If Namco Bandai was worried about how the public would receive the newest Ace Combat after jumping from a Sony console to Microsoft's, its fears were certainly calmed by the 900,000 downloads the game's demo has already received. Namco Bandai is showed a new single-player mission at their pre-TGS event yesterday and the game's online mode is playable on the show floor. That's where we went as soon as the show opened.
We snagged the first available controller and were immediately thrown into what appeared to be a standard deathmatch. It was already in progress, so the sky was filled with jet contrails, missile trails, bullets, and of course, jets. We were fighting along a coastal city, which made for some interesting tactical choices. Many pilots (us included) tended to head straight for the city as soon as we heard an enemy pilot had missile lock on us. The buildings seemed to provide some shelter, and if nothing else it was fun to zoom between structures.
From a technical standpoint the online mode played no differently than the offline portion. The frame rate was fast and there was no noticeable lag, though that shouldn't be a surprise since we're pretty sure we were playing against the people right next to us. One way in which the game did feel different was how smart the other pilots were. The CPU might be prone to letting you get an easy shot off, but real people are much more adept at avoiding your missile lock. They're also more aggressive so you've always got to be on your toes. Our time with the online portion of the game was over all too soon, but we weren't too disappointed as a Namco Bandai representative had an all-new level to show us from the game's campaign mode.
The level we saw was a new single-player mission, Ragno Fortress, the 10th mission in the game. A fortress that was once yours is now under enemy control. You'll need to clear the way for ground troops to come in and retake the fortress. The level is loosely based on the Grand Canyon and the heavily fortified base is right smack in the middle of it. You have three operations to choose from and you must beat two out of three to move on to the next mission. The first objective was to defend ground forces. Another was to protect a different group by flying through the canyon and taking out enemy targets, and the third has you flying through a tunnel and blowing up some sort of underground target, not unlike Luke's run on the death star in Star Wars.
After you choose the two missions to tackle you can pick from the 15 real and one fictitious aircraft in the game. As you pick your plane you can look at it from inside the hanger. The planes are incredibly detailed and they look great. After picking your craft you pick the jets for your wingmen. Our host chose the F-15 for himself and the A10-A Thunderbolt for his wingmen. Once you've got that sorted out you pick your weaponry, starting point, and it's off to the skies for combat.
This level appeared to take place just after sunrise so it was filled with intense colors. The sky was a deep blue, filled with clouds. The ground had an orange tint to it. Watching the plane go through the new high G turn we marveled at the game's great particle and lighting effects. As the squadron continued through the level looking for targets they came across a boat in the river and took out an operation on the docks with a well-placed missile. There was no time to relax, because as soon as the missile had been launched the jet flew under a bridge and pulled up just in time to avoid a giant dam. Once the canyon forces were taken out, the next objective was to cripple the base's power facility. It's a tough thing to accomplish alone, but you don't have to. As soon as you clear an objective you can call in an attack and all remaining allied forces will focus on your target. It's important to keep your friends alive or you're in for an uphill battle because there will be no one left to call. After our the allies took out the objective it was time to hit the tunnel--which turned out to be a bad idea, as the plane crashed and the demo ended.
But the demo wasn't quite over. You can now replay your mission from a variety of camera angles. Not only can you see what you were doing, but you can track your allies' moves in the replay as well. It's a neat feature that lets you learn from your mistakes.
If you've read all of our Ace Combat 6 coverage and you've played the demo, you're most likely itching to get your hands on the finished product. The good news about the two-month wait for the game, at least for non-360 owners, is you've got two more months to pick up an Xbox 360. That's the only way you'll get to play the game, as Namco Bandai still promises it's an Xbox 360 exclusive.