Image: "Blazing Angels 2"
In the new Xbox 360 game "Blazing Angels 2: Secret Missions of WWII," players engage in dogfights over the cities of Europe and Asia.
updated 10/2/2007 3:42:22 PM ET 2007-10-02T19:42:22

As a grizzled virtual combat veteran, I've fought through most of history's greatest conflicts, from the Punic Wars between Rome and Carthage to the battle against the Locust Horde on the planet Sera. And as I've slogged my way across miles of ravaged landscapes, slaughtering thousands of Nazis, orcs and aliens, I've dreamed of one thing: flight.

Given the popularity of war games (such as the just-released blockbuster "Halo 3"), you'd think there would be plenty of aerial combat simulators available. But the subgenre has never really caught on among console gamers, with the best-known franchise, Namco Bandai's "Ace Combat," playing to a rabid cult rather than a mass audience.

Perhaps the mano-a-mano action of ground warfare is simply more compelling; there's more drama when you can see your enemy's face (and then blow it off). But aerial combat can be a nice — almost relaxing — break from earthbound mayhem. And things still blow up real good.

"Warhawk" (Sony, for the PlayStation 3, $59.99): "Warhawk" is a multiplayer game, so if your PS3 isn't connected to Sony's PlayStation Network, don't bother. There's no solo campaign included, but the robust and lively combat — with up to 32 players — more than makes up for it.

There's no need for a story here. Two nations, the Eucadians and the Chernovans, are at war; whichever side you choose, your motivation is to kill the other guys. You can play the familiar death match or capture-the-flag modes, or try the more innovative "Zone" challenge, in which the object is to build larger bases.

There are plenty of guns, tanks and missile launchers scattered around the game's five worlds, but the real fun starts when you hop into a Warhawk or a Nemesis. These zippy aircraft fly like a dream, and they're packed with powerful weapons like missiles, lasers and cluster bombs. The battles are fast-paced, and it may take you a while to get the hang of all the options, but once you do you're in for the most frenetic action available on the PS3. Three stars out of four.

"Blazing Angels 2: Secret Missions of WWII" (Ubisoft, for the Xbox 360, $59.99): "Blazing Angels" takes place in a more familiar setting: the skies over Europe and Asia during World War II. And while there's definitely been a glut of WWII games, it's still kind of a thrill to engage in a dogfight over the Kremlin or the Eiffel Tower.

"BA2" includes a healthy assortment of more than 50 aircraft, from the familiar British Spitfire and Japanese Zero to the experimental German Go 229 flying wing. And the usual arsenal of missiles and cannons is complemented by exotic defensive weapons, the flash blinder and the Tesla coil, that incapacitate enemy planes.

There's a surprising amount of variety among the game's 18 missions. You may be sent to destroy a gigantic zeppelin, defend an allied submarine or even drop a friendly spy onto a moving train. The controls are smooth and intuitive, and the on-screen displays make it easy to find your next target. "BA2" probably isn't realistic enough for serious flight-sim junkies, but it's a lot of fun for the more casual flyboy wannabe. Three stars.

"Medal of Honor Airborne" (Electronic Arts, for the Xbox 360, $59.99): The latest "Medal of Honor" adventure starts in the sky — but not in the cockpit. Instead, you're a paratrooper in the back of a plane, and once you jump you get a spectacular aerial view of combat. You have to steer your parachute behind enemy lines, and where you land may determine how tough your mission will be.

Once you're on the ground, "Airborne" plays like any other "MOH" game. Your goal, of course, is to kill Nazis, but each level gives you a variety of tasks — take out snipers, blow up an anti-aircraft gun — that you can attempt in any order. None of the challenges are particularly fresh, though, and once you get past the parachuting gimmick, "Airborne" doesn't do much to distinguish itself from dozens of other World War II shooters. Two-and-a-half stars.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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