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Bomber Crew Review — A Mahogany Lancaster for Penguins

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Top Hole. Bally Jerry pranged his kite right in the how’s your father. Hairy blighter, dicky-birdied, feathered back on his Sammy, took a waspy, flipped over his Betty Harper’s and caught his can in the Bertie.

What do you get when you mix guns and bombs with a lot of crew management and set it all in an Avro Lancaster? That, my friends, is called Bomber Crew. While I usually go out of my way not to make the same comparison as everyone else, it’s hard not to notice at least a passing resemblance to some rogue-like set in space that goes beyond 186,363 miles per second. Yes, it may remind you of that game, but it’s more than that. A lot more. Now, if you are keen to find out more, the bus driver is waiting in the pulpit and needs an arse-end Charlie to cover our six. This is going to be a dicey-do, so don’t forget your Mae West in case we ditch in the drink.

Er, I’m afraid I don’t quite follow you, Squadron Leader.

It’s perfectly ordinary banter, Squiffy. Banter’s not the same if you slow it down, but I shall and get everyone up to speed. Let’s start with crew selection. The Lanc has a fairly large crew to manage: pilot; navigator; radio operator; bomb aimer; engineer; and two gunners. There will be several candidates for each position so choose wisely, as they aren’t all the same. Having the right person for the job is important here — everyone’s life depends on it. Of course, just having a crew isn’t enough either; they need to be properly geared for their jobs.

There is no shortage of things that need to be managed in Bomber Crew. The crew gear is just one aspect: as you gain money and experience for completing missions, new gear becomes available to purchase. Each piece can have a profound effect on performance. Some offer more protection, but at the cost of speed and visa versa. Those aren’t the only concerns — it gets pretty cold at higher altitudes, so if you fancy flying high it’s best to make sure your crew won’t freeze to death. That’s not the only hazard to prepare for either. There are oxygen canisters to consider in case of a primary failure on the plane or long exposure to high altitude. In the event of a real catastrophe, having some land and water survival aids can mean the difference between life or death. Once a crew member is gone, they are gone forever.

Knowing that you’re going to want to do everything you can to protect them — and not just by choosing what they’re wearing — upgrading your bomber is going to be essential as well. Coming back looking like Swiss cheese isn’t really a goal here, even if they do patch it up for free. Adding armor increases weight, which is going to require more powerful engines. Want better guns? Again, more weight. While you’re at it, probably best to upgrade the electrical systems so they don’t go on the fritz by their own. Fire extinguishing systems will keep you from climbing on the wing in mid-air with a hand-held version. Those boffins really went into overdrive in their innovations. At this point though, you’re probably thinking, ‘Wow, that’s a lot to consider and manage!’ and you’d be right, but don’t worry, it’s not as bad as you think.

Jenkins, fix the outer port engine before it  packs up!

Right, so I know I said it wasn’t too bad trying to manage everything and I still believe that, but there’s still more to juggle. Besides each crew member’s regular job duties, they also gain more skills with experience. Again, keeping them alive is the only way that’s going to happen. Each crew member can gain three new skills per role. The good news is that this actually can cut down on your workload. The radio operator being able to auto-tag targets is a prime example, keeping down precious time spent scanning and tagging them manually. I’ve mentioned engine fires a few times — being able to have the engineer sit in his or her seat and put it out keeps things far less hectic and keeps you available to take care of other matters as they pop up.

So while yes, there is technically more available to you and consequently more to manage, it can be done far more efficiently. Be thankful really that one does not start with all these abilities or it would certainly seem an impossible task. By the time these open up you have either mastered the tasks ‘the hard way’ or improved your plane to help in areas in which you may seem deficient. There is only one area for which there isn’t much prep and that is first aid. The idea is to not need it but, well, you’re going to.

You don’t have time to wait for the blood wagon and body snatchers.

There is a reason that they didn’t send solo bombers out on missions without either being in a formation or with some fighter cover — you’re a sitting duck. Admittedly, they did have to find that out the hard way. If an airman goes down — and doesn’t just think he’s been shot because of a can of tomato soup a la Memphis Belle — you’ll need to revive him. You have two minutes to do this or they will be lost forever. This is also the first and only real frustration I had with Bomber Crew. It took losing two good crew members before I finally figured out where the med kit even was on the plane. The game told me what I needed to do, but never let on where the dang thing was. That part also seems to be left out of the tutorials and training, which otherwise are quite good.

Now for something completely different.

The lack of indication of where the med pack is is truly only frustrating until you find it and there are some other areas that could probably use a bit of improvement as well. The first thing that really struck me as strange was the quit button, which is tucked away in the options menu. Probably an oversight, but could really stand to be found without a search. The second issue is one that really may not bother some of you at all. That is how the plane moves at times.

Full-on rudder turns. I don’t mean small course corrections either, but full-on 90°, 180° and 270° turns with just the rudder and rather sharply, too. I get that it certainly doesn’t have to be a full-on simulation, but it just looks strange at times, especially when lining up with the runway for a landing. From a gameplay standpoint I get why turning that way is most likely the best solution, but at the very least, the turning radius could be a whole lot larger to make it look a little less strange. The rudders don’t seem to move anywhere near far enough either, as I barely notice them moving. I know that may sound a bit picky, but it just tightens up the look of everything.

The last sort of area that may need some looking at is in the campaign. Overall, the campaign is pretty well done with one slight potential issue. Players will fly a few missions before a critical mission appears. Critical missions are based on actual historic missions that took place and you can tell how much effort was put into them. They do make some of the ‘stock’ missions seem weak in comparison but that isn’t the real issue. The first time around, I took on the critical missions the second they became available. That turned out to be a bad idea and it came back to bite me in the butt. After a full crew loss and two lost planes I felt stuck, so I tried a new strategy.

That strategy is one simple enough that most of us might just do it: milk the ‘easy’ missions to gear up, upgrade the plane until you can’t anymore and move on. I figured at some point I would be forced to take the critical mission. Turns out that wasn’t the case. If you want to grind out all the upgrades at the very bottom tier, you can. I’m not totally sure what to make of that. It’s not like it’s a rogue-like. On the one hand, this does help if you do lose everything. On the other hand, completing regular missions later on with a green plane and crew is unbelievably hard. Plus, just filling up at the bottom rung like I was doing didn’t really seem like the way it was intended to be played. There might need to be a limit on missions before you have to take the critical ones, or even just a game over at some point. It’s nice that they’ll let you keep your progress, but with a real possibility of not being able to complete anything at all at some points in time, restarting seems the only option anyway.

Does Bomber Crew make the grade?

Honestly, yes, it most certainly does. The game play itself is extremely fun. The management aspects become like clockwork in a hurry and build at an appropriate pace. The drawbacks are relatively few and seem mostly if the team were so focused on making the gameplay of such a good quality that they missed some things on the peripheral and none of those things are even remotely game breaking. The game itself can be so addicting that you might not really notice or care about these things, making it one game that I can see myself playing for a long, long time.

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