Incoming Editor James Law hops into the pilot seat and takes a look at Runner Duck’s debut game Bomber Crew, recently released on the Nintendo Switch.
Bomber Crew recently landed on the Switch, and it’s taken me by surprise.
In the game, you must manage your cutesy crew of engineers, pilots, medics, and navigators as you undertake missions in a Second World War-style bomber. Mechanically, it obviously reminds me of FTL, the spaceship management roguelike, but upon playing for a while, Bomber Crew had some cool little touches that mean that even if you’re not a big fan of games like FTL, you’ll find some things to really enjoy. Firstly, it feels super cool to be in control of such a machine. It’s really satisfying to organise the whole mission, starting with choosing your crew on the ground and kitting them out with stuff that suits their role – for example my mechanic was lightly armoured so she could get around the plane quickly and fix all the stuff getting shot. In general, it’s easy to get attached to your team. When my first plane, The Large Hound Mk. 1, crashed and burned (through an ill-advised low-altitude corkscrew manoeuvre from me), it was hard to take. They stay dead though, so I had to work on putting together a new crew who could push through the flurries of baddies being thrown my way.
The in-flight management is tight once you get the hang of it. After a couple of flights, it becomes second nature to quickly select the right crew member, get them to do their job, maybe activate a special ability, and basically run the plane as if you know what you’re doing. The fact that there’s a storyline included helps too, as it gave me something to work towards. The story missions are often tougher than others, so I made sure to do some other missions in the meantime to hone my skills and get my plane upgraded. The feeling that no mission is wasted is something I often wish other games gave me – each time I returned safely with my crew intact, I could save a bit of money to get myself some fancier radar tech or tougher armour. From a gameplay standpoint, Bomber Crew triumphs in what it sets out to do, and I’d be remiss not to mention how the game absolutely nails the feeling of peril. Each bullet that hits your craft feels like it hurt, and it often has you frantically jolting your attention from focusing on something else. Also, when one of the crew members goes down, it’s full on panic mode, as someone has to stop what they’re doing to revive them, delivering some interesting decision making challenges: do I sacrifice a gunner and risk fighters having a field day, or take my radar technician off and piss off my pilot? Particularly in the ‘hard’ missions, there’s always a chance for everything to be flipped completely upside down.
To be honest, I only have one main gripe here: missions have very little variance. Most of the time, they consist of ‘bomb target, survive’. Often, this provides enough challenge for each mission, such as balancing out going for a run at the bombing target, risking flak damage, or attempting to fight off the hordes of insect-like fighters making runs at you constantly first. However, similarly, it is easy to get tired of this pattern. After a few missions in a row, I found myself on autopilot, not terrified of those fighters anymore, but still not ready to move on to the next story event. I knew exactly what to do to win each and every one – bomber shoots from front turret, moves, opens bomb doors, drops bombs, escape. Obviously it’s not always that simple, but for each mission that takes a turn, such as when one of the hardy ‘ace’ fighter pilots shows up, or when I’m underprepared for the challenge ahead, there’s a run-of-the-mill, vanilla mission that doesn’t add as much to the experience. That’s not to say this doesn’t have value – often it’s nice to take on an ‘easy’ mission after a tough outing where the bomber barely limps past the finish line.
Perhaps this could be mitigated by having a larger pool of missions to choose from than three, so the player can take on whatever challenge they feel ready for? I don’t think the theme of ‘go and bomb something’ is inherently a problem as well, the game is literally called Bomber Crew and thematically it wouldn’t make much sense to shoehorn in other random stuff, I just think there’s not quite enough variety there to keep me hooked for long periods of time.
The thing is – that’s absolutely fine! I’ve been waiting for something to join Enter The Gungeon as a Quick Commute Game, and Bomber Crew fits the bill perfectly. I’ve been playing a couple of missions on the train to work, a couple on the way back, and the gameplay is super fresh and engaging in short bursts, not to mention the minimalistic, cartoony aesthetic that I really need on the dreary Birmingham cross-city train line. Despite my criticisms, Bomber Crew has earned its place as a cool game that I like. I’d be interested to know what the team at Runner Duck can come up with if they decide to make a sequel.