Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation First Look

We get a first look at the amazing-looking debut of the Ace Combat series on the Xbox 360.

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Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation
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Before we begin a proper preview of Ace Combat 6 for the Xbox 360, let's get this out of the way early: This game looks amazing. With wonderfully detailed jets, gorgeous explosion and flight effects, as well as some of the most realistic-looking cityscapes we've ever seen in a flight game, there's little doubt that Namco's next entry in its long-running jet-fighting series is giving the Xbox 360 hardware a serious workout.

Ace Combat 6 is all about piloting some of the most technologically advanced fighter jets in the world to defend your fictional home city of Gracemeria. The story begins when an unidentified enemy attacks the city, first taking out Kings Bridge in a surprise strike that requires the home forces to quickly scramble their jets into the air. From there, it's up to you to pilot your jet in Gracemerian airspace, blasting down droves of bad guys in the process and in true Ace Combat style.

With stunning visuals and intense action, Ace Combat 6 is looking good.
With stunning visuals and intense action, Ace Combat 6 is looking good.

However, there are several things that set Ace Combat 6 apart from its predecessors. The first is a graphical style that, if not photorealistic, is perhaps the next best thing. The jets, complete with plumes of superheated fuel exhaust trailing out the back, are all expertly modeled. They are also, naturally, based on their real-life counterparts. The game will include approximately 20 licensed jets, including the F-15 E Strike Eagle, the F-22 Raptor, and the A-10 Warthog, all with realistically modeled cockpits should you prefer the first-person flight action. However, as good as those sleek fighters look, they pale in comparison to the impressive scale of the environments themselves. As you begin the mission over the heart of Gracemeria, you're struck first by the immense size of the area; sweeping down closer to the buildings near downtown, it isn't long before you get a look at all those high-rises in the middle of the city or the smaller buildings that surround them.

It's all a bit like the "3D view" in Google Maps, only rendered with much more detail and with a draw distance that is truly impressive. Of course, it's likely that if you were to get close enough to an individual building, you'd see that it wasn't modeled with much detail; at the speeds you'll typically be flying at in Ace Combat 6, you'll hardly notice. Couple that with cool cloud effects (that actually make it look like you're flying into a cloud rather than a clump of white pixels) and dramatic explosion effects, and you've got a game that's looking sharp indeed.

If you're willing to shell out the cash for the Ace Edge joystick, you'll get a more realistic flight experience.
If you're willing to shell out the cash for the Ace Edge joystick, you'll get a more realistic flight experience.

Ace Combat 6 will also set itself apart with its controls. While you'll still be able to fly the planes with the regular Xbox 360 controller, the hardcore Ace Combat fans might want to try out the new Ace Edge stick and throttle controller that will be available as a bundle when the game is released later this year. We saw a prototype in action during our demo with the game; it comes in two separate pieces--the stick and the throttle--along with a number of buttons on both pieces that looked to add a lot of complexity (or fun, if you swing that way) to the flight in Ace Combat 6. Luckily, the flight in the AC series has always been approachable, so even if you don't want to drop the cash for the Ace Edge, you'll still be able to kick some aerial butt.

Though the early missions in the game will likely be a cakewalk for Ace Combat vets, you'll want to get used to one of the new mechanics in the game: allied support. Here, you can order allied forces--ground, aerial, or naval in nature--to assist you in your enemy assaults. You can also choose whether to have them attack specific areas on the battlefield or simply provide cover assault by attacking any enemy that targets your plane. However, you won't have immediate access to allied support. You'll first need to fill up a meter in the lower left-hand corner of the screen by shooting down enemies. Once it's available, you must select the allied units you wish to help you by pointing the nose of your plane in that units' direction, then press either up or down on the d-pad. Up will choose "attack" enemy units, down will choose "cover". Producers told us that the support feature will be crucial to your success as you progress through the game and that units you help during one mission will be available to you later. Certainly, that kind of firepower will be helpful to you when taking on the big boss planes that will surely find their way into Ace Combat 6.

Allied support on land, air, or water will help you survive the mission.
Allied support on land, air, or water will help you survive the mission.

The single-player game in Ace Combat 6 will boast improved artificial intelligence because enemy planes will work more skillfully both as individuals and in formation. Beyond that, the game will have multiplayer dog fighting via Xbox Live. While Namco hasn't yet announced final details on the online portion of the game, we do know that several multiplayer match types will make their way into the game. These matches include deathmatch, team deathmatch, and cooperative play, where you and friends will take on computer-controlled enemies.

Judging from its visuals alone, Ace Combat 6 has to be one of the Xbox 360 games to watch for the rest of the year. If it can offer a gameplay experience that lives up to its amazing look, then we're all in for something special when the game ships worldwide later this year. We'll be bringing you much more on the game in the coming months.

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