Spring TGS 2001: Ace Combat 04: Shattered Skies

Read our hands-on impressions of the latest in Namco's arcade-style flight combat game.

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At first glance, it looked like Namco was running video clips of Top Gun at its booth. In actuality, it was looping footage of the company's upcoming Ace Combat 04: Shattered Skies, the latest iteration in the combat flight game. Ace Combat 04 seems to have eschewed the anime-style models and fictional planes of Ace Combat 3 in favor of actual modern-day fighters like the F-14 Tomcat, F-16 Falcon, F-22 Lightning II, Su-33, Tornado, and EF-2000 while still retaining a character-driven plot that involves numerous warring factions vying for control of a strategic island.

The game can be played in either first-person or third-person views. The latter perspective better shows off Ace Combat 04's visual splendor, as your plane leaves a jet wash that leaves a shimmering effect that subtly distorts the lower half of the screen. Shadows from the wings and tails stretch across your fuselage as you bank and twist your plane across the sky. The environmental effects also take full advantage of the PlayStation 2's hardware, as sunlight shimmers off the ocean water in a beautiful manner.

The preview version of Ace Combat 04 only has one level, but it gives you four methods to play the game. You can either fly in an F-14 or an F-22 in either expert or novice modes. The expert mode ratchets the enemy AI up by a few notches, and it affords you more control over your own plane. The mission at TGS tasks you with attacking an airbase that's located on a small island. Your objectives are to shoot down bombers that have just taken off from that base, as well as any bombers that are still taxiing on the runway. Your missiles function as air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons, and if the situation calls for it, you can always switch to your guns. To successfully complete most of the game's missions, you'll have to fulfill a number of objectives within a certain amount of time. The amount of time you have left, as well as your completed and unfulfilled objectives, is displayed in the upper-left hand corner of the screen. Your HUD is located in the center of the screen, and the amount of ammo you have left, as well as the damage that you've sustained, is in the lower-right hand side, while a simple radar can be found in the lower-left hand side of the screen.

The preview build ends after you shoot down all the bombers or after the time limit expires. The game still plays like its predecessors, and its most appealing aspect is clearly its amazing plane models, lighting, and terrain renderer. Ace Combat 04 should be available on these shores later this year.

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