Tuesday, July 10

Review: Bomber Crew [Nintendo Switch eShop]

When I first heard about Bomber Crew, a game that revolves around managing a squad of crew members flying a World War II bomber, I actually had thought it was going to be a cooperative multiplayer game. The fact that it is actually a single-player strategy game complete with some roguelike tendencies made it a bit more interesting but also intimidating. What would a typical mission look and feel like? Would the control be more direct or indirect? The final product is a challenging and heavily unique experience, requiring a fair degree of planning, a dose of good fortune, and an ability to handle quite a lot of chaos that will be thrown at you while you try to keep your plane in the air and your crew from Death’s door.

There are essentially two major aspects to the game, flying missions and then managing the upgrades for your crew and your plane. Getting the hang of executing a successful mission is more complicated than you may expect, as you end up needing to be pretty hands-on with your 7-member crew if you want to be victorious. Each member will have their own screen you can quickly toggle through with options relative to their role and abilities. For the pilot this will consist of raising and lowering your landing gear as well as managing your altitude, while in the case of the bomber you’ll get into place to take aerial photos or bomb targets. Your Navigation and Gunner roles mostly consist of you locking onto waypoints or enemy craft to initiate action, and you’ll be able to move crew between guns in the event you can get better coverage or have taken damage at a particular position. Probably the most essential role is for your mechanic who will need to quickly address random issues with your major systems, as failure to handle them quickly enough will often result in mission failure. There tends to be a critical point in most missions where everything goes to chaos and will require you to carefully cut through the noise and prioritize. You’re able to slow the action (taking a relatively small scoring penalty) in order to help reign it all in but missions get to be a pretty stressful affair as you try to keep everyone alive and your plane from crashing to the ground.

In order to help yourself out, between missions you’ll need to carefully manage and upgrade your crew and your plane. Each mission completed will unlock new upgrades but you’ll never be able to afford them all so it will require some careful decision-making. Upgrading your ship’s armor obviously makes sense but do you really need it everywhere? If there a specific gunner position you favor that’s worth upgrading more than the others? Does your whole crew need oxygen packs and gear that helps at higher altitudes or have you had the good fortune to have some members who have attributes that make them heartier than others? These are all decisions you’ll need to fight with as you try to make every penny you earn count and as your crew members advance in levels with experience they’ll unlock new skills and even the ability to perform in more than one role, so you’ll have a vested interest in protecting some more than others. Of course a nice added feature is the ability to customize your crew and plane with color schemes, decals, and other cosmetics, which can also help you create more of a bond with your crew.

While missions have some variations, and you can never be sure quite what specifically to expect as they progress, in terms of patterns of play they tend to feel mostly the same. Whether bombing, performing reconnaissance, dropping supplies, etc you’ll need to keep on top of your course, target enemy planes as soon as possible to help guide your gunners, and micromanage repairs and contingency plans when things begin to get crazy. When it comes to being consistently successful there are some things you’ll simply need to learn by failing at them first, losing a plane or a few members of your crew in the process. It’s a game that demands your undivided attention, even when managing what can sometimes be the more tedious elements and minutia like raising your landing gear to minimize drag and unnecessary fuel consumption. While the control scheme does ultimately work, there are also times when under pressure you can lose precious seconds not quite lining things up the way you'd like as quickly as you'd like. I'd thought handheld play with the touchscreen would make life easier but there's no support for it. The result is control that you can live with but that would be hard not to at least consider awkward at times.

Bomber Crew is absolutely not going to be a game for everyone, as it swings away from direct action and into more passive strategy and people management of sorts. Its learning curve can be rough, and the path to success will likely be established over the wreck of a few planes and bodies of the unfortunate crew you weren’t yet capable of saving. The result is an engaging challenge and when you somehow manage to complete your mission with your plane shot to hell and barely remaining in the air it can be quite a thrill. If you’re looking for something completely different than anything you’ve likely played before and enjoy testing your people and situation management skills Bomber Crew could be a great fit.

Score: 7

  • Challenging gameplay makes success a more significant reward
  • Many potential paths of upgrades to pursue to maximize your chances of success
  • Crew and plane customization options are a great touch

  • Ultimately most missions play out similarly in terms of it being about managing the chaos when things go wrong more than the objectives
  • A somewhat surprising lack of touchscreen support and while the controls can be managed they can also be finicky at times
  • Pretty substantial roguelike penalties of losing your entire crew with a plane crash (though you can buy gear to save them) or losing a key crew member, needing to level someone new up to replace them