Runner Duck’s latest release Space Crew, a SciFi strategy game that seemed to light my brain up in all the right places but sadly also a game that my wallet can’t keep up with right now. The Space Crew concept of managing a real-time battle by not just assigning crew placements but also handling what’s going on outside of the ship looked amazing, though as with most things around this time of year, it’s going to have to sadly be one of those things I look forward to in 2021.
However, in looking up Space Crew I was directed towards its predecessor, Bomber Crew. A game with a similar flavour of strategy. You micromanage the bombing run missions of a low-fi cartoonish WWII era Avro Lancaster Bomber and it’s seven crew members as they go on daring runs across the European landscape. It’s practically identical to Space Crew in a number of ways except setting.
When noticing Bomber Crew’s inclusion in a recent sale, it was something I picked up instantly. And I couldn’t be happier with my decision.
The thing that initially caught my eye about Space Crew (and similarly found in Bomber Crew) was its fun visual style. Blending low-poly models with pixel-art textures will always look impressive to me. From the blinking of your crew’s pixel-art eyes, to the almost Playmobil toy-like recreation of RAF Woodridge the game’s Nintendo-esque aesthetics do an impressive job of instilling fun and levity throughout play.
I wasn’t expecting a gritty, dark representation of the Battle of Britain in this game, instead I was lulled into believing Bomber Crew was a casual, quirky and fun way to pass some time. Take the casual part out of that estimate, however, and I might not have been so far off in my first impressions. The game may potentially look like it’s designed with the eye of the casual market in mind, but Bomber Crew’s gameplay has far more complexity than the polygon count on display might lead you to believe – and it won’t hold back any punches from the people who judge this book by its cover.
Customary for most titles, you’ll start the game with a brief tutorial covering the basics of gameplay; how to move crew-members around the bomber, call out enemies to your gunners, follow nav points, and lower the landing gear so you can touch down at base after a mission. There’s nothing that leaps out as mentally taxing and it’s all delivered to you step-by-step, .
Once you land you’re gently guided on how to hire the rest of your seven-person crew and also given the option of customizing them, should you wish to. I’m a sucker for this kind of thing in games and find it genuinely hard to pass up. It was pretty late when I booted up the game and the creative portion of my brain wasn’t playing ball. After my attempts to populate my crew with all of the celebrities currently trending on Twitter failed. I gave in to the election fervor that was presently blowing up timelines and decided model my crew on the rising-in-power political girl-group sensation known as The Squad(tm), with a few other Democrats to beef up the numbers.
All that remained to do was christen my flying fortress the Femme Floatale and give it a fresh lick of paint. “Well, this is nice” I thought to myself as I set about towards the briefing room to check the available list of missions I could take on. The first few of which were pretty routine, slowly ramping up the challenge without really putting you in too much risk. It was exactly what that cutesy-casual aesthetic had led me to believe.
However, flash forward two or three missions later and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has been blasted from her radio operations post, she’s currently sprawled across the Bomber’s (now Swiss cheese in appearance) interior and is bleeding out all over the place. The Femme Floatale struggles to make it back to British soil without bursting into a ball of fiery nuts and bolts. leaking fuel all across the English Channel. My onboard mechanic Hilary Clinton, now a little less onboard, is hanging from the wing with fire extinguisher in hand, working on the engines in an attempt to make sure nobody below us ends up getting the Donnie Darko treatment anytime soon. All while Rashida Tlaib hurriedly bangs about in a frenzy on the hydraulics system so that Kamala Harris can release the landing gear and see us safely to tarmac before we run out of fuel and all die on impact.
Bomber Crew took me quite by surprise, that casual light-hearted romp I was expecting abruptly came to an end as the simple tasks it gives you turn into frantic mad dashes of button combinations and camera pans to select the right crew member, to call out enemy fighters, to send your engineer dashing to the fire extinguisher or to call for your pilot to make a corkscrew manoeuvre amidst a hail of enemy fire.
“My onboard mechanic Hilary Clinton, now a little less onboard, is hanging from the wing with fire extinguisher in hand, working on the engines in an attempt to make sure nobody below us ends up getting the Donnie Darko treatment anytime soon.”
What could easily be a light and streamlined romp across the skies turns out to have a real sense of depth as you build up your crew members, unlocking various skills that can increase your gunners accuracy or allow your radio operator to call in a recon report of the area ahead. If managing your fuel reserves, heading, repairs, reloads, targets and payload isn’t enough to keep you busy you’ll also have to manage the altitude of the bomber. The higher you take to the skies, the safer you become from enemy weapons and fighters, however, temperatures will plummet, and thick cloud coverage will make accurate bombing nearly impossible. On the flip side, hugging too close to the ground can result in you taking a shelling from below and becoming swarmed by enemy fighters.
You’ll be constantly chasing the next available upgrade to your bomber as you accrue intel and cash from each completed mission (successfully or unsuccessfully). Intel is an ever-increasing resource that unlocks new bits of kit, milestone by milestone, and cash being the currency to purchase those upgrades for your aircraft back at base.
The range of customization options for your crew similarly be ever-increasing the more you play, leading you to be able to spec out your crew for the chills of lengthy high altitude flying, or wrap them in armour to survive as best they can amidst the dangers of flying at low altitudes.
The fun and fast-paced intensity of combat can be brutal at times, but never leads you into frustration, you always feel like you’re getting a little bit better, a little bit faster at issuing commands and a little bit wiser on how to approach the games more danger-filled zones with every attempt, even if you manage to fail a mission the game won’t exactly punish you beyond how punished you’ve probably already been in the process. You’ll just have to rehire, retrain, rebuild, and get yourself back out there again.
While it could be seen as a little grindy to build up a formidable crew and ship over and over to pass the next campaign milestone, the missions are relatively short and it’s hard to get bored. There is however, a handy fast forward button for the impatient among us, to allow a quick exit and return from your mainland base to mission locale.
I try to avoid reading up on games before I play them, though in looking up Bomber Crew, I did see a few people make comparisons to FTL and while there’s maybe something to be said for that, with its micromanagement and being confined to the interior of a vessel, to me Bomber Crew feels like something between Kerbal Space Program and XCOM. A visually fun experience with a rock-solid strategy and simulation vibe beneath it, featuring fun customization and an ever tense permadeath mechanic that keeps you fond of your tiny low-poly plane-people and on the edge of your seat when the skies get bumpy.
Though this title is several years old, and with the release of pseudo-sequel Space Crew having just arrived, if you haven’t checked this game out already, don’t let Bomber Crew fly under your radar.