When I first took a look at Flying Tigers: Shadows Over China it looked like a History Channel game that was going to focus more on a history lesson than making a decent game. While it does still feel like that at times, it has some surprisingly fun arcade flight combat and it does tell a unique side of the fight between Japan and China.
Flying Tigers: Shadows Over China is based on the true events of America’s secret volunteer squadrons that defended China against Japan in the China-Burma-India theater of World War 2. You’ll be playing as American Volunteer Group, Royal Air Force, and the United States Army Air Forces. Often you will be switching between fighter pilots, bombers, and transport vehicles throughout missions which helps change-up the pace throughout the campaign.
There are a decent amount of missions to play, but unfortunately they aren’t very long. I finished the entire campaign in about 4 hours, but I was also playing using the arcade gameplay. Raising the difficulty and playing with the sim controls could easily take you longer to master due to the more difficult controls. The missions are a mixed bag and sometimes are over very quickly. I wish the short scenes in between were a bit more dynamic when switching between fighters. There are also a couple times where you’ll just be flying in formation trying to stay put in fear that you will fail the mission by straying too far. These sections aren’t fun, but I guess they are at least more of a dynamic segue to the next sections than the other times where it cuts you out of gameplay entirely or ends the mission after only destroying 5 enemy aircraft’s while there are still 10+ flying around.
Luckily, there are a good amount of other modes to try. There’s the Dog Fighting mode where you can set up fights using any aircraft or map and customize the time of day and number of enemies. You can play this mode in Survival where you fight a never-ending wave of enemies.. There is a Challenge mode that puts you in a few situations that require you to do various objectives like capture flags and bomb ships within a certain amount of time. The Free Flight mode is exactly as it sounds; you get to pick your map, time of day, weather conditions, and the aircraft you want and just have fun flying around. Unfortunately I was not able to test out the Multiplayer modes, which is a shame because I really wanted to try out their version of capture the flag. If I can find some matches after release, I will update this portion of the review.
The game plays best as an arcade shooter. While there are options to make it feel more like a sim with realistic pitch and roll mechanics, I was just having a good time dog fighting with the arcade controls. While the sim controls will have you barrel rolling and doing combat maneuvers yourself, arcade handles this for you in an easy way to keep you focused on the combat. Using the left and right D-Pad will have you doing barrel rolls in that direction, down on the D-Pad pulls off a slick back-flip to get behind your pursuer, holding Y has you put on the brakes hard to let your attacker pass you by. You also get a handy slow motion effect called TrazerTime by pressing X which, admittedly, I used a lot due to my shaky piloting skills. I can’t even blame the base controls of the game, because they are solid, it was just my lack of air-combat skills on showcase here.
The graphics are also a mixed bag. During the normal gameplay, during dog fights and such it actually looks fine, probably because you’re mostly focused on the gameplay. As soon as you get any scenes with a close up shot of, well, anything really, you really get to see how bad the game looks. It genuinely looks like a last generation game. The aircraft designs are well done, but the environments, explosions, and any of the land units and the like are extremely poor looking.
The sound design also doesn’t exactly impress either. There are a couple good voice actors within here, but most are bad or very stiff in delivery. I think the most annoying thing is the combat chatter. A lot of it gets repeated very often, especially the Japanese ships when you are attacking them or they are going down. Somehow the enemy comms get patched into your headset and you get to hear their final words and screams every time you take one down. In terms of music, there are a couple of decent tracks. The combat one in particular is a nice updated rock tune that gets you pumped for some action packed dog fighting. However, I would have liked to have heard more variety.
Flying Tigers: Shadows Over China is a fun arcade flight combat game that has a unique story to tell of how the Flying Tigers were essentially contract killers to take out the Japanese who were attacking China. While the campaign missions are hit and miss, there are luckily plenty of other modes that focus more on the actual gameplay, which is what you’ll enjoy most about it. My advice is to go into this game not expecting a Triple-A experience because you certainly aren’t getting one. It’s not going to be throwing blows with the upcoming Ace Combat game in visuals, but it is a well made, glitch free, fun arcade shooter.
Flying Tigers: Shadows Over China is available now on PC and Xbox One.
A copy of Flying Tigers: Shadows Over China was provided by the developer.