A Retro Flight Gaming Hidden Gem
I never remember seeing Sky Odyssey advertised or for sale. As someone who grew up playing just about every flight game and flight sim lite on the Sony PlayStation 2 (PS2), seeing a video of it came as a surprise to me. It completely flew beneath my radar until I saw someone streaming it on Twitch in 2020. Since then, this game has been in my backlog for months, waiting for me to give it a try. Having just recently completed my first play through, I can't believe it took me over 20 years to play what is now one of my top five favorite PS2 flight titles.
As the end credits rolled, I began to think about what I had just played and tried to analyze why it immediately hooked me. After a time, I realized how this happened and promptly grew a considerable appreciation for this title.
Sky Odyssey • Remastered Opening • PS2 (PlayscopeTimeline)
Developed by Cross and published by Activision, Sky Odyssey was released on November 14th, 2000, in North America, with PAL and JP versions to follow. In retrospect, it seems like Sky Odyssey was one of the many titles lost in the lackluster launch lineup of games for the PlayStation 2. The quality of PS2 games began to pick up in late 2001 and the years immediately after that. This held true for the flight games as well. It wasn't until games like the Sidewinder series, Ace Combat series, Energy Air Force, Air Force Delta, and other combat-oriented flight games brought a solid flight presence to the PS2.
With Sky Odyssey not being a fighter jock title, I was unsure what to expect of a non-combat, non-civilian aviation transport flight game. It advertised itself as an adventure game in the style of Indiana Jones just as much as it called itself a flight simulator. A very curious mix of genres.
The Adventure mode of Sky Odyssey is the primary game mode, though there are four others. As advertised, you play as a daring pilot seeking adventure and the glory of being the first person to find the "Tower of Maximus." This rumored land is believed to exist somewhere in a mysterious archipelago that has minimal human exploration. While searching for ancient ruins and pieces of a lost map, players traverse the islands, taking up unusual secondary missions along the way. I found myself completely engaged with the story and laser-focused on flying in its movie-like situations by the third mission.
Atmosphere is something this game has in spades. A narrator describes the mission objectives and explains the lore behind the islands and descriptions of the general areas players will fly into. An easily missable section of lore is available with each location as well in the Background Info menu. With minimal voice acting and very little interaction with in-game characters, the game's sound design is forefront. While the volumes for some events were a bit too high, overall the crumbling rocks, harsh winds, and eerily quiet calms were matched nicely with the soundtrack composed by Kow Otani, who would go on to compose the Shadow of the Colossus soundtrack.
The feeling of adventure peaks during all sorts of unexpected situations and side missions that appear. Examples of these are:
flying above a train as it pumps fuel into the aircraft to counter a fuel tank leak. "Train to air refueling."
Flying through a forest of mammoth thousand-foot tall trees rumored to be inhabited by witches.
Slow, painstaking climb over a mountain range with only a well-timed fuel dump as the deciding factor for getting over the peak.
Looking for traces of red clay to find ruins of an ancient civilization while navigating a series of massive waterfalls.
Aerial refueling from a strategic bomber by using a parasite fighter-style cage and boom system while zigzagging through rocky islands.
Using pontoons to ride water currents to regain speed after suffering an engine failure.
Flying through the machinery of an underground aqueduct.
The challenge of Sky Odyssey's adventure mode is a mixture of constricted flying conditions punctuated by weather, wind effects, fuel management, and geographic dangers like rock slides, geysers, volcanic eruptions, and similar hazards. While the flight model in this game is arcadey, aircraft have a semi-realistic weight, engine power management, fuel management, and flight attitude are deciding factors in navigating geographical obstacles.
Adventure [M2: The Desert Express] (Blaze Plays Games)
There were multiple instances where landslides hurled boulders towards my aircraft, and the safest ways to avoid them were coordinated turns, snap maneuvers, and patience. There are no progress checkpoints within this game, so crashing during a mission will result in the player starting over from the beginning. Calm and focused flying will win the day.
It should be noted that while there are a handful of different camera angles to use; the default 3rd person camera is simultaneously the most helpful and most teeth-grinding camera option. Seeing the wind move the aircraft from side to side is valuable for making attitude and engine adjustments, but this also means the camera is hardly ever perfectly centered behind the aircraft's tail. Depth perception and predicting the aircraft's flight path become skills learned quickly in this game.
Checkpoint rings guide players through the considerably sized levels towards their objectives. However, a bit of exploring off the mission path is rewarded by more than some interesting landmarks. There are hidden landing strips in some of the levels that unlock aircraft customization parts or unlock an entirely new aircraft once enough parts are gathered—further encouraging exploration.
The last two missions and the ending of Sky Odyssey had so much happen in such a short amount of time, seeing the credits roll at the end filled me with a sense of considerable accomplishment. By the end of my first experience with Sky Odyssey, I found myself seriously thinking about how it hooked me so quickly. It is by no means one of the prettiest or technologically advanced PlayStation 2 games ever made. As I began to think of similar flight titles for comparison, the reason this game stands out to me became clear.
Few flight games have tried to do what Sky Odyssey has done. Certainly none of what would be considered the "big name" or "mainstream" flight titles from the first "golden age" of flight sims. This remains true even in recent times.
Living in the year 2021, during this age of easily accessible, experimental indie titles, Sky Odyssey seems more like an indie game than anything else. If this game were released this year, it would be right at home on Itch.io or Steam, being promoted through online game festivals or even produced through crowdfunding. In fact, there are games on Itch.io that now make me think of a similar creative vein Sky Odyssey was developed in. A project by a developer willing to pursue their creative vision rather than following the beaten path made by games and simulators from brand name developers and publishers.
I can now truly appreciate Sky Odyssey for the forgotten gem that it is after experiencing it myself. In the grand scheme of things, it is a game that did not have much of an impact on the flight genre, but it represents a creative aviation experience that I wish more developers would take a chance on. Those curious about this game can buy it used for rather cheap or see a playthrough of it here.
About the Author
Aaron "Ribbon-Blue" Mendoza
Co-founder of Skyward Flight Media. After founding Electrosphere.info, the first English Ace Combat database, he has been involved in creating flight game-related websites, communities, and events since 2005. He explores past and present flight games and simulators with his extensive collection of game consoles and computers. Read Staff Profile.