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 juggling that with what’s going on outside of the ship too 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, asking you to 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.
When writing about Sony’s ongoing massive indie game sale Bomber Crew’s presence was something I picked up upon instantly. With the last few drips and drabs from my PlayStation wallet I threw my money at the game, why not?
And I couldn’t be happier with my decision.
The thing that initially caught my eye about Space Crew, was its fun visual style, a mix of low-poly models with pixel-art textures will almost always look impressive to me. In much the same way Bomber Crew has that similar charm to it, from the look of your crew as they huddle in their quarters, with their little pixel-art eyes blinking away, to the almost Playmobil toy-like recreation of RAF Woodridge you’ll use as your base of operations (a former Royal Air Force station that during the second world war did indeed play a part in the bombing raids) it’s hard not to find the games visual design compelling if not a little cute.
What the games art style conveyed to me was that this game would be fun, casual, entertaining and a nice way to pass some time. I guess three out of four isn’t bad, because you can take the casual part out of that estimate and toss it like lit dynamite. 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 go ahead and judge this book by its cover.
“What the games art style conveyed to me was that this game would be fun, casual, entertaining and a nice way to pass some time. I guess three out of four isn’t bad, because you can take the casual part out of that estimate and toss it like lit dynamite.”
You’ll start the game with a brief tutorial covering the basics of gameplay, like how to move crew-members around the bomber, how to call out enemies to your gunners, how to follow nav points, and how to lower the landing gear so you can touch down at base after a mission, which when delivered to you one-by-one seem pretty by the book.
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. However, it was pretty late when I threw the game on and the creative portion of my brain needed a little creative input. The only thing I had on hand at the time was the news constantly going on about some sort of election somewhere in the world so I decided to take politics as my theme and try to make my crew based on the political rising-in-power girl-group sensation known as The Squad(tm), plus a few other Democrats to beef up the numbers.
You’re even allowed to customize and rename the bomber itself which is a lovely little touch that I took full advantage of as I called mine the ‘Femme Floatale’, painting it a shade of sky blue and writing “How’s my flying?” down the side of it in white. “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 are pretty routine, offering the traditional slowly-ramping challenge of most early video game starts without really putting you in too much risk, as long as you’re in control of your mental faculties to any reasonable degree.
“My onboard mechanic Hilary Clinton, now being 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”
However, flash forward two or three missions later and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has been blasted from her radio operations post across the Bomber’s (now Swiss cheese in appearance) interior and is bleeding out all over the place as 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 being 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.
It was about that moment in time that I fell in love with Bomber Crew.
Bomber Crew took me quite by surprise, that casual light-hearted romp I imagined, and the game that opened up with its ‘pretty by the book’ gameplay turns things on its head 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.
What could easily be a light and streamlined romp across the skies turns out to have a real sense of depth as you level up your crew members, unlocking various skills to use such as allowing your gunners more accuracy for a short while or having your radio operator call in for a recon report of the area ahead. While in the air you won’t just have to worry about your fuel either as the higher you take to the skies (and the safer you in turn become) the colder your bomber becomes, impacting your team negatively in the process. Yet hugging too close to the ground can result in you taking a shelling from the ground and being swarmed by enemy fighters.
You’ll be constantly chasing the next available upgrades to your bomber as you accrue intel and cash from each mission completed (successfully or even unsuccessfully), with intel being an ever-increasing score that unlocks new bits of kit, milestone by milestone, and cash being the currency to purchase those upgrades for your aircraft back at RAF Woodbridge.
The range of customization options for your crew will 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 but exciting, it’s hard to get bored, but even for the impatient among us, there’s a fast forward button 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.
Bomber Crew (2017)
Developer: Runner Duck
Publisher: Curve Digital
Chocks away! Bomber Crew is a strategic simulation game, where picking the right crew and keeping your bomber in tip top shape is the difference between completing your mission or losing it all!