Neeeeeeow! Dakka dakka dakka - Booooooom!
To fight off the omnipresent bad guys, each craft comes complete with its own unique weaponry; an unlimited primary weapon (assigned to right trigger), usually a typically dakka-dakka-boom machine gun of some sort, and a secondary weapon of death; normally a powerful missile or laser which tends to semi-lock on if you happen to get your target reticule near your enemy.
Unlike so many aerial combat games, you're not simply fighting a bunch of blurry pixels on the horizon that whizz past every now and then. The draw distance is massive, pop up is entirely absent, and the resolution is crisp enough to give you a clear view of what's going on at all times. Even better, the dogfights regularly get up close and personal, and it's at this point that the graphical effects really shine through. Each and every craft is rendered with exquisite detail, and the explosions are about as satisfying as they get - albeit with some minor frame rate loss if you happen to be at the scene of an explosion at close quarters.
In general, the sheen and polish surrounding High Road To Revenge is of the highest standard. Within an instant you're struck by the realisation that the quality of presentation and visual excellence is exactly what Microsoft has been gunning for, and it must be satisfying for the company to see a first party title delivered to such high standard just when the platform needs it most. Even the most seemingly bland landscapes are richly textured, the buildings immensely detailed, the weather/water effects delicious, the lighting excellent and the particle effects superb. It's all been crafted with such an inspired degree of care that every area is instantly brought to life - and all to the sound of ba-da-ba ba ba ba baaaaaaaaaa Indy Jones-style music magic. Add to that the console friendly slick manoeuvring, the lack of instant death scenery collision and consistently sympathetic camera angles and you've got a delightful backdrop for what is actually a deceptively simple gameplay experience.
Bad FASA. Baaaaaad.
The gameplay isn't without its frustrations or problems, however. One ludicrous feature is the Restart option. Having completed four missions of a fairly lengthy campaign, I chose to restart after a bad start, but rather than restore me to my last checkpoint, it restarted the whole damn campaign much to my torment and frustration. Exactly how stupid an idea is that on the part of FASA? Grrr. Also, the variety of missions isn't what it could be. After eight hours or so, you'll ruefully reflect that missions aren't much more than an endless procession of dogfights, albeit ramped up with an ever-increasing enemy count, resulting in repeated attempts to progress and probable frustration.
Just as well, then, that the relatively brief and shallow single-player campaign is supplemented with some truly superb multiplayer action, featuring the requisite System Link and four player split-screen mode alongside the option for Live subscribers to log on and duke it out in the skies with up to 15 other pilots across six different modes on five different maps. Guest users can also join in via a split-screen mode, which is a very welcome touch; while a two month Live trial voucher in the pack should give plenty of curious online gamers the chance to sample what the fuss is all about.
Mode wise, there's Dogfight/Team Dogfight, which are the deathmatch equivalent, Keep Away/Team Keep Away, which is the King Of The Hill-style mode where a player/team has to grab and maintain possession of some loot up to a time limit, Flag Heist is - you guessed it - Capture The Flag, while Wild Chicken has you soaring after our feathered food favourite for points while attempting to down your enemy.
Online is where it's at
All modes have their moments, but after the initial rush of pure aerial dog fighting, the joy of flag capturing or loot possession shades it in terms of long-term online fun. Lag issues are kept to a minimum, and only appear to be noticeable when you're picking up health/ammo items. In all other aspects this was a completely smooth experience, although the servers seemed pretty sparse at times, and getting games off the ground through the lobby took longer than expected, with a general lack of players causing the host to hang around for ages. Then again, we were playing it prior to its European launch...
Long-term the novelty of flying planes around using what is largely a rehash of the same old modes might get slightly dull and unless you've got the full complement of 16 players, the maps can feel somewhat empty; not to mention the fact that there's only five of them. Otherwise, it's another superb addition to the service and if you can put up with the inevitable whooping Yanks over the voice communicator then there's much to admire here. Long-term addicts will doubtlessly be delighted to note that there's a ranking system to check how they fare against the world's best pilots (and right now we're rubbish), and downloadable content, presumably in the form of more multiplayer maps is also on the agenda soon. From our time with it so far, it's fair to say that High Road To Revenge is justifying its rave reviews.
Time to get High with my friends!
Overall, High Road To Revenge is an excellent, polished package that offers instant and constant entertainment from the moment it hits the disc tray. It's by no means groundbreaking or remotely innovative, and you might get fed up with some rather samey single-player mission objectives, but it's all delivered with a charm and style that will win over your heart and ultimately offers a satisfying multiplayer facet that helps round off the package nicely. Definitely one of the most enjoyable Xbox releases we've seen this year.