Reviewed: October 12, 2003
Released: August 4, 2003
Midway has always been known for their “unique” vision when it comes to sports games and last year they took that vision and warped the platform genre with the wildly original Dr. Muto. This year they apply their wacky genius to the wonderful world of racing in what has to be one of the best kart-style racing games since Mario Kart defined the genre.
Of course I am talking about Freaky Flyers, Midway’s latest multi-platform racing game that combines some of the most hilarious animated caricatures in the history of gaming with one of the most solid airplane racing games since Plane Crazy. Everything about Freaky Flyers screams high budget, high profile production values starting with the opening number that had me checking the credits to make sure they hadn’t gone and hired Weird Al.
The opening movie, crazy cast of 15 original characters, each with their own story told through brilliantly designed movies, classic game show announcer style narrations, and a solid racing engine make this a must have for racing fans on any system even though today’s review will cover the specifics of the Xbox version.
Freaky Flyers offers several game modes including Adventure, Arcade, Dogfight, and Mini Games. Adventure mode allows you to pick any of the available characters (most are locked at the beginning) and take them through a dozen races in the epic Freaky Flyers International Racing Tournament.
Races are exactly that. You are up against the entire Freaky Flyers’ cast in a three-lap race around some of the most original aerial courses in racing history. You’ll be flying through the Wild West in one level only to find yourself on a tropical Danger Island full of pirates and voodoo or a Japanese inspired Monster Island full of guys in rubber suits stomping on miniature buildings.
The tracks are massive; just watching the fly-through during the opening narration can take upwards of a full minute. There are multiple paths, secret passages, and hidden shortcuts all over the place as well as power-ups, and plenty of mission-based challenges. Each track has six objectives. These are optional challenges that will either unlock Boost Ring Highways or add power-up slots to your plane for the remainder of that race. Challenges might include picking up a preset number of iconic items, shooting down three enemy racers, or performing some level-specific act like putting out fires in Chicago by shooting fire hydrants.
It’s usually impossible to complete all the challenges and still win the race so you have to weigh your choices carefully and do as much as possible without going too far out of your way. Your finishing position at the end of the race is the only thing that determines if you advance to the next race. Unfortunately, completed goals are reset if you choose to retry a race, so it could take a very long time if you are determined to complete all the goals and place in the race.
Power-ups range from damage repair to offensive and defensive gizmos like shields, rear-firing missiles, lock-on swarm missiles, rockets, smart bombs, and turbo boost. You’ll never know what power-up you are actually getting since you fly through a generic icon and trigger a slot machine-like window that spins the power-ups until you press the button. It spins so fast it’s purely random what you end up getting. You always have your default machine guns and even though they can overheat, the ammo in infinite.
Between races you are treated to hilarious movies that are nearly as entertaining as the gameplay. Also, between races (depending on your previous performance) are assorted mini games. These stray from the normal race motif and have you defending a fort from Mexican banditos or an aircraft carrier from enemy ships and subs to name just a few.
The other game modes are limited to levels you have unlocked in Adventure mode. Race mode allows one or two pilots to race in any available level and Dogfight allows you and an opponent to duke it out in open sections of racetracks. The Mini Games were a bit of a disappointment since they are the same games that serve as intermissions during the races in Adventure mode.
The Xbox version of Freaky Flyers is easily the best of the three formats with some superior framerate, sharp graphics, and vivid colors that leap off the screen. Those of you with HDTV’s will enjoy some stunning 480 progressive scan support.
Freaky Flyers is all about the presentation, a fact that is driven home during the opening movie as newspaper headlines spiral onto the screen proclaiming proud moments in history along with historical references about “spinning newspapers”. Once you pick your character you are treated to some of the most innovative (and slightly naughty) animations of recent memory. If you think Lara Croft has curves just wait until you lay your eyes on Traci Torpedoes voluptuous flotation devices.
All of the characters in Freaky Flyers are exaggerated to extreme proportions whether it be the powerful lumberjack with the 90-inch chest and 12-inch waist or the schizophrenic Myrna Bookbotttom who transforms into the wickedly sexy Margaret Basher. Often these characters will interact with each other in the movies establishing wacky relationships and rivalries.
Gameplay is locked in at a third-person chase view, which is perfect for this type of game. The draw distance is clear out to the horizon with no pop-up or fogging. You can clearly see upcoming power-ups and other target items giving you plenty of time to plot your course. A few of the levels take place at night or inside dark areas and these can cause a few visual problems, but nothing too terrible.
There is an abundance of special effects like colored lighting, smoke, fire, explosions, water, and all sorts of detailed landscape textures, trees, buildings, and other items to flesh out the massive and incredibly complex racing environments. One of the most impressive levels has you flying through a body much like the movie Fantastic Voyage where you must avoid white blood cells and constantly pick up air molecules to keep your air meter filled.
I’ve already mentioned the opening number that sounds like it just came off the latest Weird Al CD. From there we go to the outstanding narration provided by Jason Gregory, who has the best announcing voice since William Conrad (Rocky and Bullwinkle). Jason’s baritone voice and flawless comic timing gives this game a totally unique styling that sets it apart from any other game out there.
All of the characters are voiced with just as much care and precision, and combined with the hilarious script easily give this game a true cinematic value. I can easily see an animated series spinning off this game if somebody had the ambition to pursue it. I know I would watch.
Sound effects are as varied as the visuals they accompany. Machineguns have the trademark rat-a-tat-tat while rockets and missiles launch with appropriate swooshes. The cast will yell out humorous taunts and complaints when you fire on them and cry out when their plane goes down in flames. There are all sorts of environmental sounds like wind, weather effects, roaring waterfalls, bubbling lava, and more.
The music really steals the show with level specific themes that are just as creative as everything else in this game. The Mexican cantina band, perched on a nearby cliff performs the theme music for one level and can actually be shot, and you get some prohibition ragtime theme music for the gangland Chicago level, but perhaps my favorite piece in the entire game is the catchy tune that goes with Torpedo Run. The lyrics had me laughing so hard I had to pause the game.
There is a metric ton of unlockable goodies including movies, music, and artwork. You’ll need to play through the entire game at least twice with two different characters to unlock most of it. You get to start the game with a handful of characters and more are unlocked as you play the game. Each character goes through the same series of races but they have different planes and approaches to each track. This creates a bit of variety but probably not enough that you would want to play the game 15 times through – at least in consecutive sessions. Then again, the movies are just so darn good you might actually tough it out just to enjoy the movies, unless you can locate a cheat code to unlock them.
Freaky Flyers is surprisingly difficult and a few of the missions are real stumpers. Defending the fort took me nearly a dozen tries before I figured out the best tactic and the Torpedo Run took me more than three hours to figure out and even on subsequent replays with other pilots, I had to develop new strategies. Plan on at least 10-15 hours to get through the game the first time and substantially less for each of the other characters. Those of you planning on finishing will all 15 characters can look forward to 40+ hours of gameplay.
The multiplayer dogfighting and racing modes are also a much welcome diversion and allow you some additional gameplay enjoyment after you have exhausted the single player content from this title.
Freaky Flyers is a breath of original fresh air that will delight and entertain all who play. I was a bit skeptical when I first saw this title at E3, but the finished product will likely make its way onto several of our Game of the Year lists. The presentation value is worthy of its own television series and the gameplay is surprisingly challenging and sometimes downright difficult. Even though the game can get a bit repetitive, Freaky Flyers is one racing title that you won’t want to miss no matter which system you own.