It has come to my attention that some Flareopaths are not obeying all 1405 tenets of The Flare Path Pledge. I have it on good authority that last Saturday a reader from Leeds watched Battle of Britain from beginning to end without wincing slightly every time an Me 109-impersonating HA-1112-M1L 'Buchon' appeared. Incredibly, I've also heard of cases where FPs have referred to railway stations as 'train stations' and failed to genuflect when Donald Featherstone was mentioned. Most disturbing are the reports that some of our brethren are routinely ignoring Tenet 933. Yes, it seems there are those among us who, on spotting a 'We need a Crimson Skies sequel!' forum post, stay silent instead of pointing out that a spiritual sequel already exists.
I've been flying that spiritual sequel this week, and talking to La Moustache Studio, the petite French outfit responsible for its rare charm, plentiful thrills, and modest collection of flaws.
BOMB was born in 2007, the spare-time pipe dream of two friends, Jean-Baptiste Griffo, a programmer, and Victor Chevallier, an IT support provider. When the pair found themselves jobless in 2011, development accelerated and stakes were raised.
Victor: “We've spent all our time and money on it, made all possible mistakes, twice, removed a lot, added a lot, eventually went crazy and... it's done. We are 2 full time developers, both doing artistic and technical stuff, and we've hired people for character design, aircraft design, music and UI and we've been helped by friends. We'd like to continue with more people.”
The result of La Moustache's plucky punt is a game fizzing with joie de vivre. You play Marcel Gaston, a loveable reprobate with the piloting skills of Porco Rosso, the appetites of Captain Haddock, and the business acumen of a middle-aged PC games critic. Though his personality is communicated entirely through inter-mission text banter with business partners, employers and enemies, Marcel quickly emerges as a one-off, the kind of colourful, wittily scripted antihero that flying games have been deprived of for far too long.
Where Nathan Zachary was all thigh-slapping derring-do and square-jawed Saturday-morning-pictures buckle swashing, BOMB's star is gruff, reckless, sulky and sometimes comically chauvinistic. Acting as foils to the Gallic grump are a series of equally well-drawn friends and foes. Takeshi, Belle, Souleyman… it would be a tragedy if this was the last time we saw this classy cliché-free cast.
BOMB was to have character dialogues that branched “like in Archimedean Dynasty” but, sadly, like aircraft customisation, that feature proved too time-consuming and was jettisoned enroute. What we get instead is a consistently entertaining 16 chapter linear campaign that spans three large attractive maps, involves two fantasy flyables (both of which have 3D cockpits), and delivers a well-judged mix of dogfighting, ground attack, and anti-shipping action.
If you've cruised Crimson Skies, you'll know roughly what to expect. Plenty of stick waggling and lead spraying, a bit of bomb lofting and rocket slinging, some blimp bothering, the odd canyon run and spot of sly under-the-radar trespass... eventful excursions and atmospheric venues are guaranteed, innovative sortie structures are not. While landings and take-offs occasionally feature, chances are you'll finish the story mode slightly disappointed more jaunts didn't start and end on the sky hooks of dawdling dirigibles.
Flight dynamics are rooted in reality but powerful engines and feather-light airframes, means energy conservation and stalls are not major concerns at present. That's a pity, especially as hostile aircraft and AAA gunners don't feel particularly threatening. You won't perish often in the BOMB campaign and when you do, death is as likely to come from an unanticipated cliff face, mountain peak, or passing wingtip, as a stream of cannon rounds.
There are moments in the story when the going threatens to get tougher. The first time you see a beanstalk of SAM smoke on the horizon, or spot the sleek lines of a Calamari over your shoulder, you wonder if the Grim Reaper is about to apply a whetstone to his rather dull scythe. However, the gear shift never happens. I'd love to see the devs take another look at bandit behaviours or maybe start handing out heatseekers to their hostiles. BOMB's furballs deserve to be as sweaty as they are spectacular.
Of course, if the challenge level was increased, something would need to be done about the lack of autosave checkpoints. Many sorties have several phases and sizeable enemy formations to ravage (usually you'll need to down all enemies to progress). Fail at any point and you're forced to start the chapter from scratch.
Outside of the campaign, a skirmish generator and three multiplayer modes (DM, TDM and race) offer no-strings dogfighting opportunities against up to 16 foes. Until AI opponents manoeuvre a little more purposefully and dispense shells with more deftness, I can't see myself participating in many standalone furballs. MP is more appealing but, at the moment, willing wingmen/victims are thin on the ground.
Though Marcel and chums may return one day “We'd love to develop this universe further, like in an open world, a kind of “Beyond Good and Evil-with-planes” game” La Moustache's next project won't have wings. “No more flying for us for at least the next couple of years. Of course we will continue to support and add new content to BOMB (modding tools are coming) but after 3 years on this one, we want to experiment with other genres.”
That desire for change is totally understandable; I just hope Victor and Jean-Baptiste realise how close their first born is to excellence. An AI tweak here, an FM option there, and BOMB will have combat - as well as characters, plot and atmosphere - comparable to the magnificent and sorely-missed Crimson Skies.
BOMB is out now on Steam priced £9.
The Flare Path Foxer
Last week's towering intellect belonged to SpiceTheCat. Given a leg up by Matchstick, deejayem, Flying Penguin, Beowulf, BryanTrysers, Rorschach617, Artiforg, foop and FurryLippedSquid, the fearless feline scaled...
Thanks to the creativity of guest foxer fabricator Mark Judd, Roman hasn't lifted a finger since Saturday.
Actually that's not entirely true, on Tuesday my grizzled puzzle producer lifted four fingers and a thumb in a fist-pump of triumph on realising that the components in Mark's cunningly constructed collage all pointed to a ████████████████ theme.
All answers in one thread, please.