We take to the not-so-blue-and-usually-heavy-under-fire skies of this upcoming reboot.
Just like the film industry, the games industry has been seeing a lot of reboots and reiterations of past iconic franchises as of late, ranging from the decent to the potentially unnecessary. With Namco Bandai now performing this feat onto another classic franchise, the target being the Ace Combat series, developer Project Aces is planning to enshroud it with modern warfare trappings that would make action director Michael Bay wet himself. As far as we're concerned with the recent playthrough of a near-final PS3 build, we didn't really mind if it deviated slightly from the past title's long-range combat focus.
We had a go with the first three missions of the game: a dream sequence called Nightmare, an assault mission called Inferno, and an Apache helicopter rescue mission called Red Moon. The first stage acts as a tutorial to the game's controls and Dog Fight Maneuver system; you can engage an enemy to accurately shoot them while automatically tailing them from behind. To initiate this, we pressed the L2 and R2 buttons together as soon as the plane reticule was red and shaped as a circle and if we were close by. We didnt need to worry about navigating and ground obstacles as movement is done automatically; we only had to worry about keeping our target on sight.
If enemies are tailing behind you, a red giant circle will move around and overlap your screen. From here, we could perform a counter move by slowing down (press L1) and wait until the green and red arrows on-screen indicators connect, and then press L2 and R2 together. This enabled us to reverse our aircraft and tail our former pursuer. If the arrows pass each other, your aircraft will stall and leave you momentarily vulnerable. Of course, if such a risk isn't your cup of tea, you can still use flares to draw tailing missiles off of your plane.
The radar helps immensely when looking for enemies and dodging projectiles. Enemy jets are red arrows while missiles are white tubes. When in doubt, you can also press the triangle button to turn the camera to the last target for a brief second. The air fights in the Inferno stage was just the tip of the iceberg of the action, as we were bombarded by MIG fighter planes swarming left and right. The majority of them were TAC Leaders, so mastering the DFM and knowing when to counter and break off from DFMs is a must since these jets can dodge conventional missile launches.
The planes and arsenal provided is plentiful. We had to pick between the F16C, MiG 21, F16F, Mirage 2000, and the F4E for the Inferno mission. To play it safe, we picked the F16F since it had the best rating of armor amongst all the aircraft along with good moderate attribute ratings. For the weapons, we had to choose between powerful air-to-air missiles, air-to-ground missiles, or bombs that scramble an opponent's targeting system to equip on a fighter jet. When we took reigns of the Apache helicopter in the third mission, we got to play around with a ground missile system that could target up to four enemies at a time in addition to the standard rockets equipped on the chopper.
To say that the title feels like "Call of Duty in the air" is underselling it. Every moment flying around the first two stages while sizing up the oncoming threats felt empowering. Chaining up different targets while in DFM and destroying them in a row is a reward in itself, provided you can lure three or more enemy aircrafts into your line of sight. As per the rule of flight sims, each mission will take a minimum of 20 to 30 minutes to complete up to even an hour due to on-the-fly objectives.
Luckily, checkpoints are plentiful and fairly distributed. Load times after deaths are instantaneous, as evident with our constant failure at the Red Moon mission due to getting used to the chopper's cumbersome movement and the accidental button press that shot out missiles that killed a friendly ground target we were suppose to protect.
Fans may take umbrage at that particular section, as it contrasts heavily with the free-for-all fighter jet-piloting shenanigans the series is known for. Still, gamers who like their flight sims with a huge tinge of arcade action, variety and "close quarter" duels with a rocking soundtrack blaring through the speakers can see the full game for themselves on October 11. Other regions will have the game on shelves on October 15.