What happened, John Riccitiello? Was it only three years ago you were proclaiming the dawn of a new era at Electronic Arts, kicking the company’s talent-stifling management practices into touch, championing new IP, engaging with the creatives? Was it only two years ago that your release schedule was stuffed with excitingly unknown quantities, games like Mirror’s Edge or Dead Space, Spore and Mass Effect?
When did the old demons of Franchise-Milking and Sequelitis redouble their hold on the enterprise? When did the idea for a Renaissance remix of God of War suggest itself? When did you decide to Modern-War-ify Medal of Honor? When did Rock Band become one long chain of DLC packs? When did gravity kick back in, Riccitiello – when did the engines gutter? When did you realise that blandness still sells?
Oh, I’m terribly sorry. I seem to have vomited a lot of superficial corporate analysis over the top of the page there. Excuse the mess – it’s just that I’ve been playing a lot of MySims SkyHeroes recently, and all this pent-up ennui has to earth itself somewhere.
A chunky, kiddified third-person air combat game, SkyHeroes is a reminder that for every cutting edge in your intellectual property portfolio, every delicate blue blade of ambition and invention, you need something blunt and comfortable and obvious to make up the numbers. It’s how Incognito’s marvellous Warhawk might roll if they slowed the jetfighters down to jogging speed, castrated the arsenal, ripped out land vehicles and the bulk of the modes and attempted to fill the resultant, echoing void with Simlish.
The Sims license features for the sake of marketing only, not that there’s much else for it to get involved with. Mission types there are two – deathmatch and race – and most of the single player script (which has its moments, to be fair) consists of finding new ways to make these familiar scenarios sound unfamiliar. Hey, you’re defending an aircraft carrier while its AA guns are repaired! Get up there and kill everything. Hey, you’re tracking down a squadron of Ninja Pilots! Get up there and kill everything. Hey you’re testing an advanced engine type! Get up there and fly through checkpoints. Hey, your pulse just stopped! Get back to the shop and ask for a refund.
The dogfighting is well-executed enough to coax out the muscle memories instilled by superior vehicular blasters, a watery stew of Mario Kart and Star Fox. Floating boost gates help players into and out of close engagements, weapon pick-ups hover tantalisingly over steeples or inside tunnels, homing missiles are caught off-guard by handbrake turns, floating mines spew cog-shaped repair tokens under fire.
It’s quite dreadfully competent, sufficiently more-ish that you’re in danger of forgetting that you could do better, like a packet of supermarket brand tortillas. Races, on the other hand, are just plain old dreadful. Computer pilots are cheaply over or underpowered, and choice of armaments too often decides who’s top of the podium.
At least there are some fun environments to look at while you’re chasing your own bullets, filled with fat round artillery barrels and sponge-cake Aztec temple facades and silly Star Trek props. None of them really affect how you play, unless you count the AI’s bluebottle-esque tendency to get stuck under or behind things in cluttered areas, but they’re quite attractive in a low-tech sort of way.
The same can be said of the planes themselves, which may be customised with parts awarded for first, second or third scoreboard placings, as in ModNation Racers. The practical ramifications aren’t drastic, again, but cobbling together a bedfellow for Jimbo the Jet is worth a laugh, or at least a tolerant chuckle – especially in the wake of HAWX 2, with its taste for severely proportional product placement. Which makes for a jazzier wing thruster, a bunsen burner or a Roman Candle? Decisions, decisions.
What else? Local split-screen and online multiplayer, otherwise known as everything you’ve already come across in the campaign, sans storyline – and at the present moment in time, sans players. It’s nice to see a split-screen option in a modern console release, I’ll admit. We could do with more of that, Riccitiello, and fewer MySims games.
I feel a bit stupid for ragging on SkyHeroes. It’s not aimed at me, nor in all likelihood at you. It’s aimed at people old enough to hold a controller but not old enough to comprehend the basics of aviation, including the principle that a plane’s wings ought to extend further than the pilot’s hairdo.
It was never going to be clever, or challenging, or original, and you certainly didn’t need me to tell you that – just check out a trailer, or any of the other titles in this cynical little sub-series (actually, don’t bother with the second bit). So well done me for telling you what you already knew. Now go sign the petition for a Warhawk sequel.