Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War Import Hands-On

We check out the Japanese version of Namco's upcoming flight combat sequel.

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We recently got our hands on a Japanese retail version of Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War, which is scheduled for release in North America later this month. The Japanese game features an English language option, so we had no trouble understanding the early stages of the campaign mode. We were also able to complete the game's tutorial mode and much of the new arcade mode.

The game's tutorial mode does a great job of teaching you the basics.
The game's tutorial mode does a great job of teaching you the basics.

Our first port of call was the tutorial mode, which comprises a number of relatively short exercises designed to teach you the basics of flight, air combat, and wingman command. The flight training in the game is actually comprehensive, and after flying through sequences of rings to prove that you can make your aircraft climb, descend, roll, turn, and loop, you'll be taught how to perform more advanced maneuvers, such as the Immelman turn and the split-s. Combat training will show you to make good use of your basic arsenal, which includes machine guns, missiles, unguided bombs, and surface-to-air antimissiles (SAAMs). Wingman command training will pit you against a number of quite harmless enemies and show you how you can instruct your three wingmen (by tapping the directional pad) to attack enemies or to cover you from behind. You shouldn't find any of the exercises to be terribly challenging, but they're definitely worth doing--if only to familiarize yourself with the controls before heading into combat.

Since we had only played through the first mission previously, we were eager to see how the game's all-new arcade mode compared to the traditional Ace Combat-style of play. The arcade mode comprises some 16 levels, although to beat it you'll actually only have to play through seven since there are four different branching routes throughout the game. The arcade levels will invariably challenge you to destroy a certain number of enemies within a time limit, and it is designed in much the same way as the time attack modes in arcade racing games in that you'll often start with a very short amount of time on the clock, but you'll be rewarded with extra seconds every time you make a kill. The majority of the enemies that we've faced in the arcade mode to date have been other fighter planes, but we've also taken out gun emplacements on the ground and a couple of Chinook-style helicopters. You'll start each arcade level with a number of missiles at your disposal, but as you progress to later missions, you'll often find that using your machine guns (which is much more challenging) becomes a necessity. Destroying certain targets will actually replenish your missile supplies, but these can be difficult to locate and searching for them will eat up valuable seconds.

The new arcade mode is all about action.
The new arcade mode is all about action.

The primary gameplay mode in Ace Combat 5, of course, will be its story-driven campaign, in which you'll assume the role of a rookie pilot being trained on an island base. Needless to say, the world isn't as peaceful a place as it might seem, and it won't be long before you take to the skies for your first real combat mission. We've no desire to give away anything about the campaign's plot thus far, but we can report that we've already encountered some interesting characters and that the rendered cutscenes with which the story is told between missions are of the highest quality. The missions we've flown to date have also been surprisingly varied, pitting us against enemy air, ground, and naval units.

In the few hours that we've spent with the finished game at this point, Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War hasn't failed to impress on any front. The graphics are easy on the eyes, the constant radio chatter really adds to the atmosphere, and the controls are both intuitive and responsive. Expect a full review of the North American version of the game next week.

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