By Marc Saltzman
Gannett News Service
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Climb into the cockpit of more than 50 authentic World War II aircraft, including the famous P-51 Mustang and British Spitfire, in Ubisoft's "Blazing Angels: Squadrons of WWII" for the Sony PlayStation 3.
This intense historical action game -- which fuses arcade-like dogfighting with near photorealistic graphics -- fares better than the Microsoft Xbox 360 and other versions available last spring, but it still doesn't soar as high as it should.
Developed by Ubisoft's Romanian studio, "Blazing Angels," named after the fictitious squadron you command, lets you assume the role of an ace pilot who must take on the Germans and Japanese in missions that range from Berlin and London to the North African desert to the Battle of Midway and Pearl Harbor.
This PS3 version also includes two exclusive missions -- North Sea and New Georgia Island in the Pacific -- along with 11 new aircraft, such as the Boulton Paul Defiant and De Havilland Mosquito.
Mission objectives vary, but most involve listening to a briefing, assigning orders to your squad mates, locking onto targets in the unfriendly skies, and of course, blasting the enemy into oblivion. Other missions involve taking photographs of activity on the ground or bombing runs.
Supporting up to 16 players, multiplayer modes include: Onslaught (you must shoot down as many planes as possible in a predetermined time limit); Kamikaze (destroy wave after wave of kamikaze fighters before they hit your base); and Historical Battles, where you can play some of the solo campaign missions cooperatively with a friend online or beside you on the same TV (via split-screen).
PS3 owners also will find a bonus squadron-based multiplayer game, dubbed Base Assault, not found in other versions of "Blazing Angels."
The wireless PS3 controller is used to fly the various planes -- using traditional buttons as well as the built-in motion-sensing technology -- but simulator snobs may prefer a flight stick instead. It would be remiss not to mention that the rumble feature, which isn't in the latest PlayStation controller, is sorely missed in this type of game.
While the graphics are gorgeous, one problem is poor frame rates that cause the action to slow down whenever there are a lot of planes or tanks onscreen at the same time.
This not only takes away from the suspension of disbelief, but those who shelled out up to $600 for a PS3 and its allegedly powerful new Cell processor will probably be disappointed in the occasionally choppy performance in this game.
Another problem with Blazing Angels is the somewhat repetitive and easy single-player missions. Despite the fact that you can play through more than 20 chapters in the main campaign -- and unlock three additional solo game modes -- the lack of variety in the objectives and simplified artificial intelligence mean you're likely to get bored after a couple of sittings.
It's too bad Blazing Angels suffers from these shortcomings, as its stellar graphics and many solo and multiplayer game modes barely lift this game up from hovering around mediocrity.
That said, war buffs or flight enthusiasts may want to get their wings by renting this PS3 game for the weekend.
"Blazing Angels: Squadrons of WWII" lets you assume the role of an ace pilot.
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