Given Bomber Crew’s bubble-headed, cutesy squad-mates, you might assume that the game is a light-hearted interpretation of aerial warfare. But in execution, the game plays like Memphis Belle reimagined with a cast of Fisher-Price Little People. While that might sound dishearteningly dissonant, you’ll have little time to focus on the appearance of your team since you’ll be preoccupied with making sure your bomber makes it back to base in one piece.
A journey through Bomber Crew’s campaign begins with a near-requisite tutorial that quickly throws you into the thick of things. You’ll be tasked with managing a squad of up to seven members, who each fulfill essential duties like piloting, navigation, repair, manning turrets, or repairing the inevitable equipment malfunctions and combat damage.
The control system is built around several different components. And while the interface isn’t immediately intuitive, you’ll soon master its nuances during the heat of battle. One of the most essential features of air command is handed with the ‘Y” button. This shifts between a tight view of your craft where you can check crew placement and a pulled back standpoint that shows adjacent enemies and navigational waypoints. Each perspective is a gateway to other input options.
When viewing the interior, you can reassign crew to positions around your Lancaster bomber, ordering the engineer to fix a faulty landing gear door or a gunner to move to the tail position to attack a fighter careening toward your rear. Interestingly, you can assign any member to a position around the bomber, but unless it’s their specialty, expect them to work in a limited capacity. One thing to remember is to never leave the pilot’s chair abandoned. If you do, you’ll likely find your bomber plunging toward the ocean or ground below.
Fortunately, Bomber Crew isn’t just about issuing orders, occasionally you’ll get in on the action. Navigation requires you to periodically scan the horizon for waypoints, while you’ll have to do the same to target your opponents’ aircraft. Dropping your payload on a target is especially satisfying. After making changes to elevation and trajectory, you’ll use a small on-screen window to determine when to release your 8,000-pound ‘blockbusters’. Smartly, you’re not tasked with gunning down every Messerschmitt that buzzes by, which would have conflicted with your duties to command.
When a crew member is selected, job-specific commands are shown on the button of the screen, permitting bombing specialists to open the bay door, ready a payload, and when a target aligns with a reticle, let loose with the explosives. For pilots, that means raising or lowering the landing gear and adjusting the elevation of the aircraft for bombing runs or to evade flak. Inevitably, crises will emerge, and you’ll habitually have more undertakings that hands to tackle the task.
And it’s here that Bomber Crew becomes remarkably intense, testing your ability to command under duress, much like FTL. During a simple reconnaissance mission, I was ambushed by a few enemy fighters, which led to the injury of my tail gunner, the depletion of ammo, the craft’s radar being incapacitated, and a fire aboard the back of the plane. In a moment of panic, I sent a crewman to repair the radar and he became ingulfed in flame as I realized that the fire needs to be extinguished first. Subsequently, I had to scramble to find someone who could reload the guns, as enemies peppered away at the plane.
These frenzied situations are commonplace across Bomber Crew’s selectable missions, whether you are attempting to photograph an enemy sea vessel, bombarding an enemy asset, or undertaking a search and rescue. these moments feel especially chaotic because they’re usually bookended with tranquil take-offs and landings. As such, your assignments have a cinematic feel, with fleeting moments of tranquility upended by the staccato crack of enemy machine gun fire. Inevitably, a cacophony ensures with klaxons sounding, radio chatter is traded, and the game’s orchestral swells intensifying. Make it back to the Royal Air Force base and a sense of calmness will return, with the gentle chirping of birds replacing he ruckus of air combat.
Although Bomber Crew’s reproduction of aerial warfare is proficient, the game’s ambitions of cultivating empathy for your squad isn’t. Sure, the title offers a memorial wall where you can view the names of all the valiant teammates who perished. And in a nod to Saving Private Ryan, which crew member is given a single line of backstory revealing their vocation before the war. But the difficulty of missions means that Bomber Crew will be a mill for new enlistees and you’ll be lucky to see a member make it through four missions. So many recruits will become fodder that it’s unlikely you’ll develop at attachment of a sense of grief when you lose a member.
Memories or at least emergent narratives are made collectively. You’ll remember the time your Lancaster hobbled home with two engines destroyed, or the time your team was successful in destroying a factory but was brought down when a hornet’s nest of fighters appeared. These moments of narrow victory and patriotic sacrifice are Bomber Crew’s dividends. While they might star stout little airmen and airwomen with scant personality, the message of a tight-knit team functioning as a unit isn’t lost.
Bomber Crew was played on the Switch with review code provided by the publisher.
Platform: Switch, also available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, previously on PC
Developers: Runner Duck
Publisher: Curve Digital
Release date: July 10th, 2018
Launch Price: $14.99 from the Nintendo eShop, currently on sale for $11.99