12 through adult, NIS 219.
Rating: *** 1/2
Squeezing the computer mouse instead of the throttle, lovers of simulated flights can't help but feel a surge of power and excitement that is compounded when they bring down fighter planes flown by Nazi pilots and Japanese kamikazes. That's what they'll be doing in this World War II aviation game, which is far from perfect but will provide some satisfaction to those who like this genre and have the patience to persevere through 18 missions and a pair of mini-campaigns.
You begin your role in pilot training, but you'll quickly be transferred to defend Dunkirk, where over 300,000 troops were evacuated in May and June of 1940. The troops were desperately needed back on the home shores to help defend against a Nazi invasion after the British, French and Belgian governments had seriously underestimated the strength of the German forces in their equipment, logistical ability and firepower.
Among the handful of US pilots assisting their British counterparts, you are assigned to a squad that remains the same throughout the game, usually flying with them and sometimes alone but in constant radio contact. The fictional characters in the single-player mode are Tom, Frank and Joe, each of them given a unique personality and skills. Tom likes to taunt his German enemies so they'll go after him instead of your plane if you're under too much fire, but this taunting order will be in effect only when you click an icon. Frank is a talkative hunter and master of ace attacks if you give him this order. The third buddy is Joe, who's a genius at repairing your plane whenever it has been badly hit. He will ask you to press buttons in a certain order to make the aircraft feel as if it's almost new. You will constantly hear their voices chattering over the radiowaves, and they are well acted. But the enemies, especially the Japanese, speak broken English in such lame dialogue that their characters become offense caricatures.
Although your squad members' identities are fabricated, the missions are based on historical events, from the Battle of Britain over London to Pearl Harbor, the liberation of Paris, the fall of Berlin and on to the Pacific Ocean battles at Midway and Okinawa. Once you succeed in a mission flying one type of aircraft, you will be able to access a more advanced model for the next one, such as a submarine or torpedo bomber. Torpedoing enemy aircraft carriers and cruisers may be the most satisfying challenge of all. The authentic looking Allied models include the Gladiator, Hurricane, Spitfire, Seafire, Warhawk, Devastator, Avenger, Wildcat, Mustang and Flying Fortress, each of whose specifications are outlined in the user's manual. The Germans fly the Mew series of planes and Stukas, while the Japanese zoom around in Hayabusas, Shidens and Kikkas.
It is rather disturbing, however, that there is just a single camera position - from behind your plane and not inside the cockpit. This will rob some aviation fans of the fun of feeling like a real pilot. This third-person view means there is no control panel or heads-up display to which you must constantly glance to note your altitude, speed or direction. While this leaves you free to pay attention to dogfights, it does make the game easier - too simple for some, so it may make their victories feel hollow. In addition, you are told only the bare minimum about your mission and when it's over, you aren't debriefed, so it's hard to know whether you have been victorious or not. You also can't set your level of difficulty, so the game's replay value is quite low. A multiplayer mode can be played off-line against a friend, but it's better on-line, where you can fly with as many as 16 planes in a single match.
In either mode, this team-based shooter is not the ultimate in World War II aviation games: Software companies are likely to keep trying to produce one, given the popularity of this historical theme that, more than six decades later, does not seem to become tiresome.
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