Frequently compared to FTL: Faster Than Light, Bomber Crew is a survival simulator with roguelite elements which challenge players to manage a Lancaster bomber and its crew. Its portrayal of aerial warfare is simplified in the best sense of the term, giving insight into the lives of World War II aircrews without dumbing down the subject matter. Aircrew may die and planes may perish, but the campaign continues with resources and player progress intact.
At first glance Bomber Crew looks like it could be a game for children, with bright colours and a cartoonish art style. It is genuinely charming and lighthearted, but it is also a complex and challenging simulation that treats its subject matter with respect. Bomber Crew isn’t realistic but it is firmly rooted in reality, with missions based on real WWII operations and technology consistent with the time period. There is however one significant departure from historical accuracy, firmly aligning the game with the increased social equality and cultural diversity of the modern world. The typical white males of authentic 1940s RAF aircrews are joined in the recruiting pool by men and women of various ethnicities, all lined up to be judged by their stats and skill levels.
Players start out with a basic Avro Lancaster bomber and a selection of potential recruits. From there they must assemble, equip and train their crew as well as upgrade the plane to improve its survivability and effectiveness. Intelligence points and money are required to unlock and buy gear and upgrades, and these are earned on missions for completing objectives, taking optional intelligence photographs and getting the plane back to the airbase. The game does a great job of pushing players to prioritise and make compromises that best fit the way they like to play. These choices have a significant impact on gameplay and require careful weighing of risks and benefits. For example, heavy armour plating allows a plane to cruise through flak at low altitude while the player focuses on objectives, but a player using up their weight capacity with armour will be limited to using weaker guns.
Players who are comfortable juggling rapid manoeuvring with managing other crew actions might opt instead for a lighter and deadlier build and try to mitigate the plane’s vulnerability by minimising time at low altitude. A more cynical approach is to use two armoured engines and two lightweight ones with the expectation that the flimsier engines will be wrecked during the mission. Crew members also earn XP on missions from actions like destroying enemy planes, even if the mission is aborted. As crew members level up they improve their primary skill set and eventually become able to cross-train in a secondary skill, allowing players to use more sophisticated deployment tactics and improving flexibility when things go wrong.
The engineer is an expert in looking at dials
Objectives may vary, but Bomber Crew’s mission structure is essentially repetitious. It always involves flying somewhere, taking photographs and/or dropping bombs or supplies, then hopefully getting back to the airbase. Fortunately, players can speed up the beginnings and endings of missions while they are over British soil. Some missions will award a buff for the next couple of missions played, such as enemy armour or damage decreases. Sequencing missions to acquire these buffs can give enough of an advantage to push a weak plane and crew through tougher missions, and this is the fastest way back to fighting strength after losing a plane and crew. The safer alternative is to grind out low-risk side missions, which is lucrative if all optional photographs are taken, but can be repetitious. The missions which advance the campaign are the most memorable and interesting, such as becoming a dambuster in Operation Chastise or providing aerial support for Operation Overlord.
As the campaign progresses the enemies get nastier, going from slow prop fighters unable to operate above mid altitude to jet fighters that can pursue the Lancaster up to high altitude. There are also a series of unique named enemy Aces, which are tougher to kill and have substantial bounties on their heads. The difficulty of defeating the Aces is largely dependent on when and where they are encountered, as the presence of other enemies and hazards makes it harder to focus fire on them or survive the damage they inflict.
Bomber Crew is fun and addictive, but the prospect of permadeath makes every outing a gamble. From a practical standpoint it hurts to lose an upgraded plane or levelled crew member, but it’s surprisingly easy to become attached to them and feel the loss emotionally too. The game provides replacements, but at a lower level than those lost. New crew recruits seem to average 2-3 levels below those lost, while plane upgrades can be several levels below as well. It’s not too hard to level up the primary skill of new recruits due to side missions repopulating. The bigger problem is that their secondary skills are completely unlevelled, and these become increasingly important as the campaign progresses. There may be someone who has played Bomber Crew without any losses, but it clearly isn’t expected. In fact, the campaign menu includes a Memorial section containing a vast plaque listing the names of fallen crew members.
Customisation options ensure the plane looks pretty as it crashes and burns
Bomber Crew may be a port from PC, but Runner Duck has done a good job of optimising it for consoles and the controls are simple and easy to learn. Unlike mouse users, console players frequently have to scroll through the crew to select the one required. However the developer has built in a time-slowing effect while switching between crew members to offset the time spent doing this. Having to keep going under pressure is an essential characteristic of the game, so there is no tactical pause. However there is an option to activate “slow time,” which hopefully is enough for most players in need of a little extra processing time.
The achievement list is a very manageable mixture of firsts, campaign progression, cumulative progress and astounding feats of survival. The most time-consuming achievement will be the one for destroying 200 targets, but the most challenging is likely to be maxing out both the primary and secondary skills of a character as this requires keeping them alive for a long time.
Check out our Best Xbox Simulation Games Available in 2018 article for a compilation of other great games in this genre.
SummaryBomber Crew has a cheerful and charming exterior, beneath which lurks a complex and challenging survival simulator. Gameplay is fun and addictive, with added suspense from the constant threat of permadeath for the current plane and crew. Small problems can rapidly escalate into disasters, and disasters can lead to the frustration of dealing with a new under-levelled and under-equipped crew and plane while well into the campaign. This may temporarily halt campaign progression, but easier side missions can be replayed to get back up to full strength. Players are challenged to use their strategic muscles both in building their plane and crew and when taking them into action, with build choices having a significant impact on gameplay. Challenge Mode provides an alternative to the campaign and a chance to experiment with different builds while completing wave objectives. Altogether, it's well worth the plane ticket.
- Fun and addictive
- Easy to learn to play
- Choice of game modes
- Side missions can be repetitive
- No choice of difficulty level
- Permadeath can be stressful
The reviewer flew over 50 missions, losing 6 bombers and 50 crew and earning 22 out of 30 achievements. An Xbox code was provided by the publisher.
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