Last update 10-05-10
"Reaching near the pinnacle in atmospheric experiences is a hard task, yet this THQ published title manages to do just that. In what must be considered the underdog in a plethora of flight combat games (on all systems), Yager comes out on top with its combination of fantastic visuals, great storyline, and all-out dogfights. A must for action fans alike." GameBiz Review
"Once in a while a game sneaks up on your radar with little fanfare to herald its arrival and it goes on to completely captivate your attention, so much so you cease to function on a social level. Yager is one such game" GameFaqs Review
For every video gamer there's usually a game that captures the gamer's imagination as a real gem. Sometimes it's a sleeper. Yager is one of those games.
German-made Yager is an action-flight combat game taking place on a futuristic Earth that's been divided into huge trade zones by maga-companies, where competing factions fight for control of territory and trade routes. You play Magnus Tide, wisecracking freelance pilot for Proteus who's trying to recover his reputation after he crashed his ship on a routine delivery causing Sarah, a communications officer and now former girlfriend, to be demoted. Magnus' attempts to win back Sarah is a subplot.
Yager wasn't originally released in North America, only in Europe and Japan by THQ (I wonder if politics had anything to do with it?) where it got excellent reviews and was well-received, but remained largely unknown in the US. I ordered my copy from the UK. DreamCatcher re-released the PC version re-titled, Aerial Strike: the Yager Missions, which I also bought and comment on at the end of this review.
Though dated (Yager was released in 2003) Yager's graphics are still noteworthy. Everything appears to be designed with imagination and attention to detail, especially the crafts, most of which are animated. There's enough eye candy that in the first few levels I found myself flying off-mission to gawk at the beautiful graphics. Yager has a great 3D spatial qualityyou really get a sense of depth-of-field; nothing looks two-dimensional. But beauty is only skin deep. Does Yager come through as a great video game?
You fly the Sagittarius, a futuristic jet craft, using a loose physics engine allowing radical maneuvers, though I found the controls a little too reactive at times making movement jerky (a joystick is preferred over a mouse). In addition to jet-mode, there's a VTOL (Vertical Takeoff and Land) allowing hiding in the varied terrain, stealth attacks, strafing slow moving objects or quick stops if you're about to hit a mountain! The HUD is uncluttered and effective, providing all essential info, like friend and foe locations on your radar, shield's condition, direction and weapons status in a clear format. There are side missions to complete, like saving a buddy who's ship is under fire or rescuing a spoiled kid trapped in a river, that results in unlocking data about the numerous crafts.
There are 22 large, free-roaming levels with an engaging storyline and variety of locations and settings, from the idyllic Free Zone Coast to the dark and foreboding Bitterfeld. The cinematic cut scenes provide a good continuum between missions and are some of the best in a 2003 game. In most of the levels there's a wide variety of crafts cruising about, many that you can interact with. For example, a pilot will give you directions or take your picture while exclaiming,"Smile! You're in the Free T-Z news!"
Though there's no branching to the storyline, you're given a lot of leeway in completing missions and the dynamic nature of the Yager world results in differences in how the story is played out depending on how you go about completing a level, even over several times. Certain actions trigger various character interactions and scenes and gives a sense of being in a movie with you playing the lead role. There are plot twists that took me by surprise and though the story never really develops a cohesiveness, there's enough intrigue, character development and mystery to take Yager out of strictly FPS and marries aspects of a RPG.
The ship is well-outfitted with weapons including the prerequisite lasers, machine guns, missiles, a rail gun and in some levels a napalm gun. Most of the weapons have secondary functions. In the lasers it concentrates them into one shotgun blast, but uses more energy and hence requires a longer recycle time. The machine gun has a rear gun that pops out and is helpful for holding off your pursuers while heading for the nearest repair pad that are scattered throughout the levels or taking out a cruise missile that's locked-on to you.
You fight against pirates and the DST, who pilot a variety of craft from small, one-person fighters to larger fighters, battleships, unmanned drones, as well land weapons - some stationary and some hovercraft guns that scoot around trying to get a bead on you. Enemies can launch guided cruise missiles ("miss-SILE" in Sarah's clipped English accent) that you have to take out with your rear machine gun (or forward if you're a good shot) or outrun. One of the most satisfying things for me was outrunning a cruise missilesorry, that's miss-SILEby swooping in and out of hills and valleys.
Landing on a repair pad will fix your ship's damage and recharge your shields. Repair pads take one minute to recycle preventing camping next to one and repeatedly using it. Each weapon has a distinct and appropriate sound (in some levels the ship makes a clicking sound that I haven't figured what for) and the musical score follows the plot and action well.
Enemy AI is quite good for a 2003 game. Enemy craft work together in coordinating attacks and do a good job of trying to out maneuver you when pursued. In squadron attacks, your wingman is highlighted on your radar and if you follow he will draw the enemy's fire allowing you to take them out.
Except for the lasers that are powered by the Sagittarius' engines, but have downtime to cool and recycle, the weapons have limited ammo and there are glowing pickups scattered throughout the expansive levels that provide extra ammo and speed boosts. In the later missions, your ship is outfitted with a time warp function that slows everything down and is particularly useful for a Star Wars-like-plant-a-bomb-then-get-the-hell-out-as-fast-as-possible before you get roasted by the fast approaching heat wave!
Yager has a cartoon quality to it, though not in a bad sense. Although human characters are rendered nicely, with subtle facial expression missing in other games released in 2003, some of the crafts resemble bugs. For example, the Proteus ship Troja looks like a big beetle, whereas the small, single-person fighters look quite fly-like and adds the weird satisfaction of swatting a fly when you blow one to bits. This leads to the explosions and they are spectacular featuring advanced particle effects. I challenge any game released that year, or even later, to beat them. Also, reflections off water from weapon's fire, and other water effects, are especially nice.
The characters come alive in Yager; there are twenty you interact with in varying degrees. Voice-acting is well done with a variety of accents, including Sarah's staid English accent to a couple Russian dudes who make typical grammatical mistakes trying to convert Russian to English. You're frequently contacted by friend and foe alike on your ship's comms and humor is liberally laced throughout. I often found myself chuckling at some of the things Magnus, and the other characters, said. Script writer Graham Rhodes contributed to Yager's storyline (Magnus will sometimes remark, "What ever happened to Graham Rhodes?") The interplay between Magnus and Sarah, as she slowly warms to his attempts to get back in her good graces, is a nice subplot.
No game is perfect and I have a couple gripes with Yager. The first are the height and side boundaries. Though boundaries exist in most 3D games, on a few levels the height ceiling seemed a bit low and I had trouble flying over some mountains and some of the side boundaries extend well within the maps. If you fly into one your ship is turned around, often directly at your enemies! And on at least two levels the boundaries allowed the enemy crafts through, but not mine.
The other is the inability to save in-game, a result of the port from Xbox. If you fail a mission you can either restart it, or continue at the previous checkpoint as long as you stay in the mission. If you exit you have to start the level over from the beginning. However, this does lend an urgency to the missions and there's a high satisfaction quotient when you finish one, as some are difficult.
Despite its few faults, Yager is a lot of fun and, after the first few levels, often challenging. The game is intelligently laid out and there are usually ways to strategize your best options to complete a level by doing some exploration and testing the enemy. Sometimes a direct, high-speed attack is warranted, in another stealth is the best strategy. Indeed, Yager shows an attention to detail in most areas, from the stunning graphics to extensive character development to exhilarating dog fights.
Yager is a quirky game. People seem to love it or hate it. If you want a straight-up FPS/3PS with little fluff then Yager may not be to your liking. If you want an involved storyline with a lot of character interaction, or liked Crimson Skies, Yager will probably reel you in.
IMO, this sleeper is one of the best games of 2003.