Snoopy: Flying Ace review
Scoff all you want (it's hard not to), but once you're done, understand this - Snoopy: Flying Ace is one of the best multiplayer flight-combat game available on consoles, bar none. Taking its cues from arcade-style fare such as Crimson Skies and keeping the Peanuts license tastefully in check, developer Smart Bomb has crafted a stunning online game that's only limited by its paltry single-player content.
Don't let the presence of Snoopy and friends fool you - they've all been adapted into a cartoonishly-violent WWI setting for hilarious effect. Fans of the characters may find their subtle use a bit disappointing, but it's a move that keeps the focus on the gameplay, which is almost uniformly excellent.
The flight controls are a little loose at first, and the need to constantly switch weapons, monitor incoming fire, and maneuver around the environments can get overwhelming. There's bit of a learning curve to Flying Ace, but once it's overcome, it's literally smooth sailing from there on.
You may also find yourself a bit lost over which weapons to take into battle. Again, there's certainly a learning curve here, and you may think that the weapons are imbalanced. The truth is that many of them are devastating in the right circumstances and some are better all-rounders that don't pack quite the punch. Weapons such as shotguns and fireballs are unstoppable at close range, but nearly worthless at the range where homing missiles or heavy machine guns are most powerful, which are conversely easy to dodge or difficult to aim. There are a couple stinkers, but overall the variety of weapons triumphs over the few balance issues there are.
Combat is a thrill, with level design that encourages zipping between buildings, dive-bombing alongside waterfalls, and dodging crazy world events. With 16 players dogfighting in intelligently designed, densely-packed arenas, matches can get chaotic. Objective game types such as capture-the-flag and Dogpile -- where players try to hold a dog bone for as long as possible -- tend to make better use of the entire map, but there's an insanity to the standard deathmatch that's just as fun. Rounding out the game types is Pigskin, which turns each map into an aerial football field where players pass the ball and try to score touchdowns. It's the game's most creative mode, and encourages teamwork even more than CTF, as long as you can find a team to play with.
One issue Snoopy: Flying Ace faces is maintaining a decent population of players. As it stands now, you can easily find 16-player matches in the more popular gametypes, and at least a handful of people to play with elsewhere. Certain times of day are better than others, but sometimes it's just a matter of getting lucky and getting into a full game. This isn't the game's fault, and it's not even a big issue now, but online multiplayer is the only way to play this game, so it's something to keep in mind.
The single-player game is an afterthought – almost not worth mentioning in this review. It's not bad by any stretch, but a limited set of objectives slapped onto the existing multiplayer maps doesn't make for compelling gameplay. Forget the single-player game, and you're sure to have a blast online.
There are a few things that could be improved. Players can have a hard time connecting to matches with their friends, and a quitting host means game over for the whole group. The special flight maneuvers (barrel-rolls, loops, and the like) are a bit too limited, and a bit too slow to be useful in heavy combat. Finally, it's nit-picky, but the planes in Flying Ace are too small. Maybe it's the field of view, or maybe there aren't enough visual indicators, but sometimes the action is just too microscopic and indecipherable.
Issues aside, Snoopy: Flying Ace is a triumph for one reason above all else – feel. Once you get the hang of it, there's a connection with the controls and a sense of mastery that few games pull off successfully. Before long you'll be zipping around in Snoopy's dog house - the reward for a 9-kill streak – and any issues you have will fade away in the afterglow of victory.