Following the relative success of Interactive Magic Online's Warbirds, a number of developers quickly began jumping onto the online flight simulation bandwagon. One of these developers, VR-1, attracted the interest of software giant Microsoft, and soon thereafter VR-1's Fighter Ace appeared as Microsoft's first premium pay game on the Internet Gaming Zone. There is no boxed set available in stores; you can download Fighter Ace (around 8MB) straight off of the Internet. The only other requirement is that you'll need Microsoft's Internet Explorer web browser software since it's required to access the Internet Gaming Zone (though it will support Netscape soon).
Fighter Ace comes in two pricing schemes: a $1.95 per day rate or $19.95 for a month - both flat fees, so if you plan on flying more than ten days a month, the second rate looks a lot more sensible.
First off, Fighter Ace is definitely not Warbirds by any stretch of the imagination. The bulk of the action takes place in the basic arenas where the flight models are simplified and the chances of taking off right in the middle of an air battle are pretty good. In fact, the opposing airfields are typically clustered together, making any attempt to actually use real-world air combat tactics a waste of time and energy. Few, if any, pilots fly in the realistic arenas. Consequently, Fighter Ace is not for online pilots looking for realism or real-world physics modeling - at least, not if they want to fly with everybody else.
The graphics in Fighter Ace are all texture-mapped, but it doesn't help much. At anything but high altitudes (and sometimes even then) the ground is a horrible hodgepodge of organically colored splotches with little or no real terrain features except for pixelated roads and the occasional hill or big rock. Buildings and airfields are merely adequately done, and the only things that look even halfway decent are the aircraft and the smoke effects. While offline practice is nice and smooth at all detail levels, the same is untrue online. The best thing to do is run the game at the lowest terrain detail level just to make it playable online. Expect some strange problems to crop up because of Net and server lag.
On the IGZ there are free-for-all arenas, as well as team arenas where there are four countries, each with an airfield: the United States, England, Germany, and Russia. Each country has four different aircraft to choose from, for a total of 16 aircraft overall. The arenas are further split into the beginner and regular arenas, segregated by online combat experience - once you reach a certain kill/death ratio you are "promoted" in rank.
Air combat is fast and furious; aircraft damage models are based on a simplistic percentage system. As damage accumulates, the aircraft's flying performance degrades appreciably. In the simple arenas, each of the different kinds of aircraft fly fairly similarly, with only small yet discernible differences in the modeling. While combat in other simulations involves mastery of your particular aircraft, combat in Fighter Ace involves the mastery of the online environment. Shooting someone down involves little skill except (in most cases) getting behind someone and blasting away. If this happens to you, well, hopefully you have friends around or you know how to take advantage of Fighter Ace's atrocious view system (in this environment, padlock is almost useless).
Admittedly, Fighter Ace does have some things going for it: The air combat does seem to get a bit addictive in spite of the problems, you can tune down the graphics to get rid of the ground textures completely (ending up with something that looks similar to Warbirds), and the action is never-ending. Those looking for some action and who don't give much thought to realism should give it a try (the first day is free); those who have played and enjoyed more realistic online flight sims like Warbirds should probably stay away.