Game name: Bomber Crew
Release date: October 19, 2017
Price: US$ 14.99
Available on: Steam
Developer: Runner Duck
Publisher: Curve Digital
Bomber simulators have always been a rare breed, requiring not only skill with a flight stick, but also careful management of one’s resources. Thankfully, developers Runner Duck have decided to shake up the genre a bit, bringing accessibility to the mix with Bomber Crew, an aptly named simulation/management combo that eschews joysticks and thick manuals in favor of a simple control scheme and a lot of charisma.
Instead of being directly in charge of the plane’s controls, our job is to manage the crew of a Lancaster bomber, seven lives that depend on every action we decide to take. Using our mighty mouse cursor (plus generous applications of the Spacebar), we’ll direct characters to their stations, tell the pilot how high should our plane fly, and where to go once the navigator has plotted a course. The only action that requires our immediate attention is the act of dropping bombs, as we’ll have to line up our sights and press a button to unload our deadly cargo.
We’ll start the game with a not-so-rigurous screening session, where we’ll recruit our first unlucky crewmembers. According to Bomber Crew, a good commander should always have a pilot, a flight engineer, a bomb aimer (who also doubles as a gunner), a radio operator, a navigator and two full-time gunners. The recruitment screen will let us choose crewmembers from a pool of randomly generated characters of all races and genders (a move that may generate some backlash amongst groups pushing for total historical accuracy) and there are a few stats that can influence our crew’s ability to survive in harsh conditions (such as the amount of time they can go on without oxygen, their base armor values, etc).
After recruiting our first merry band, we’ll have to equip them, a task that should not be taken lightly, as every character has a defined role that they should be playing, and any gear we bestow upon their shoulders will affect their efficiency. For instance, the pilot, the radio operator and the navigator will spend most of the time sitting at their respective stations, so we should always try to equip them with heavy armor since they don’t need to move. The flight engineer, on the other hand, should wear light clothing, in order to be able to move quickly between stations, repairing damage and performing their duties (which include managing our craft’s fuel supply) on a timely fashion, and our gunners should strive to attain a good mix between protection and speed, as they will need to move between the ammo supplies and their guns from time to time. Aside from protective gear, we could also choose to equip our flight crew with items that increase their chances of survival should our aircraft be shot down, though this also requires that we add parachutes to the plane’s equipment racks (which would otherwise be filled with fire extinguishers and medikits).
The bomber itself can also be upgraded with better parts as the campaign advances, with better armor, more powerful engines, and other important bits playing a key role during difficult missions. Of course, we must strike a balance on this front as well, since a heavy gun or improved armor will affect our aircraft’s weight, requiring better (or maybe less armored) engines, for instance.
In order to be able to afford all these upgrades, we’ll have to complete missions which will reward us with money, global experience points that stay with us through the whole journey, and crew experience points that will be permanently lost should we lose our crewmembers. This means that we’ll constantly have to balance potential gains against the things we would lose in the event of a catastrophe. For instance, every standard mission has two main objectives (destroy “x” and bring your Lancaster back to the airfield) but as we traverse the cloudy skies we may spot targets of opportunity that could reward us with much needed cash. While the first few sorties won’t put our plane against overwhelming odds, there’s always the threat of running out of fuel, and as the game progresses, new foes will show up, tilting the battle in favor of the German defenders.
The most interesting of these new enemies are the Aces, dangerous pilots who control tougher craft than the usual Luftwaffe goons we’ll have to deal with during most missions. Aside from their buffed health bars, these warbirds also sport exotic weaponry (one of the Aces can set parts of our bomber on fire, for instance) and will occasionally throw insults our way. Defeating an Ace will reward us with an important sum of cash at the end of the mission, and that specific character will also be removed from our current campaign. This adds yet another choice to Bomber Crew, as we’ll have to carefully balance whether the money injection we’d get from a downed Ace is worth the possibility of losing our craft and crew for good.
Other additions to the German forces include flak towers, jet fighters (which will launch missiles towards our plane, forcing us to change altitude in order to evade them) and night fighters equipped with upward-facing machineguns that will position themselves below our bomber, in a position that can only be reached by a ventral turret (meaning that we’ll have to move a crewmember to that station, which is usually unmanned). Most of these enemy types won’t show up until we are near the endgame, thankfully, so there’s plenty of time to adapt our tactics.
The campaign progresses at a steadily pace, provided we don’t lose our crew/plane too often. I have some concerns about the quality of the missions included in the game, as non-critical tasks can become repetitive after a while, but for the most part, I found myself wishing to play just one more mission, thanks to the choice-based gameplay that managed to drown the repetitiveness of the standard mission templates.
The threat of permadeath is always looming in the horizon, and while I mostly think that Bomber Crew handles this gameplay mechanic well, losing our plane/crew (or both) during a late game mission will force us to grind quite a bit, lest we get trapped in an endless loop of death. Crewmembers can level up and unlock useful skills, and when they reach certain thresholds, we can choose a secondary specialization for them (for instance, we could have a radio operator who can also double as a navigator, a gunner who moonlights as a flight engineer, etc.). Every time we lose a character, we also lose their experience, and have to train a replacement. As an example, certain missions will require that we drop special bombs that will only work from high altitudes, but a rookie navigator won’t be able to direct our pilot if they are flying above the clouds. Only high level navigators can find their way with the help of the stars, essentially forcing us to grind experience in order to be able to complete these missions.
In order to keep our crew/plane safe, we’ll have to constantly monitor their status while being assaulted by waves of enemy planes. Aside from the gun turrets/bomber station/radio/navigation table/engineer and pilot’s seats, we also have a special bed that will let injured crewmembers recover as they lie there. Should someone become incapacitated, there’s a two-minute window to pick up a medikit with another character and revive our downed crew. As usual, healing equipment is limited (with the exception of the bed) and we need to install it on our plane beforehand (though its stock replenishes every time we return to the base).
Thankfully, losing our bomber during a mission isn’t as hurtful to our overall career as losing its crew, as some improvements persist from one craft to another, depending on how far we’ve progressed in the game’s campaign. This means that we should always focus our attention on the well-being of our flight crew, since their knowledge and experience can’t be replaced as easily as a downed bomber can.
Graphics, sound and performance
Moving on to the tech front, developers Runner Duck chose to implement a low-poly art style that fits perfectly with the bobble-headed crew under our command. As expected, this means that even an older machine can run this game without too much trouble, and my aging 3570K had zero issues keeping sixty frames per second at all times. Sound-wise, while the music could use some variety, I immediately fell in love with the sound effects and the airmen’s mumbled chatter as they set new waypoints or congratulated one another after downing an enemy plane.
Bomber Crew may look like a children’s game, but there’s real depth under its cartoonish facade. Players looking for an accessible yet challenging bomber management title should look no further than Runner Duck‘s debut release, as its addictive gameplay mechanics will provide countless hours of enjoyment.
8.5/10 – Great.