Flying Tigers: Shadows over China – Review

It seems the game industry has decided now is a good time to once again revisit the once oversaturated World War 2 genre. With Activision recently allowing Call to Duty to return to its roots with the well-received Call of Duty World War II and DICE’s next installment of the Battlefield series rumored to be also set during the 2nd World War, it seems we may be experiencing a World War 2 renaissance so to speak. So, it’s a good a time as any for Acemaddox’s Flying Tigers, Shadows over China to give the players the chance to see and experience an area of the conflict not normally covered.

Flying Tigers is the first game to cover the real-life battles and events surrounding the secret American Volunteer Group (AVG). A secret squadron of volunteer elite American pilots the American government gathered in an attempt to help the Chinese against the Japanese air force before the USA was dragged into the Second World War following the catastrophic events at Pearl Harbour. The actions and missions of the AVG have not been covered before by much or any other media as far as I’m aware, so despite this game dipping it’s feet into some well-treaded waters, it does bring with it an almost untouched, fresh look to the conflict that took place.

At its heart, Flying Tigers is an Arcade shooter putting the player into various cockpits of the many fighter planes the Flying Tiger and their allies had available to them. Missions can vary between short single objective affairs to longer, multi-step missions that have you jumping between planes and pilots as the game moves the player between the different hotspots the original battles had that the missions are historically based on. You’ll be on missions that will have you bombing enemy positions, strafing enemy troops, torpedoing ships, dogfighting against Ace pilots and sitting in tail gunner positions as you try and fend off planes from tearing holes in the sides of your own planes. The variety doesn’t change much beyond the expected formula, but when you are flying fighter planes, you kind of know what to expect from this sort of game anyway and is hard to really criticise.
The campaign mode is quite short, with 13 Missions and sitting between 4-6 hours which could be knocked out in 1 to 2 good sessions. But that was me playing it on casual difficulty and with Arcade controls. Upping the difficulty may artificially pad out that playtime a bit while changing the control scheme from arcade to the ‘Pitch/Roll’ scheme, detailed more below, may add an additional level of complexity and difficulty for some.

Flying Tigers has two control modes the player can choose between. ‘Arcade’ is a simple, pick up and play scheme which will have you dogfighting and weaving between planes with relative ease. The downside is that you sacrifice some manouverability where pre-baked manoeuvres are assigned to the different directions of the D-pad, such as loops and barrel rolls – at times it feels like the flight model from the first Star Wars Battlefront, only a bit more sluggish and slower. They even slipped in the Hollywood style bullet time, or what Flying Tigers calls ‘TrazerTime’ which allows you to slow down time at will to allow for more precision shooting or tighter control of the plane during some of the more hairier combat moments. However, switching to the Pitch/Roll control scheme almost turns the flight model into a simulator rather than the more accessible arcade controls. It seems to give you much more control over the plane and allows you to manually perform the aforementioned pre-baked manoeuvres, making you feel much more in control of the plane. After trying both methods, I ended up settling for the arcade flight model. Not that there was anything inherently wrong with the Pitch/Roll controls – as both are perfectly functional, it will just come down to personal choice and whether you are looking for a more arcade or deeper experience from your time with Flying Tigers.

One caveat I felt, was when you are taking control of the tail gunners positions on some of the bomber missions. I found the controls for the turrets to be quite jerky and imprecise making aiming feel more difficult than it should and it makes those sections of missions more of an annoyance that you just want to get through as quickly as you can.

Graphics wise, Flying Tigers is a bit of a mixed bag. The various plane models are very well detailed, whether you view them from a 3rd person or from within the reasonable well-detailed cockpit interiors, so classic plane and World War enthusiasts will be happy with the level of attention that has been lavished on them. Landscape-wise, the game can sometimes give a true sense of being in a wide open space, with spacious undulating areas. There is, however, an ever-present rolling grey fog that just sits in the distance, obviously doing its job to hide the outer limits of the games draw area. But it has a negative effect of making the game world feel washed out. Sometimes the game replaces the fog with the effect of a low setting sun to hide the draw distance, which does make the game world seem much brighter in comparison to the foggy effect, but it can leave you with a weird feeling like you are flying over a wide static tile, with a scrolling background underneath you, so the effect isn’t quite as convincing as the fog. Even the ground textures feel quite murky and very low detailed. Plenty of trees and buildings can be seen dotted about the area, giving the landscape a natural realistic feel but their detail is also of a low quality, especially when compared to the planes you will be flying. It’s disappointing, but its compromises that have obviously been made to keep the game running as smoothly as it does. And Flying Tigers does run quite smoothly, even when the skies are filled with 30+ planes and tracer fire going off in all directions; the game does a great job of keeping up with the action and keeping the experience enjoyable.

On the sound and music side of things, Flying Tigers doesn’t quite hit the mark either. With Voice over’s that range from comical caricatures to some really cringe-worthy script moments. There is combat chatter too but suffers from the lack of variety and frequency that you would expect. The music tracks range from music that suits the format and time period to some really jarring rock tracks that kick in when the action heats up. Plane sounds and weapon effects are all on point, however.

There also seems to be some silly areas that are missing some essential polishing. While some cutscenes have enemy planes spiraling out of control and crashing with a satisfying explosion and debris, one particular mission has you bombing a railway bridge before an enemy-held train can cross it. Once destroyed, I expected the train to drive off and smash with just a satisfying explosion as the planes do in the other cutscenes, but no. Instead, the train and its carriages simply bounced off the opposite hillside and rolled down it, along with the bridge sections I had ‘destroyed’, making it feel more as if I had knocked down a child’s railway set. A jarring experience compared to all the other cutscenes.

Flying Tigers multiplayer mode has the standard set of game modes available for up to 16 players to dogfight in. With Deathmatch, Team deathmatch and capture the flag all to chose from. But unfortunately, during the time of my review, I couldn’t find anyone else out there who was playing Flying Tigers online to test and it didn’t matter whether I was hosting or I was trying to join another game, which was a real shame. Thankfully, there are a few other modes available to the player for when they finish the relatively short length of the campaign mode. Dogfight allows the player to pick any of the available planes in the game and fly against a set number of enemies, with options to select any of the available maps and to adjust the time of day settings. Then we have challenge modes, which pits the player against a collection of specific scenarios and mission objectives and asks the player to complete them within a certain amount of time. There is even a free flight mode available if you fancy jumping in any of the planes available and going for a jaunt through the maps, a welcome mode that can be used to get used to each of the plane’s manoeuvrability or even to master the advanced controls. Bottom line is, while the longevity of these additional modes will vary for each player out there, their inclusion can only be seen as a good attempt to offer more than just the standard campaign and multiplayer modes you get in some other games.

For its budget price, Flying Tigers would be a great choice for anyone looking to fill a void in their arcade shooter library. It’s short enough that it won’t outstay its welcome, but not long enough to fully satisfy the itch this game can scratch. It even has something to offer those who look for a little more simulation in their game experiences. It’s far from perfect, with lots of areas that could benefit from a little more polish and a multiplayer mode that seems destined to never even see if it had potential to fulfil, but still offers additional content beyond its campaign offerings to maybe keep bringing back some who would quickly discard it after completing the single player.