The Ace Combat series is like the Gran Turismo of aerial dogfighting games in the sense that it has very high resolution graphics and high presentation values. However, gameplay is not overly complicated and actually supports a slightly more arcadey style of play.
If you are new to the series, there are several tutorials that will get the player up to speed. The game even takes newbies into consideration by only offering tutorials that are relevant to the level you are playing. This means that you are not forced to play through all of the game’s tutorials at once, running the risk of forgetting some element of gameplay. The deeper you go into the game, the more advanced controls and tricks you will learn.
Unfortunately, the main campaign mode is a mixed bag as it offers some solid gameplay, but the story line is incredibly weak and irrelevant. Each mission is transitioned from one another through cut scenes that involve a mother/wife trying to find her daughter through a war torn city. I don’t want to see a family love affair during a piloting game. I want to see an intense conflict between heated pilots, duking it out miles above the surface of the earth complete with explosions and missiles and pilots ejecting to parachute to the ground. Yes, you are playing as the pilot whose wife is looking for your child, but that still seems like an irrelevant story plotline and can’t help but think that the mark was missed completely.
Luckily, the cut scenes can be skipped (as beautiful as they are) and the player can just hop right into the aerial combat, the meat of the game. Everything that you would expect in a flight game is here. Ace Combat pretty much revolves around flying, locking on to enemies, machine gunning enemies, bombing both aerial and ground units, and giving commands to teammates. But the most important aspect of this game is how these moves are pulled off. Even though the Ace Combat series has always taken pride in its graphical prowess, they also welcome a more casual audience by offering more arcadey and user friendly controls. Every plane carries and insane amount of ammo and over-heating your craft is very hard to do, two elements that will keep your fingers on the trigger and action fast paced.
Multiplayer is another key aspect and plays just as you would expect. With a few modes to choose from, fighting online with friends is a great way to extend the replay value of the game. Unfortunately, there are some slight balancing issues in terms of online play as it seems that some crafts can bend the laws of physics a little more abnormally as compared to the single player adventure and it is also a let down when someone kamikazes themselves to avoid having the other team gain points. But all in all, fighting online is an enjoyable experience. Namco also offers some exclusive downloadable content available for purchase via Xbox Live.
Ace Combat 6 is a gorgeous game. Water effects look fantastic, the 3D models of each plane looks photo realistic, and even the cut scenes are highly detailed with the use of cinematic camera angles to give the game a more movie-like feel. Unfortunately, there is one major downside to the graphics. While they look great from far away, many of the game’s textures blur the closer you get to them. And it is a huge disappointment to see that the ground that you are fighting over is very flat. Where are all the trees and multi-tiered buildings? For a game that looks so great, it is a wonder as to why the developers didn’t finish the job and incorporate a detailed surface.
The audio department also falls into a similar category as the graphics. While the sound effects produce high quality, they grow annoying when voice dialog is poorly written and sounds much too faint in comparison to the game’s main audio track, even when adjusted in the options menu. The game even seems to over-warn players when a missile is locked on by flashing the entire screen red in combination with a loud beeping noise.
Although Ace Combat is far from perfect, it still offers entertainment. This game is one of the few titles to actually marry the idea of realistic graphics mixed with arcadey controls and gameplay. This combination will appeal to a much wider array of gamers. For many gamers, Ace Combat will be the closest thing to living out your Top Gun dreams…but if you wanted to play volleyball, you are going to have to pick up Dead or Alive Extreme Beach Volleyball.