PLATFORM(S): PS3, 360
RELEASE DATE(S): 14 October 2011
If there’s one thing that the Ace Combat franchise has been missing over the years it’s a sense of scale. The battlefields have been vast but have never amounted to more than flat plains interspersed with the occasional bridge. Technology has eventually caught up with what Ace Combat has been trying to do since the early PS1 days and with that it has targeted the mainstream audience with big, booming explosions… but is it a simulation?
Namco has gone back to the drawing board to provide players with something more than just dog fights. Some much-needed octane has been squeezed into this long-running franchise in the form of helicopters and top-down Modern Warfare-like espionage missions, which come straight from a best-selling military author… apparently. Though there is no question that the developers have locked on to the HAWX series’ style it does not quite capture the advanced control system that made Ubisoft’s offering such a joy to play.
The controls have been greatly simplified and the general premise of the game remains the same – engage with enemy aircraft and blast them out of the sky by outmanoeuvring them at a distance and being clinical with your chances if and when an opening arises. Should your paths cross into dog-fighting range however the rules of the game do a complete 180. Once you’re close enough to your rival a green circular shape appears around the locked-on aircraft that requires you press LB and RB simultaneously. The plane switches to autopilot during the phase leaving you to concentrate on more important aspects, such as deciding whether to use your machine gun to blast him into pieces or going the easy route by lobbing a missile his way. Nail them dead centre and you get a sexy slow-motion cinematic of their plane exploding.
What happens if you’re the cat in this dogfight? Bad times right? Right, but all is not lost as your opponent’s reticule appears on-screen to warn you where the incoming missiles are coming from. Evade destruction for long enough and you’ll be prompted to hit the bumper buttons, allowing you to perform a classic Airwolf manoeuvre that puts you back in to the chase. The new helicopter missions continue the simple trend. The analogue sticks are used to pitch and strafe the helicopter from an over-the-shoulder Resi 4-style camera view. Press B to launch missiles or press LT to zoom in on your target and blast away with the machine gun by pressing the A button.
Add an impressive co-op and 16-player multiplayer experience and it nearly scrapes home free. But not quite. Ace Combat will have players believing that it hass been reinvented for novices when that is very far from the truth. It’s a hard as nails and despite beautiful landscapes it does not quite fill the void simulation nuts need er…filled since this is as arcadey as they come. So it’s not what you’d call a ‘sim’ but it’s tough enough to adequately test the skills for those who need something in this bone-dry genre.