Namco recently stopped by the GameSpot offices with its latest preview build of Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War for the PlayStation 2. It was only a few days ago that we played one version of the game at the Tokyo Game Show, but one of the features that we didn't get to check out on that occasion was the recently announced arcade mode--which we did manage to spend a little time with once we'd been given the guided tour of the story-driven campaign mode.
Ace Combat 5's campaign mode will feature more than 30 missions in total, and while your progression through the game will be linear (for the most part), there will be a few instances where you'll fly one of two possible missions. The first mission that we checked out was taken from the very beginning of the campaign and took the form of a training exercise in the skies above the Sand Island military base. Our only enemies on this occasion were drone aircraft, and since our character was still a rookie at this point, we didn't have to concern ourselves with issuing instructions to our wingmen, which will be quite a prominent feature in later missions. The training mission provided a good opportunity for us to both reacquaint ourselves with the game's controls (although we've not yet had the opportunity to check out the official Ace Combat 5 "Flightstick 2" that--as was announced earlier this week--will be bundled with 20,000 limited edition copies of the game) and settle on one of the game's three available camera angles, which include: a behind-the-plane view, a cockpit view, and a first-person view with a heads-up display. Speaking of cameras... Fans of the Ace Combat series will no doubt welcome the return of the action-replay feature, which lets you relive your greatest victories (and most spectacular failures) from just about any angle imaginable.
The second mission that we looked at was also taken from quite early on in the game's story mode, and it had us protecting an aircraft carrier that had come under attack from enemy planes as it left port. We were accompanied by three wingmen for the duration of the mission and were able to issue them different instructions simply by tapping the directional pad. Orders that we were able to issue included: attack nearby targets, provide cover for us, disperse, and use their special weapons. You'll also be able to interact with your wingmen via radio chatter, since the game's 16,000-plus lines of speech include a number of questions that your wingmen will want answers to--some of which will affect their subsequent actions.
The last mission that we got a very brief look at (so that we could see some of the new polygonal buildings up close) saw our squadron of four planes performing a flyby over a large football stadium. The level was set around dusk (which will transpire in-game, by the way, along with changes in the weather), so it was easy for us to spot the stadium from miles away, because there was some kind of light show going on. As we got closer to the stadium and the city surrounding it, we were pretty impressed by the number of buildings and structures that have been modeled in 3D. The stadium was the most impressive building, though, and it even featured camera flashes in the crowd. The textures employed in the areas of the map that didn't feature 3D scenery were obviously a little less impressive up close, but most of them actually held up pretty well.
Fly the Unfriendly Skies
Unlike the story mode, the all-new arcade mode will see you flying solo (as Mobius from Ace Combat 4), and it doesn't burden you with any mission objective in its 16 or so stages, aside from shooting down a certain number of enemies within a specific time limit. The arcade mission that we played, for example, required us to shoot down 12 enemy planes within what started out as a 30-second time limit. Each plane we shot down added 20 seconds to our time limit, so the goal wasn't quite as tough as we had first thought. After watching a number of our missiles fail to connect with their targets, though, we realized that we weren't going to have enough to get the job done and were contemplating having to switch to guns. It never came to that, though, because we spotted a bonus enemy plane with a large letter "M" above it--indicating that shooting it down would reward us with more missiles. The controls and suchlike will be unchanged in the arcade mode, but we found that the gameplay is surprisingly different. There's a much greater sense of urgency every second that you're playing, and this is complemented perfectly by the fast-paced rock music in the background.
The enemy intelligence in both gameplay modes looked to be pretty impressive, and we were certainly surprised by how often our guided missiles missed their targets. Our disappointing success rate was largely due to the fact that we weren't launching our missiles quickly enough when we got locks on our enemies. Of course, our targets were quite actively trying not to get shot down (and who can blame them?). We were told that in later levels, your enemies will actually have access to defensive measures, such as flares and chaff.
Don't worry too much, though, because the planes at your disposal will also improve as you progress through the game. You'll actually start out with just one of the game's 50-plus planes in your hangar, but you'll invariably unlock another one every time you beat a mission. A number of the planes in the game are also available in multiple configurations that you'll gain access to by achieving a certain kill rate in one of the models that you already have. Four increasingly desirable versions of the F-18, for example, will be featured in the game, as will a number of aircraft that haven't yet made it off the drawing board in real life.
We didn't get much of a look at Ace Combat 5's story during our time with the game, but it's clear that all three of your wingmen will play pivotal roles in it and that you'll develop emotional attachments to them as you progress through the campaign. Ace Combat 5 is currently scheduled for release on October 25, so we're looking forward to bringing you more information on the game between now and then.