After Burner: Black Falcon First Look
We get an early look at Planet Moon's upcoming revival of Sega's arcade classic.
Sega's After Burner has a special place in the hearts of many players who devoted countless quarters and hours of their lives playing the flight-combat game in arcades and on home systems in the early '90s. The game's fast-paced, arcade-style gameplay, along with its cutting-edge (at the time) graphics, have made it an enduring classic that's easy to appreciate to this day. Sega is attempting to revive the franchise with After Burner: Black Falcon, a new entry in the series for the PlayStation Portable developed by Planet Moon, the Northern California-based developer known for unique titles such as Giants, Armed and Dangerous, and Infected. Sega recently stopped by our offices to give us a look at an early work-in-progress version of the game, which updates the classic After Burner formula of fast flying and blowing stuff up good.
The original game has been developed from the ground up for the PSP and offers three modes: single-player, a two-player co-op mode, and an ad hoc competitive mode for up to four players. The game will feature roughly 15 officially licensed aircraft to choose from as you play. The craft are customizable, allowing you to equip them with new weapons or change their paint jobs, all of which you'll be able to purchase in the in-game store with the money you'll earn. Money, you say? Yep. After Burner: Black Falcon's single-player game will let you play as one of a trio of pilots, a lady and two dudes. Each character will have his or her own set of special missions that tie in to the main story. Overall, the main campaign will feature more than 18 core missions, with each pilot having a handful of unique missions. Each mission will reward you with some bling as you clear it. The co-op mode will let you tackle missions with a friend, while the competitive mode will feature different game types to play against up to four friends wirelessly.
While the core gameplay seems to be a basic take on the original game, the upgrade system and different planes put a different spin on things. Each of the planes will have unique handling, which adds some variety to the experience. Better still, the upgrade system will let you power up your plane's weapons and after burner. While the weapon upgrades are what you'd expect, you'll be able to gain more-powerful air-to-air and air-to-ground arms; the after burner upgrade has a nice twist. The first few levels of upgrading for the after burner simply extend the duration of the speed boost, but the final upgrade turns it into a smart bomb, wiping out foes near you when it's engaged, in addition to a powerful speed boost. One final note on the weapons that should please prospective fans of the title who've played the previous After Burners is the welcome fact that your plane's machine guns are pretty useful now.
Control is accessible and sticks to an easy-to-pick-up interface. You'll move with the analog stick and use the shoulder buttons to either slow your plane or kick in its after burner. Your weapons will each be assigned to a button, so you'll be able to access your plane's machine gun, air-to-air missiles, and air-to-ground missiles with ease. Finally, you'll be able to perform a barrel roll with the touch of a button, which comes in handy during the heat of battle. All told, the setup worked well with what we played.
The visuals in the game, though early, are looking promising. The action is fast, and the terrain has a good amount of detail (not that it needs much, considering how fast you're going). Though the level we saw was a fairly typical After Burner level and took place over the ocean, we had the chance to get a peek at some of the other environments, such as a desert. Besides those two, the game will send you flying over a beach, a dense jungle, and an icy tundra. The explosions are good and flashy, with a healthy does of particle effects to dress them up. Beyond that, the game is shaping up to offer an appealing, fairly consistent sense of speed, especially with the different levels of after burner boosts. The stars of the game, though, are the various licensed aircraft you'll be able to fly. Each plane features a respectable level of detail and looks comparable to its real-life counterpart. The limited customization to each craft's paint is a nice touch, offering you the opportunity to create a plane that matches your particular state of mind. At this point, the only issues we'll be keeping an eye on as development progresses is the game's overall performance, which will hopefully crank at a solid frame rate at all times, and the variety it offers.
Audio is far from done but already has a good assortment of plane and weapons fire, as well as a driving assortment of rock tunes on its soundtrack. Voice in the game is still coming together but will hopefully wind up being solid. The in-flight chatter is sounding promising, which adds to the game's atmosphere.
Based on what we've seen so far, After Burner: Black Falcon is shaping up to be true to the original game's roots. The controls feel solid, and the graphics, though early, are well on their way to conveying the sense of speed the title will need to live up to its name. Fans of the original game and anyone looking for a fast-paced shooter will want to keep an eye on After Burner: Black Falcon as it progresses. The game is currently slated to ship this March for the PSP; look for more in the coming months.
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