Since it debuted on the Dreamcast, Konami's AirForce Delta series of flight combat games has always seemed like a bit of an also-ran compared to Namco's superior Ace Combat series. Though Namco's last Ace Combat game was released well over two years ago, it still has a bit of an edge over Konami's recently released AirForce Delta Strike.
AirForce Delta Strike sets the scene through the use of a series of clichés: Sometime in the near future, when two warring factions struggle for control of the planet, a ragtag group of pilots called the Delta squadron, who get little respect from the rest of the military, try to do their part. Though the story generally revolves around Second Lt. Ken Thomas, a young, chilly pilot with a dark secret in his past, Strike features a surprisingly large central cast of characters, whom you'll get to know rather well through between-mission sequences and an abundance of in-game radio chatter. The story does a pretty good job of giving context to the combat, setting up personal vendettas and personality conflicts that end up playing out during missions--though, again, it does so through the persistent use of broad, clichéd character types.
Though the first few missions have you flying only as Ken Thomas, you'll quickly be given the option to choose from a variety of Delta pilots before heading out. Which pilot you choose can have a significant effect on how a mission plays out, since each has access to a different stable of planes, ranging from single-prop Mustangs to VTOLs to MiGs. Each plane handles a little differently, with unique acceleration, maneuverability, stall speed, and weapon payload, but, for the most part, the controls remain identical across all of them. The game comes with three control schemes, each attuned to a different skill level, though even with the "Ace" control scheme, which gives you direct control over left and right yaw and the air brake, it's still pretty accessible, and generally, the game errs a little more toward arcade-style combat than hardcore simulation. The missions themselves are of a pretty predictable variety, with objectives like shoot down all the jets, destroy all the ground targets, defend a stationary and/or moving target, or some mixed-up, multipart hybrid of those elements. Despite the action itself being largely by the numbers, there's some fun in AirForce Delta Strike, simply because the controls are responsive and the pacing is relatively tight. The ability to play through many of the game's missions in different aircraft helps add a decent amount of replay value here, too. A two-player dogfighting mode of some kind might have extended the game's playability further, though considering some of the graphical hitches seen in the single-player game, it's probably a wise choice that Konami skipped that one.
When you're not in the air knocking bogeys out of the sky, you're at an Air Force base, where you're given some peripheral activities. Here, you can go to the shop, one of AirForce Delta Strike's more blatantly "gamey" devices, where points earned on missions can be spent on new planes and on equipping your planes with new weapons. On the chance that you crash one of the planes that you purchased in the shop, you'll have to go to the hangar and fork over more points to have it repaired. You won't, however, have to pay to repair any of your pilots' default planes, eliminating the possible situation of not having any flyable planes or enough points to repair them. There are a few spots at the base where you can go to just chat with other pilots, but the only other really significant location is the briefing room, where you can choose your missions and get caught up on the situation and your mission objectives.
As mentioned earlier, the graphics in AirForce Delta Strike carry some unfortunate burdens. The planes themselves look respectable, and there's a good array of realistic-looking HUD components onscreen, but that's about all the praise you can give the game without throwing in some kind of stipulation. The draw distance is decent, though cloud cover shows up at higher altitudes, presumably to keep the ground from just disappearing. The environments tend to look rather flat and barren, and upon close inspection, the textures are inconsistent, though they tend to be bland and blurry more often than not. The explosion effects when you hit a target also look really flat and fake, though the trails that follow missiles fare much better. The frame rate is generally pretty consistent, though too many explosions or missile trails onscreen at once will cause things to chop up for a beat or two. Topping off the whole package is a rather heavy layer of aliasing.
The sound design is generally dominated by radio chatter. Between your mission operator giving you objective details and verbalizing every single hit, the chatter between your wingmen, and the various threats made to and by your opponents, there is nary a moment during a mission when someone isn't talking, and it's not uncommon to hear multiple voices talking at once. The voice acting isn't inherently bad, but it's just used way, way too much. Underneath all the chitchat, there are some decent in-game sound effects, though there's nothing particularly amazing there. The music, which is thankfully used sparingly, is the same kind of Casio-style elevator music that seems to pop up in Japanese horse racing simulators and third-rate Pokémon knockoffs. The game has Dolby Pro Logic II support, but considering what you're hearing, that's not much to brag about.
The AirForce Delta series has always been of middling quality and has never really been able to live up to its contemporaries, such as Ace Combat and Lethal Skies, and Strike does little to buck that trend. This isn't a case where a single issue brings the whole game to a screeching halt--but rather, a lot of tiny discrepancies just sort of drag it down. It's not a fundamentally bad game, but simply put, there are better flight combat options for PlayStation 2 owners.