Manage your own Lancaster bomber crew during air raids, as you try your best to be successful but fail miserably.
Genre: Simulation, Strategy
Developer: Runner Duck
Publisher: Curve Digital
Release Date: 19 Oct, 2017
At first glance Bomber Crew is really enticing, with the cartoony graphics and the promise of managing your own bomber crew during World War II raids, it seems like it would appeal to anyone who is a fan of the old B-17 game or WWII enthusiasts in general, but the truth might be somewhat different.
As someone who was always fascinated by History and military conflicts, World War II was always a subject that interested me greatly, and when I first saw Bomber Crew on Steam I knew I had to play it. I must admit, I was quite excited to try this one out, but like a lot of things in life, once I finally got the taste of it, it became apparent to me that no matter how good the game sounds, it has some inherent design problems that might ruin some people’s fun.
Let’s start with the very basics. The whole idea of the game is very simple, you complete missions, you get rewarded with intel and money, and you upgrade your crew and your bomber, rinse and repeat. While this sounds very appealing, particularly if you’re into games that reward taking risks and have a permanent progression element, you’ll realize that not everything is what it seems once you lose your airplane for the first time. If one of your crew members dies during a mission and is not revived he will be lost forever, and the same goes for your plane, once it’s gone, it’s gone. However, you can still improve the chances of your crew surviving at sea or behind enemy lines by purchasing certain upgrades, such as better clothing or a carrier pigeon.
Now, while the game features eight campaign missions, which are unique, there’s always at least one side mission that you can do in case you need to get better equipment, so there’s potentially an infinite amount of side missions for you to do, if you enjoy the game that much. At first, this made me think that this would help mitigate any eventual losses that you’d suffer, as it allows you to grind, but losing only becomes a real issue later on the campaign when the side missions that are available are too difficult to complete without the upgrades that you had up until the moment when you lost everything. I’m not going to say they’re impossible, even though I haven’t been able to complete one after losing a plane, but they’re pretty damn hard.
So, you might be thinking, “are upgrades and progression really that important that nullify player skill?”, and my answer to you is yes, they are. Everything comes down to the actual gameplay during missions, which even if you do everything correctly and as fast as possible, if you don’t have a few specific upgrades, you’re bound to fail. Please, allow me to explain. The airplane has a maximum size of 7 members, and these are distributed in the following manner, 2 gunners, 1 navigator, 1 radio operator, 1 pilot, 1 bomber and 1 engineer. While they can all perform the tasks outside their realm of expertise, it’s way more effective to have, for example, the engineer repairing the electrical or hydraulic system instead of the pilot. The thing is, there’s no real difficulty in telling the gunners to stay in the turrets, the pilot in the pilot seat, marking targets so that the gunners can engage, or tagging navigation markers so that you stay on course, because no matter how perfectly and how fast you do this, if you don’t have the “necessary” upgrades that you should have for that mission, there’s nothing you can do about it.
Something that kind of bothers me as well is the fact that these upgrades, that are so essential to your success, are not really that interesting either, at least for the most part. Aside from the fact that they change the way your bomber looks, and besides a few upgrades such as armor and turrets, they’re pretty much all just increasing your stats and add no real substance to how the game plays. On the other hand, they do add an extra layer of complexity to the customization element of the game as you can’t just upgrade your airplane as much as you can, you need to manage the amount of weight you put into it, so there is some degree of planning ahead in terms of upgrading. In the same way, customizing your crew members individual equipment also has an impact, as each one of them has their own stats, like temperature tolerance, armor, and speed, and these are directly affected by the gear that you give them, for better and for worse.
I’m sure that there will always be someone that will just say that the game is fine as it is, but I think that this isn’t a case of “by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail”. There’s no way for you to predict what’s going to happen on the next mission, and once you’re in it, the only way to save yourself in case of heavy losses is to close the game by force, so that it doesn’t autosave, because yes, the game doesn’t allow manual saving.
There are a couple of other things that should be mentioned, one of which is a complaint in regards to the gameplay, which only really applies during combat, which is the lack of a pause button. I’ve seen some people comparing this to FTL, and I must say that I agree with them, that game would very likely not be as enjoyable to play if you didn’t have the ability to pause the game at any given time. This is mainly due to the fact that things can get really hectic really fast, especially on later missions where you’re getting swarmed by enemies from all directions. However, on the latest patch, the developers have introduced the ability to slow down time for a brief period, which does help in mitigating the issue mentioned above. The other thing that I’d like to address is that, sometimes, when you land without a wheel you’ll still make it through, but I’ve also had the pleasure of having my plane land like usual and still losing it, thus having to purchase my upgrades all over.
In the end, despite the fact that it seems like all I’ve done was complain about the game, Bomber Crew is still fun and enjoyable at times. I’m sure some people will love it, while some people will think it’s too unforgiving for them, which I’d say that is my case. While managing your crew of little guys during air raids is fun for the first few hours, later on in the game you’re really at the mercy of your upgrade choices up until then, and all it takes is one wrong small step to be subject to grinding your way back up the food chain. I find it to be a real shame that a game with such potential and a rather unique premise is hurt by its design and things such as the lack of a manual save feature, therefore I’m going to have to pause it.