Bomber Crew brings out all the best aspects of a real-time strategy game, throws them headfirst into a World War II setting, and what comes out is something quite special. Runner Duck takes players back in time to one of the most defining conflicts of all time, testing their tactical skills in scenarios influential on the outcome of the war.
Players assume command of a WWII bomber and its crew, with complete control of each crew members station, ranging from navigation to gunners. Each member of the team is essential to the success of a mission, with scenarios ranging from search and rescue to launch facility destruction and even submarine disposal. During heated battles, each member of the crew has a significant role to play, so their placement is incredibly important. Don't be fooled by the cute art style, this game is a challenge for even the most seasoned gaming veterans.
Fans of the popular roguelike space sim FTL: Faster Than Light will see this game bursting at the seams with similarities. The tactical aspects of Bomber Crew will have you making split-second decisions that the missions will be entirely dependent on. Characters have stats affected by the type of armour they wear, heavier armour making them slower but more resistant to enemy shots, for example.
You will get to destroy bases, send help to allies, and clear areas of enemies in the various missions, and it's up to the player to follow the navigator's marks, or plan their own route, to get to the mission area. Upon arrival, you are greeted by waves of enemy fighters who want nothing more than to watch your bomber go up in flames. Spotting enemies, objectives, and waypoints are all in the control of the player, and you'll be notified by the crew if something is worth scanning for nearby.
Each member of your seven-man crew can be assigned a secondary role in addition to their primary, allowing them to take over from other indisposed members. A level system is implemented for each one, allowing them to gain new abilities after successful missions. This can be added focus for gunners, or a new manoeuvre for your pilot to get you out of those stickier situations. Your crew also needs armour to survive.
Your bomber is your pride and joy. Everything from the livery, name, and guns are yours to choose. Strike fear into the hearts of your enemies with a matte black bomber with tiger paint on the engines, or confuse them with a salmon pink coat of paint and cat's eyes plastered over the side. The ability to have full customisation of your bomber is one of Bomber Crew's strongest aspects, building on the connection players have with the craft and crew.
When starting the game, you are greeted with an empty memorial, which is later decorated with the heroic members of your bomber crew that you have lost. Now, something Runner Duck does incredibly well is overwhelming you with a sense of responsibility for your crew. They become the gears of the not-so metaphoric engine that keeps your bomber aloft, and unless you screw up, they'll be with you for a decent portion of your early game. This can, however, change in an instant, as your split decision judgements can mean life or death for a few, or all of your crew.
The immense frustration you feel when somebody dies, or in our case when the whole plane goes up in flames, forces you to rethink your strategies. You might make a choice where you fly straight through low altitude flak to get straight to the objective, resulting in less than optimal integrity. This rash decision can leave you without a crew, and a bomber. When your crew are K.I.A. or M.I.A, you're forced to recruit new members, who will be lower level than your previous team, forcing you to take on lower risk missions to rebuild your experience and equipment with upgrades.
When your bomber is destroyed, you are set back to a lesser customised bomber, not carrying over previous additions to the aircraft. Players must earn money from missions in order to buy back better engines, weapons, and upgrades for their bomber. Once you have experienced losing your bomber in this game, you'll know all too well how devastating it is to have to create another. You aren't completely set back but must work your way back up to where you were before in order to tackle the trickier critical missions, which advance you through the campaign.
Which brings us neatly onto the topic of the story. Bomber Crew lacks a certain level of narrative, and you aimlessly go from one mission to the next, with only a sentence or two briefing on why you are doing it in the first place. In your brief, you get to choose one of a few missions, ranging from low risk, medium risk, up to high risk. Missions can be more difficult based on how far away it is, or if there is an ace pilot in the area. Taking down ace pilots can be a pain, but offer a healthy chunk of cash for those who are up to the task.
What Bomber Crew lacks in story, it makes up for in charm and in its light-hearted art style. Given the events around which the game is set, the art style is a complete contrast from what you would expect, and it's simplistic, yet adorable. Despite its cute exterior, the game manages to infuriate you when you mess up, then pull you back in with its vibrant colours and intense soundtrack.
Now some may be able to sink hours into this game to complete tricky missions, but one thing the game suffers from is repetition. Missions can start to grate on the player after having attempted them countless times, with there often being a choice of only high-risk missions with no way to avoid them. They follow the same format; take off, fly to said destination, bomb an objective, make it back alive. This can get stale quickly, especially when the game gets harder and more frustrating.
All in all, Bomber Crew is a tough game, but it's one that won't lose its players to frustration. You might quit out of the game after your aircraft plummets into the sea, but you will be left thinking what went wrong. That's what makes this game so special; it isn't the game's fault you lost, it's yours, and that makes you want to pick yourself up, get back in your bomber, and try again. Bomber Crew is a challenge for micromanagement and real-time-strategy game fans, whilst it succeeds in being accessible to players new to the genre. The game will have you trying and failing until you finally succeed, having you hooked from the very moment your bomber lifts off.