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Review by: Jonathan Houghton
Published: October 13, 2000
Those of us who remember old swashbuckling movies of the black-and-white film era most certainly remember Errol Flynn and his adventures as the pillaging pirate-hero, Captain Blood. The character of Blood was the essence of a charismatic hero, far more so than even the legendary James Bond, as Captain Blood had an endless repertoire of pointed wit to throw at his enemies while inspiring great camaraderie among his crew, spurring them on to great deeds in the name of freedom. In essence, he was the ultimate fighter, poet, and lover; in fact he would be just like James Bond except for one fact which made him more endearing and believable: he was human, with a heart both strong and tender, tempered by the flames into the mold of a great hero. One could almost say the exact same thing about many of the other characters that Errol Flynn graced the screen as, such as the mischievous Don Juan and the noble Robin Hood. Microsoft has captured the essence of what made these Errol Flynn movies great with a swashbuckling aerial action-adventure titled Crimson Skies, starring a hero very similar to the character of Captain Blood, the courageous and honorable Air-Pirate, Nathan Zachary.
The story behind Crimson Skies takes place in an alternate reality where the United States did not survive the stock-market crash of 1929 and the resulting depression, thanks in no small part to a liberal ideal known as Regionalism. In this neo-history, Texas seceded from the Union and many of the other states soon followed suit, until the entire Union was shattered into more than twenty splinter-nations, such as Pacifica, The Republic of Texas, and the Nation of Hollywood. Since most inter-state roads were destroyed in the resulting skirmishes, aircraft became the primary means of transport and travel between the new countries. Militias sprung up from each state-nation to protect the commerce and general travel, but alongside these militias arose groups of air-pirates and privateers, seeking to loot many of the treasure-laden zeppelins owned by the rich. Each one of the small nations depends on its own militia to protect their sovereignty and secure trade with neighboring countries. Sometimes the regular militia is not enough, and these mini-governments must resort to hiring some of the pirate crews to attack their enemies which is done by means of a Letter of Marque, that can net the smart pirates some quick cash and increase your favor with a certain nation. Since the Hindenberg incident apparently never took place, airship development in this reality continued until the modern blimps became the equals of fifteenth century caravels, cruising the vast oceans of the sky armed with powerful cannons. In essence this world is not unlike that of the Spanish Caribbean, where imperialist powers fights amongst themselves with pirates looting and taking advantage of everyone.
For the entirety of this tale, you will assume the persona of Nathan Zachary, one of the more dashing and mysterious of the Air-Pirate leaders. Zachary was brought up flying in a Gypsy family from a very young age, surviving both the Great War and the Bolshevik revolution, where he eventually amassed a small fortune that he lost in the American stock market crash. After this turn of events, Nathan turned to piracy as a sort of ‘Robin Hood’ for the 20th century and was determined not to be held down by any one of the oppressive state regimes which occupied the former U.S. After staging the capture of a military zeppelin that he and his crew re-christened the ‘Pandora,’ Nathan and his crew of close friends began their careers of pillaging and profiteering. You take up Zachary’s mantle of command while anchored over the Kingdom of Hawaii, watching and waiting for the next great adventure to come your way; and unlike many of the more evil pirates, you are primarily seeking booty instead of blood. As a very interesting side-note to the game, the universe of Crimson Skies has been developed far beyond the PC, and a board game version is also available due to the nostalgic demand for these tales of daring and betrayal.
There are three modes of play available to the potential air-pirate: Campaign, Instant Action, and Multiplayer. In the campaign, you will lead Zachary and the Fortune Hunters to fame and riches through the course of over 20 missions, while Instant Action lets you cook up any number of impossible scenarios to dogfight your way out of. Multiplayer lets you take on other humans in tests of skill with modes like Deathmatch, Capture the Flag and Zeppelin Battle.
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