Earlier this week, during a meeting with Namco Bandai, we had an opportunity to play through Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation's co-op battles for the first time. The upcoming combat flight simulator will feature only two co-op battles, but we're told that additional levels might be made available for download postrelease. Having enjoyed playing through both of the existing co-op battles during our session, we're certainly hoping that's the case.
Ace Combat 6's co-op battles support up to four players simultaneously, and task you with destroying overwhelming enemy forces within a time limit. Each pilot can choose to fly in a different plane, so it's entirely possible that well-organized teams will choose to use specific planes for certain roles in the battle. All of the planes in Ace Combat 6 have different handling characteristics, of course, but their most distinguishing features are the various special weapons in their arsenals. The F-16 that we opted for, for example, had a special weapon that could lock on to four enemy aircraft and fire rockets at all of them simultaneously. We also noticed that there were three other special weapon options for the F-16, but they need to be unlocked--presumably in the single-player campaign--before you can select them.
The time limit for each co-op battle is around 20 minutes. You won't necessarily have that long to complete your objectives, though, because valuable seconds are deducted every time one of you dies and is forced to respawn a safe distance from the action. You won't be popular with your teammates if you're crashing and burning too often, then, but don't think that you can hang back and not get embroiled in the battle without getting noticed, because your kills count toward an individual score as well as an overall score for the team.
Flying alongside three Ace Combat 6 testers from Namco Bandai, our first mission was to destroy a large naval force. Antiaircraft guns and a handful of ground forces made for good target practice en route to the water, but did little to prepare us for the sheer size of the enemy force that was waiting for us there. Clouds of smoke from antiaircraft fire filled the sky in places, and since the enemy fleet counted at least one large aircraft carrier among its number, there were plenty of enemies for us to deal with in the sky in addition to those on the water. The battle reached its climax with a boss battle of sorts, against the Kraken--which on this occasion is simply the name of a huge enemy vessel rather than an octopuslike sea monster.
Even that encounter did little to prepare us for the second of the two co-op missions, which immediately pitted our small squadron against a number of huge, futuristic-looking, flying fortresses. Looking more like spaceships than aircraft, these gigantic enemy craft were equipped with numerous antiaircraft guns and engines that needed to be destroyed individually before we could even hope to knock them out of the sky. The largest of the enemies, a flying aircraft carrier, could be finished off only after its core was destroyed. The core could really only be targeted by a plane flying through the middle of the craft--above its runway and underneath its superstructure--which wasn't quite in the same league as making a trench run to take down the Death Star in Star Wars, but was challenging even after the majority of the antiaircraft guns had been destroyed.
Perhaps the only disappointing thing about our Ace Combat 6 co-op battle experience on this occasion was that we didn't really need to cooperate with the other pilots at all--we were simply four pilots attempting (and succeeding) to complete the same objectives and hoping not to get in each other's way. With that said, the other three players in our group were Namco Bandai testers who have no doubt played through the co-op missions countless times previously, and they were outscoring us by some significant margins. Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation is currently scheduled for release on October 23. Expect a full review soon.