Have You Played… Crimson Skies?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game recommendations. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

Still the flight sim I think most fondly of, with the possible exception of Stunt Island, but you should probably bear in mind that I’m a dumb-dumb stupid-head without the patience or manual dexterity for full-fat flight sims. Crimson Skies lifts me into the clouds because it’s all about the fantasy of being a pilot, rather than the safety-first reality of it. Derring-do and loop-the-loops, otherworldly sights and spirits never lower than sky-high. The alt-30s, historical sci-fi setting is just icing on Crimson Skies’ joyful cake.

I somehow didn’t realise until now that it was originally the brainchild of Jordan ‘Shadowrun’ Weisman, who was also involved in BattleTech and Mechwarrior. Jeez guy, you’ve got a generation in your hands. Weisman’s Crimson Skies was in fact a boardgame with little plane models, which to this day I would love to own. (There was a 2003 HeroClix-style game too, which I’m less interested in).

Anyway: Crimson Skies the game was styled like a Saturday morning matinee, and those perfect pilots with their lopsided smiles and Indiana Jones wit’n’grit, and that raw charm remains unusual in games to this day. I know Nathan Drake has his fans, but it doesn’t quite work on me when the guy’s actually superman: when it’s a voice coming from an alt-reality areoplane which is really, really super-fantastic fun to fly, then I’m in love.

55 Comments

  1. Captain Joyless says:

    I, too, have joyful memories of playing this game.

    • MollyThomas says:

      My last pay check was $9500 working 12 hours a week online. My sisters friend has been averaging 15k for months now and she works about 20 hours a week. I can’t believe how easy it was once I tried it out. This is what I do… http://www.wallstreet34.com

  2. zrg says:

    It also had one of the best installers with a full radio drama of a mission playing out while you wait for the progress bar to finish :)

    Found it: link to youtube.com

  3. Cyroch says:

    I actually often a time regretted never playing it. Is there a way to legally obtain it digitally and get it to run on Win7?

    • Orillion says:

      It does not run at all on modern hardware. I gave it about seven solid hours of trying various things to get it to run, and as I recall the closest I got was a completely black screen where the game was completely playable, provided you could do so entirely without visuals (and sound after about three minutes).

      • Nucleus says:

        Not true at all. Last time, around a year ago, I managed to get it working on Win8.1 with less than 30 minutes of googleing.

      • buzzmong says:

        I’ve had it working on Win7, so, it does work on modern hardware.

    • Premium User Badge

      Aerothorn says:

      To answer your first question: there is no way to legally obtain it digitally. Microsoft hasn’t digitally published any of their FASA Interactive stuff – I don’t know if this is a licensing thing, or if they just don’t want to bother with anything other than Flight Sim and Age of Empires.

      You can purchase it physically (on secondary markets) quite cheaply, FWIW.

    • wouzy says:

      This is an old favourite of mine and there thankfully is a fix to get it to run on at link to pcgamingwiki.com
      The fix itself can be found at link to timeslip.users.sourceforge.net

      Enjoy!

  4. michaelpjohnson says:

    I loved this game. I must have played it through at least three times on the XBox. I doubt it held up over the years, but I might have to find a way to replay this now.

    • ShineDog says:

      The XB version is actually a completely different game. It’s a pretty great shooter, but it’s definately a shooter, complete with floating pickups falling out of planes as you mow down badguys by the dozen.

      The PC version is one of those games from the what was to me a golden era of PC gaming, coming near the end of a tide of games I’ve heard referred to as fakesims. That is, games that give just enough of the feel of playing a simulator while actually being action games to add a little extra drama to the procedings. Things like Mechwarrior, X-wing, things like that.

      Crimson Skies PC is firmly in that camp, although it’s on the lighter end of the scale. Where the XB version drove like a flying car, on the PC you had full rudder, throttle pitch and yaw, and while you’ll down more than your share of enemies, it wasn’t always massive, unending waves, and it was you and your band of brigadeers and their charming writing, who were shamefully almost entirely absent from the console version.

      And yeah, by god it was a charming game. The mission design was exemplary, full of variety and character. Swooping down dangling a ladder from your fighter to grab someone from a train inside a tunnel, hijacking bombers midflight, stealing the spruce goose, chases through enormous holywood sets, those little screenshots the game took when you flew through somewhere dangerous, the little scrapbook of memories that filled in with extra stuff for completing bonus goals. Fuck me, what an incredible game.

      • Captain Joyless says:

        Wait, really?? I only played it on XBOX. I had no idea it was different on PC!

        • KesMonkey says:

          Yeah, they are both great games, but quite different. I’d say the PC version is an arcadey flight sim, with similarities to something like Ace Combat, whereas the Xbox version is more of a shoot-em-up similar to the all-range mode of Star Fox 64.

        • Premium User Badge

          Phasma Felis says:

          Yes! The Xbox version is prettier but kind of sucks, basically dumbing things down in the same way MechAssault did to MechWarrior. I dunno, I guess a lot of people liked it. I feel like a flying game where you just press a button to do an Immelman is about as exciting as a racing game where you press a button to take the perfect line through every turn.

      • smisk says:

        Man that description really sells it for me. I love stuff like TIE Fighter that’s sim-y enough to feel satisfying but not overly complicated. It’s sad that it’s not available digitally, I’m gonna have to see if I can acquire a copy somehow.

  5. Andrew says:

    I loved it, but never finished. I vaguely remember difficulty being too much and controls being all wonky (I think you need a flight stick with this one).

    Is there anything like that but with regular gamepad in mind? I have “BOMBon Steam, but it’s kinda meh. Maybe “No Man’s Sky” would be that thing (“fantasy of being a pilot”), but in space.

    • Andrew says:

      I know Nathan Drake has his fans, but it doesn’t quite work on me when the guy’s actually superman

      Yes, that’s my main complaint about that series, too. That’s why “The Last of Us” is so much better, ‘cause you believe that Joel is freaking murderer, who can handle half a dozen of regular people or tons of dumb “zombies” at a time. Nathan can kill, like, 50 people in one fight and then crack a joke. “Everyday Joe” my ass.

    • smisk says:

      Check out Vector Thrust and Sky Rogue on steam. Haven’t played either of them yet so I can’t vouch for their quality, but I tend to keep my eye out for arcadey flight games and put them on my wishlist.

      • Andrew says:

        Thanks! Clearly not the same, but I gonna look into those two.

    • Wetcoaster says:

      I loved it, but never finished. I vaguely remember difficulty being too much and controls being all wonky (I think you need a flight stick with this one).

      Like a lot of games with full 3-axis movement, it’s important to use the keypad instead of the arrow keys, with the 1 and 3 keys usually serving as the rudder. It makes a world of difference when aiming as roll + pitch (ailerons + elevators) often won’t react fast enough or provide the fine control needed for precise aiming.

    • gsilver says:

      I replayed Crimson Skies just last year, and used a 360 pad. It worked quite well with the game. Difficulty is a bit high (especially in the Hollywood missions) but so worth it.

  6. mxxcon says:

    This game is no longer playable on Windows 10 because DRM in it doesn’t work on win10.

  7. SomeDuder says:

    Great fun game, but there was something or other wrong with it, cant recall. I mostly enjoyed the setting tho, where zeppelins performed the same role as aircraft carriers in our own. Love it.

  8. Shazbut says:

    For all the ways in which the PC is the True Platform, the fact that this is still the closest we got to Pilotwings makes me sad.

    So many indie games being made, surely somebody out there could make a spiritual successor to the quintessential “isn’t flying fun!” game.

  9. peterako1989 says:

    This freaking trailer!!!!!!
    link to youtube.com

    Was inside another MS game(dont remember which)

    list of my Top 5 trailers, this is on that list!!!!

    Made a little 10 year old brat wet its pants.

  10. Richard_from_Winnipeg says:

    I installed this recently but haven’t gotten around to playing it yet. Maybe I’ll play it this weekend. Couldn’t get it to work in 21:9 though.

    Stunt island was a good time. Always loved how tje doctor would tell you about your injuries when you failed; “You have a separated clavicle, a lacerated spleen, and a hangnail.” Always cracked me up.

  11. Premium User Badge

    Bluerps says:

    I remember playing this when it was new. During that time I played pretty much anything that required a joystick and was not a hardcore simulation – the Wing Commanders, TIE Fighter, Archimedean Dynasty, etc. Even compared to the other games on that list, Crimson Skies was very good. I think I even read one of the novels set in the game’s universe.

    I loved that the optional challenges you could do in missions each gave you a little souvenir that was then displayed in one of the between-mission screens. Usually, the characters commented on them too during the mission. They were a bit like modern achievements, but not soulless.

  12. Dangersaurus says:

    This is one of my favorite games of all time. One of the few games where I would go back and replay until I “got it right.” This one had a Larry Holland/Totally Games style to the flight model and controls – fun to play but still with some depth for sim fans.

  13. EhexT says:

    “I somehow didn’t realise until now that it was originally the brainchild of Jordan ‘Shadowrun’ Weisman, who was also involved in BattleTech and Mechwarrior.”

    And Microsoft almost managed to kill all 3 of them permanently. Only Crimson Skies remains dead, but not for lack of trying to kill the 2 survivors.

    Incidentally for those that can’t get the game to run or a copy, Research Indicates did a great (sadly unfinished) LP on it. Historical research and a voice made for radio make it a must watch.

  14. jj2112 says:

    Yes, it is installed in my computer and I intend to replay it, never got past the section with the stunts in the city.

  15. yan spaceman says:

    Some time ago I bought Dogfighter, because I thought it might be like Crimson Skies. It is to a degree.

    link to store.steampowered.com

  16. snowgim says:

    Oh man, I loved this game so much.
    I remember the day I bought it was the same day I went on holiday away from any PCs, so I spent 2 weeks just poring over every last detail of the manual. When I finally got to play it, I was not dissapointed in the slightest.

  17. Monggerel says:

    I played Crimson Skies in that Limbo-sort-of I-can’t-quite-recall time when I was a teenager and most of the things I played were demos.
    Over and over.
    The joy of repetition.
    Over and over.
    To repeat is to repeat.

  18. Premium User Badge

    Aerothorn says:

    Between this and Mechwarrior 4 (and expansions), Microsoft really needs to get its shit on Steam and GOG. I mean, we all make fun of them when their “commitment to PC gaming” is releasing digital versions of 15-year-old games…but in this instance, they can’t even seem to do that.

    It really is a wonderful title – off the top of my head, I can’t think of another PC flight game that sits so squarely in the middle of sim and arcade. I feel like the closest point of comparison is actually Interstate ’76.

  19. urabutbl says:

    This along with Psychonauts are probably my favourite Xbox memories. Stellar game.

    • Premium User Badge

      Aerothorn says:

      As noted above, the Xbox version is actually a sequel that plays quite differently to the PC-exclusive original.

  20. ZombieChocobo says:

    Had no idea this was even on PC! Have nice memories of this on the Original Xbox! Fun times.

  21. buzzmong says:

    One of the best flight games ever. Good environment, good customability of airplanes (and skins!), interesting plot, good if cheesy voice acting, slightly bonkers.

    It’s an ace PC game.

    The Xbox version was a pale shadow of the PC game.

  22. bangy says:

    Jordan Weisman is a fucking genius.

  23. Arthur ASCII says:

    Yes, great game! Managed to get it running on Windows 7 a couple of years ago but I can’t remember how. About the most frustrating experience possible… switching to older video drivers, etc. I think the problem was it would only install under 32 bit so had to use my old 32-bit XP dual-boot to install it, then played it under Win7x64 by editing the registry. Or maybe that was another game altogether… haha! One thing I do remember, the game manual was a true work of art. Like a strategy guide with lots of background info, similar to the old Origin Strike Commander manual. Brilliant.

    • jj2112 says:

      I installed it recently, now there’s a fix for Win 7 that solves all the issues.

  24. Lokik says:

    Absolutely love this game and had tons of fun playing it as a teenager. The setting, art style, characters, planes, the various gangs and factions… all of them so cool.

  25. matty says:

    Never played it on the PC but I had (and still have) the original xbox version. I’d love to play it again but unfortunately my big black breeze block no longer works.

  26. GallonOfAlan says:

    I have indeed played it, still have the CD. Main overriding memories are that it was one of the first big Direct3D games, and it was a complete ballache without a pad or stick.

  27. saregos says:

    It would be handy on these “have you played” to include links to digital distribution when appropriate. Unfortunately I can’t find Crimson Skies anywhere except physical copies…

  28. PlanetTimmy says:

    One of the things I loved most about this game was the whole aircraft building setup. As far as I remember you chose an airframe, and could then buy engine, armaments, armour, and various gizmos to go on it. You always had to choose what kind of compromise you were going to make – you couldn’t make a plane that was heavily armoured, fast and packing all the guns in the game. It was possible make a jack-of-all trades plane, but it would be master of none.

    • ShineDog says:

      This was actually a weakness, IMO, because the customisation was crippled by some weird choices.

      Simply, you could only fire any single pair of guns at a time, so all of those planes bristling with cannons? Theres’ no point actually putting anything in those hardpoints. Ostensibly the heavier weapons were less accurate and had lower ROF, so you were supposed to get close to use them, giving weapons a niche and giving you reason to use them, along with specialised ammo types.

      In practise, you wanted a 50cal with all purpose bullets. This had a big enough ammo hopper to last most missions. You were then free to slam on a big engine and lots of armour and even have room for a few rockets.

      It’s a shame- and it didn’t fit with the kind of excess crimson skies was about. A real ww2 plane might have 8 machine guns and a cannon or two sending out ludicrous storms of fire, but in crimson skies you were really crippling yourself if you didn’t go for a bare minimum loadout, and you could dish it out just as hard with 2 50cals as with 8. In a world of monstrous hotrod fighters, that kind of sucks. It’s the one weakness to me.

  29. Qeyleb says:

    I remember it as being pretty unforgiving, and some longer missions could really have benefited from a checkpoint system. Still, the atmosphere and story was just wonderful, and kept me trying again and again. Never could finish the last mission…

    There was a wonderful Let’s Play series by ResearchIndicates that had an almost documentary type feel to it, especially the beginning: link to youtube.com
    But he never uploaded the last mission either.

  30. Uninteresting Curse File Implement says:

    Wait, this was on PC?? I watched ResearchIndicate’s LP of this and was drooling the whole time, but he said it was an XBOX-only title.
    Awesome news, I’m off to install it right aw- oh.

  31. Grible says:

    Reading this reminded me that I had an old CD marked “Crimson Skies” in the back of a drawer, part of a large number of similar CDs given to me by an old school chum, who no longer shares this world. Most of those discs are late 90’s early 2000s “hacker” stuff, little programs or odd utilities. I’d never bothered to try installing or running most of it, (and obviously it’s all wildly out of date) he was much more “into” computers than I was back then.

    But hey, why not. So I’ve dug the disc out (dodgy sharpie label writing and all) and here we go. It’s like he’s beside me saying “Have you played…” Cheers RPS.

  32. Joshua Northey says:

    It was definitely PC and was a lot of fun. No idea why it was dropped, and other far inferior games got 4 sequels.