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 with 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 for the game's controls and the Dog Fight Maneuver system; you can engage enemies 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 reticle was red and shaped as a circle and if we were close by. We didn’t need to worry about navigating and ground obstacles, as movement is done automatically; we had to worry only about keeping our target on sight.
If enemies are tailing you, a giant red circle will move around and overlap your screen. From here, you can perform a counter move by slowing down (press L1), waiting until the green and red arrows onscreen connect, and then pressing L2 and R2 together. This enables you to reverse your aircraft and tail your 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 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 were 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 weapons provided are plentiful. We had to pick between the F16C, the MiG 21, the F16F, the 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 to equip on our fighter jet, we had to choose between powerful air-to-air missiles, air-to-ground missiles, or bombs that scramble an opponent's targeting system. When we took the reins 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 using the standard rockets equipped on the chopper.
To say that the game 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 aircraft 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 and 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 from 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 supposed 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-quarters 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.