Ace Combat 6 Hands-On Preview

We take to the skies in the latest build of Namco Bandai's air combat game.

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We've seen quite a bit of Ace Combat 6 lately, with a single-player preview at the Leipzig Games Convention and a multiplayer hands-on at the recent Tokyo Game Show. With the game fast approaching its planned release date in November, we were sent some advanced preview code that let us appreciate this visually impressive game away from the show floors of the world's game conventions. With that in mind, we thought we'd take you through the first couple of hours of the campaign, as well as some of the extra features and achievements that are set to make an appearance in the finished game.

The game opens with an attack on the fictional city of Gracemeria, a San Francisco-esque coastal town that finds itself under a sudden foreign threat. You play a pilot based outside the city who heads the Garuda squadron, although the story itself actually concerns your partner and child, who find themselves separated after the attack. The opening mission requires you to repel the enemy while the attacks split the city and your family apart.

 Locking on to a group of enemies and taking them down with missiles is extremely satisfying.
Locking on to a group of enemies and taking them down with missiles is extremely satisfying.

The first mission is a simple introduction: You have to shoot down a number of small aircraft that are attacking the city. It's fairly straightforward stuff, and you can play through the entire mission without taking a hit, during which time you're introduced to the basic controls of the game. Ace Combat 6 features two control styles that aim to cater to both the novice and the normal user. The simplified version lets you turn the aircraft without having to roll it sideways first. This helps out if you're a flight-sim virgin, but Ace Combat is an arcade game at heart and not at all complicated to control in the standard configuration.

Once you've repelled the attacking enemy forces in the first mission, you have to fly out west with what's left of your squad and wingman to regroup. In the meantime, the story cuts back to your partner, who fled the city while it was under attack. Furthermore, your daughter has gone missing during all the commotion. We also saw a commander on the enemy Estovakian side, a wounded soldier who arrives by train at the deserted city to find it pretty much derelict and lawless. However, the second mission of the game takes place outside of this city, in large, open areas of woodland. You now have a chance to try a takeoff, and you can also pick your wingman's aircraft for the first time.

Ace Combat 6 is graphically impressive in the air, with a staggering amount of detail on the planes and beautifully atmospheric lighting and effects. On the ground, things are less eye-catching. Up close, the lack of detail is quite off-putting because large areas of the ground are blurry, flat textures, and buildings are fairly simple, flat objects. There are no vehicles to be seen or people running around, but the scaling back of the detail seems to have helped the frame rate, which remains solid throughout. There are also some really nice cloud and water elements, and the plane itself is wonderfully animated with flaps that open and turn to steer.

In addition to the single-player campaign and the multiplayer battle mode, Ace Combat 6 will feature a gallery where you can see the medals, assault records, results, battle statistics, and replays that you've saved from the game. Operational medals are handed out for beating each part of the 11 levels, most of which have three to four missions each. Individual medals will also be awarded for miscellaneous accomplishments throughout the game. These include using only one type of aircraft throughout the game, achieving a perfect landing, or taking care of your wingmen. Statistics from your entire career as an Ace Combat pilot, such as total flight time, kill percentages, and enemies destroyed, are also shown. The final element is the replay theatre, in which Namco Bandai has offered up a healthy 75-slot allowance for highlights of your in-game aerial performances.

 Although the game is very graphically impressive, the ground itself is pretty flat.
Although the game is very graphically impressive, the ground itself is pretty flat.

On the achievements side, Ace Combat 6 seems to have split its 1,000-point allowance fairly evenly between the single- and multiplayer games. Instead of dishing out a huge amount of points for simply completing the campaign, the game is tailored to the completist who collects all the available medals. In the multiplayer portion of the game, you'll be awarded points for killing 50, 100, and 200 people online, as well as completing the two missions that can be played cooperatively. Although the build we played looked close to completion, it did not have this multiplayer part of the package.

Our short time with Ace Combat 6 was definitely encouraging, especially because it reveals that the game looks very polished one month ahead of release. Fans of the series are likely to be happy with the Xbox 360 makeover of the franchise, although those who are new to the series may find its overly dramatic storytelling slightly grating. We'll have more on Ace Combat 6 in the run-up to release, and in the meantime you can check out the demo on Xbox Live Marketplace.

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