If Maverick from Top Gun was judging the Ace Combat series prior to Xbox 360, he’d drop some suave remark about the graphics not being up to snuff with the real deal. Namco Bandai, in turn, would want to knock those silly sunglasses off his head. Instead, the longtime developer of the only consistently released modern air combat game on consoles has harnessed Xbox 360’s high definition engine to churn out a much better looking incarnation of essentially the same game ace flyers have been playing for years.
Ace Combat veterans will know what they’re getting into with Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation. Like its predecessors, this is a console game where graphics and fun come first while simulation and realism takes a distant second. I, for one, am glad for this. True simulation flight combat where taking off and landing may take an hour to figure out is best left on PCs.
Namco Bandai had the opportunity to not only storm Xbox 360 with drop-dead gorgeous visuals in Ace Combat 6, but to also offer up historically accurate missions synonymous with first-person shooters. For whatever reason, they found it necessary to ignore the myriad of real-world conflicts from which to base the relatively short campaign off. Lengthy pre-rendered cut-scenes with horrifically stale dialogue are instead applied to a fictitious country whose patrons have been driven away by an invading force who fancies bombing famous landmarks.
Story arc and who is invading who means nothing once in the air. Blowing up the enemy good and dead in a spectacular high-def fireball is where the fun is at. Sure, completing objectives are required to advance, ranging from air and ground assaults to protection to fleeing to even ordering ground troops into action. The series” standard attack and cover commands even return, along with electronic support and some sweet planes unlocked along the way. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter which target is required as part of the mission objective and which isn’t. If it did, then planes wouldn’t bounce off the ground, bullet and missile ammunition wouldn’t be unlimited, and the expansive scenery wouldn’t be so inviting to stare at.
Exploring the fictitious world in Ace Combat Six is half the fun, even if it doesn’t look quite as spectacular up-close as it does from afar. It’s worth taking the time to gun ridiculously close by buildings, skim the ground as low as gravity will allow, and even attempt near head-on collisions with enemy fighters. The developers have done a masterful job of creating a massive world to fly within far superior to anything the series has seen before. Despite the vast airspace, there are no overly long transit times from one skirmish to another as has plagued other aerial combat games on Xbox 360.
Real hair-raising combat can be found online where two teams of eight can duke it out, or up to sixteen pilots can enter a free-for-all battle until only one plane is left standing. Forget the machine guns; surviving these dogfights is all about locking onto foes with missiles and knowing how to escape when the opposite occurs. Bring a sweat rag because the anticipation of following a missile via “missile cam” or the horror of red flashing lights and loud beeps when an enemy has locked on is a real pants” wetter.
Ace Combat 6 delivers where it was intended to: stuff blows up real nice and pretty and full instant replays allow the carnage to be viewed from any angle imaginable. Maverick would agree it is the perfect companion to Paramount Home Entertainment’s recent release of Top Gun on HD DVD with lossless audio. There’s no better way to enjoy the “highway to the danger zone” than to take in Top Gun and promptly jump into the pilot seat yourself.