Konami's AirForce Delta is a fairly little-known series of combat flight sims in the same vein as Ace Combat or Lethal Skies. The series began quietly on the Dreamcast all the way back in 2000, and a second iteration called AirForce Delta Storm appeared on the Xbox when that system launched at the end of 2001. Now Konami is crafting a third game in the series called AirForce Delta Strike, and surprisingly enough, this version has (so far) only been announced for the PlayStation 2. The game presents a mix of your typical near-future flight combat action and a surprisingly complex RPG-style component between missions.
AirForce Delta Strike's storyline is about what you'd expect from a heavily anime-influenced fighter jet game. You start out as "the gifted pilot with a checkered past" named Ken Thomas, who lost his beloved girlfriend to a war between rival factions with mysterious and lofty-sounding names like the OCC (Orbital Citizen's Community) and the EDAF (Earth Defense Alliance Force). Ken is scarred by the loss and vows revenge, which he seeks by joining the Delta Squadron, a ragtag team of "problem" fighter pilots who nonetheless are doing their part in the war. The motley composition of Delta Squadron makes for some rather "interesting" character interactions, which occur both during and between missions. Later in the game, you'll be able to use a large number of other pilots as well, and the whole time you'll be learning more about the personalities of your diverse and quirky comrades.
The flight mechanics in AirForce Delta Strike ought to be extremely familiar to you if you've ever played any modern flight combat game, like Ace Combat. You can view the action from a third-person, behind-the-plane perspective, or from inside the cockpit (with or without the actual cockpit obscuring your view). There are multiple control configurations tailored to varying levels of skill, so the novice control set is made for people with no flight experience who just want to get into the game, while the expert and ace configurations give you control over more advanced flight controls, like left and right yaw and air braking. Diehard cockpit jockeys will be pleased to know that Delta Strike even supports the Logitech Flight Force joystick (which is sold separately) for the ultimate high-G experience.
You'll take on your enemies in standard combat sim-style, too. As you'd expect, you can cycle through available enemies with a targeting display that indicates targets on both a radar and a floating directional indicator. Planetary missions will have you fighting against aerial enemies, dogfight-style, in addition to some ground targets. For instance, one mission has you attacking a major oil pipeline while your squadmates fend off enemy fighters. Later in the game, you'll even fly some missions in space, which will present some unique mechanics and challenges. One noteworthy thing about the flow of Delta Strike's missions is how darn chatty your friends and enemies are during battle. Your radio channel will be filled with mission orders, taunts, arguments, and all sorts of other banter--literally nonstop--as you're flying. The radio transmissions are accompanied by attractive (but static) anime-style character portraits that pop in at the top of the screen. All the talk makes the missions feel a little more alive and less sterile than they would if you were flying in silence.
The characterizations don't stop when the mission's over, either, since you'll then return to a flight base where you can visit a number of locations to accomplish different goals. You're able to repair, upgrade, and sell your existing planes, or you can even buy new craft, if you have enough cash (the game features dozens of new planes to access). There are other areas of the base, such as the meeting room or runway, where you won't necessarily perform any essential game functions, but rather, you'll just see who's hanging around, and you'll find out what they have to say. The characters are represented on base by large, high-res anime-style portraits (that, alas, aren't animated), so this art ought to tickle the fancy of gamers who appreciate varied character designs of this style. It's nice to get a healthy dose of both ship customization and character interaction between missions, instead of just blindly playing one action stage after another.
AirForce Delta Strike is slated for release in February, and from what we've seen so far, the game has coalesced into a pretty entertaining mix of combat, story, and plane customization for anyone looking for a little more from their air combat. The game is looking pretty good graphically, as it's pretty detailed and runs at a consistently smooth frame rate, with no hint of slowdown in the missions. The character and background art in the between-mission base section look good too, although there's no animation to speak of. The game even features a pretty nifty replay system that lets you cut and save your own mission replays by using a number of cool-looking camera angles. The build we played presented no obvious problems and seemed close to final, so the game should have no trouble meeting its target release date. Look for more on AirForce Delta Strike soon.