Snoopy Flying Ace
Just as our living-room soft furnishings play host to our backsides as we delve into the fantastic worlds served up by videogames, Snoopy’s perch atop his dog-house served as a launch-pad for his own flights of fantasy, transporting him into the cockpit of a World War I biplane, dog-fighting with evil The Red Baron – Snoopy was, in some respects, a gamer, just like us. It is fitting then that it is this element of Charles M Schulz’s famous comic that developer Smart Bomb Interactive has used as the basis for its online focussed Xbox 360 airborne shooter, Snoopy: Flying Ace.
The videogames industry has a pretty shoddy record of stuffing any old cartoon character in any old game in the hope that the branding alone will be enough to sell a few copies; in this case however, linking Snoopy with air-combat at least has the contextual grounding supplied by the comics. Spend some time with Snoopy: Flying Ace however, and it quickly becomes apparent that Smart Bomb have no qualms about leaving Charlie Brown’s yard, Snoopy’s doghouse and the World War I setting far behind. Sure, you may pilot biplanes emblazoned with the Germanic Iron Cross and Royal Airforce Ensign’s, but (unless our grasp of historical fact fails us) we don’t recall either side wielding huge spiked maces under their planes. Or being able to fire energy-draining homing missiles. Or having twin mini-guns attached to the tip of each wing. Yep, Snoopy: Flying Ace’s plays fast and loose with its historical/comic book setting.
There are three main modes in the game – offline single player, offline multiplayer (with split screen) and online play. As is often the case with multiplayer focussed titles, the single player campaign feels more like a series of training missions, arenas in which to hone your skills before entering the online fray. In fairness, it’s enjoyable enough, with Smart Bomb wisely choosing to add a fairly degree of variety, with dog-fighting rubbing shoulders with timed races and boss-battles amongst other mission types. All modes also feature ground-based flak cannons, which serve tactical purposes as well as adding another layer to the combat. Unfortunately, the complete lack of a compelling narrative in the single player means it’s not long before you’re tempted to go online.
Luckily, it is online that the game comes into its own. Playing like a (slightly more sedate) mixture of Incognito’s Warhawk, cult-classic Crimson Skies and Diddy Kong Racing (remember the flying bits?), Flying Ace gets much right. One obvious criticism is that, in the competitive mode, the number of people in any given game can have a large impact on how enjoyable an experience it is. We found it often more enjoyable when played with slightly smaller groups, as this allows more breathing space which in turn brings more tension and competitiveness. Enter a lobby with a full quota of 16 players, and some of the subtleties can get lost, as you’re bombarded from every angle and barely given enough time to focus on what your objective is, let alone achieve it.
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