In Mike Doolittle's review of Crimson Skies, although he had many splendid things to say about the game, I was surprised to see a rating that was just above average. Perhaps I tend to immerse myself in a game world too deeply, from reading the backstory to wondering what experience the designers expected me to have as the roguish pilot Nathan Zachary. What I found at the end of my journey was a far richer experience overall than Mike gave the game credit for.
The game should appeal to fans of old time serials and alternate history as the storyline very solidly puts together a world where Tales of the Gold Monkey meets Sky Captain & The World of Tomorrow. In fact, Sky Captain even seems to be directly lifting part of its professor plotline from Crimson Skies (insert spoiler embargo here). Fans of the Shadowrun novels and role-playing games will recognize a world where the U.S.A. no longer exists—a world divided into nation states, some of which have become Native American strongholds. To this end, the game incorporated these story elements extremely well into all of the major areas open to exploration. Each of these environments has their own unique challenges and villains, and their variety should be commended.
What the planes may lack in firepower (with only primary and secondary weapons), they make up in the variety of aircrafts I could fly. Some ships were more suited for certain situations and tasks. Flying through tight canyons required the use of a mini-gyro whereas taking on dogfighters in the tranquil mountainous terrain of SeaHaven was better suited to the Devastator and its magnetic rockets. Each aircraft requires its own special handling and deciding which approach would work best kept the game from getting dull.
There is not enough credit given to the sandbox aspects of this game either. Most flight games feel forced, lumbering ahead mission after mission, never allowing free roaming exploration or offering the joyful experience of casually flying about. Here, however, the thrill of flying into SeaHaven's active volcano to collect tokens for upgrades (all while listen to the Philip Glass-ian soundtrack that perfectly captures the mood) is just one of many exciting touches to be experienced. There was plenty to keep me occupied including harrowing races and, my personal favorite, attacking unsuspecting zeppelins to earn a little extra cash for my fortune hunter.
Crimson Skies is well above the mark of mediocre and deserving of a better score than first given. It's definitely not a flight sim, but the theatrical presentation, cinematic elements, and storytelling mentioned above made it a thumb-crampingly wonderful experience for me.