I doubt if the products are still being made, but when I was a kid you could go into a grocery store and find "generic" things for sale. Macaroni and cheese came in a plain white box that simply said "Macaroni and Cheese." No fancy labels, brand names, or funny cartoon characters pandering to little children. Other foods came this way too, like a wide array of canned vegetables and the usual tinned goods. My brother and I would often ponder what was inside the mysterious can labeled simply "Chicken." Was it a whole chicken or just the meat? Maybe random necks and gizzards jumbled into a chunky mass? We never found out, but it was fun to imagine. Those generic products delivered what was promised in that bold, black lettering, but they didn't go much further than the bare essentials in terms of taste or luxuriance. The same could be said for Asmik Ace's Lethal Skies II. Although it's not sold in a plain white box reading "Generic Military Flight Game," it easily could be.

The sequel to last year's entry, Lethal Skies II is almost exactly what you'd expect from looking at the fighter jet on the cover, and nothing more. Besides the basics covered in every title in the genre, Lethal Skies II fails to incorporate hooks or unique twists to distinguish itself in any way. Contents include several planes to choose from, a clutch of missions with a various goals, standard two-player dogfighting selections, and plenty of rawkin' 80's hair metal. The only thing I found mildly surprising was the unexpected and seldom-used iLink mode (also found in the Armored Core series.) This mode enables two PlayStation 2s (PS2s) to be connected for a LAN-style multiplayer setup. However, since newer model PS2s have eliminated the hardware ports for this seldom-used feature, I can only imagine it will be a mode that very few (if any) ever enjoy.

After cracking the case and getting down to business, I found there wasn't much business here to actually get down to. Technically, the game isn't very inspired. It meets the absolute bare minimum requirements, but gives precious little regard to artistic uniformity or cohesion. The menu screens are gaudy and cheap-looking, giving the impression that they were slapped together to strut random bits of information and neon accents. In contrast, there are low-quality hand-painted stills shown between levels that look like they were taken off of an amateur art collector's wall and scanned directly into the game. What do the two motifs have in common with each other? Nothing that I can see.

While actually playing, the serviceable graphics aren't anything to get excited about. The aircraft look nice enough, but the environments are terribly underdone. Most areas are flat, nondescript landscape with shabby textures and a very disappointing level of detail.

The convoluted, dry plot involving fictional countries in the year 20XX (no, that's not a typo) makes no sense and does nothing to get players motivated. There aren't any real characters to identify with, and you'll be hard-pressed to even remember the names of the people or places you're fighting for.

I got about as much satisfaction out of flying the sorties as I did from the graphics and story. You'll take on all the "classic" missions like threading the narrow canyon leading to the hidden base in a remote location, the assault flybys lobbing missiles at antiaircraft emplacements, and of course it goes without saying that you'll shoot down a huge number of enemy fighters everywhere you go (not to mention a few incoming ICBMs, too). Since the game is set in the future (that is when the year 20XX is, isn't it?) I was hoping that the addition of future tech and hostile combat droids would help spice up the missions. Unfortunately, Lethal Skies II is so bland that not even blowing up multi-legged assault robots can add enough spark to save it.

The electronic equivalent of low fat vanilla pudding, the game is remarkably unremarkable in every way. Scouring the disc for something interesting to report, I can confidently say that the CG cutscenes are quite sharp, and have a very unique look about them. Appearing to be a clever mixture of cel-shaded technique combined with standard CG rendering, they were definitely the high point of my time with Lethal Skies II. Besides the cutscenes, I do commend the A.I. of the wingmen at your disposal. It's actually quite good. They were highly effective taking out both air and land targets, and the command interface used to give them orders was simplicity itself. Unlike many other flight games, putting your comrades into action definitely got results.

Besides those two nuggets, I was hard-pressed to find anything of note. That's not to say that Lethal Skies II is terrible, it's just so underwhelmingly middle-of-the-road that it doesn't stand out, and does nothing to impress. Free of personality and flat as a soda with the cap left off, I derived no enjoyment from play and felt nothing when it was over.

Dull games spawn dull reviews, as the text above clearly demonstrates. With superior games that excel or inspire, it's a joy to sing their praises to the masses and spread the greatness to be had. Nobody loves a bad game, but from a reviewer's standpoint, at least they give you something to pick apart and gain insight from. Dull, mediocre games well, these games are like a painter's palette filled with nine shades of gray. There isn't much to work with, so the end result is as lifeless and flat as a Midwest landscape study in wintertime. This game is rated 4.5 out of 10

Brad Gallaway
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