Not to knock Top Gun or anything, but as far as gaming is concerned, the Ace Combat series has really provided a “highway to the danger zone.” For more than ten years, PlayStation owners have taken to the skies, taking out air and ground targets from the wild blue yonder. It’s been almost three years since the series made the leap over to the PS2, and this year’s edition is arguably one of the better games in the franchise. Jump into the cockpit of your favorite plane, because we’re gunning down bogeys with Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War.
Unsung War is set in an alternate universe during an unsteady truce between two rival superpowers. Apparently, there was a massive war between the Oseans and Yuktobanians, and after a protracted war, both sides used nuclear weapons, resulting in the devastation of a region. This action forced the enemies to put aside their issues for a while, until one day a squadron of Osean pilots on a training mission detected a number of Yuktobanian planes invading their airspace. Players are cast as “Blaze,” a young ace who becomes the squad leader of this defensive strike force. With renewed hostilities quickly ramping up, these new hotshots find themselves at the frontlines of the new war, one that could have potentially catastrophic consequences for their entire planet.
One of the key factors of the entire Ace Combat series has been the simplicity of controls, managing to merge the sophistication of flight simulators with the accessibility of arcade shooters. As a result, you don’t really need to know the physics of flying a jet or the technical way to avoid a stall; you really only need to know how to control the plane’s pitch, roll and yaw to maneuver your craft through the skies. Many of the other controls have essentially been simplified so just about anyone can leap into a plane and successfully down incoming enemies. Depending upon the mission, this can be significantly easier than others, thanks to the extensive number of missiles or other “special weapons” that your craft has. With an arcade-like sensibility, each plane will host many more of these armaments than their real-life counterparts can, so F-16s and other fighter planes will be able to carry more than 40 missiles, for instance, something that would prevent it from taking off in reality.
You’ll find that you’ll actually need the extraneous weaponry, because the game will throw an incredible number of opponents at you. If you didn’t think that the Osean lands were being invaded thanks to the cutscenes, going up against two or three squadrons of jets and a number of anti-aircraft vehicles will quickly change your mind. Luckily, you’re not alone in this fight, as your wingmen will be able to provide backup based upon your commands. You’ll have the option to direct your squadmates at any time, ordering them to cover your back, attack your targets, engage enemy craft at will and use their own special weapons in combat. At the end of every mission, you’ll receive a ranking based on your performance, which will provide you with money that can be spent on purchasing new aircraft. However, you’ll also have to balance these purchases with increasing your current craft’s kill meter, which unlocks new planes for your crew of pilots. This impromptu “experience gauge” gives the campaign an added level of replayability, as you’ll need to continually replay some levels to acquire new aircraft. However, if you tire of this, you can also take on the Arcade mode, which provides an infinite amount of time based objectives that you’ll have to race through to complete.
The one thing that you’ll discover with Ace Combat 5 is that it’s one of the most visually impressive titles on the PS2. The CG movies included between missions are incredibly produced with a cinematic feel, and the character models of your squadmates and of your aircraft are very nicely rendered. In fact, the attention to the various planes throughout the game is amazing, and airplane buffs will be able to tell the differences between the F-16 and F-18, Warthog, MIGs and other jets. Thanks to the multiple camera angles, including cockpit views, there are plenty of film quality explosions, chase sequences and death defying aerial maneuvers, most of which are captured via the game’s replay feature. Add to this a number of incredibly detailed environments, and a spectacular game engine that focuses upon both weather effects, missile contrails and explosions and you have a beautifully presented title.
Combined with the musical score that feels like it soars as high as your planes do and excellent sound effects for explosions, cannon fire and engine effects, and you’ll truly be impressed with the production values for the game. This is actually combined with the voice over acting, which, for the most part, is quite good and imparts a sense of character to every squadmate, enemy and serviceman that gets on a radio. Sure, some of the voice acting may fall flat during one or two lines, but you’ll barely notice it in the heat of battle. You’ll also have the option to listen to the dialogue in Japanese if the English dialogue is way too annoying for you, which is a nice addition for the game.
While the game is very well presented, there are a few things that you’d wish were present in the title. First of all, a co-op mode for Unsung War would’ve been amazing, just as potential online dogfighting against other gamers would’ve elevated this title into the stratosphere. As it stands now, it’s a great first person game, and does have some significant length to it, since it features more than two dozen missions, many of which are full of nice plot twists and turns. But you can only imagine how great it would’ve been with this game. Additionally, you may wish that there were some more variations on some of the missions, such as the landing or refueling side tasks that are challenging but not impossible while also providing diversity of operations.
If you’ve ever been interested in a good flight sim game but haven’t really been interested in taking flying lessons, you may want to take a good hard look at Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War. Easy to pick up controls, an interesting story line and plenty of fast paced action will feed any adrenaline or action junkie’s desires. This is a great title for any PlayStation owner.