I don't envy Airforce Delta Strike its positioning. It's poised between two separate and somewhat distinct genres, possessing strong elements of both while not really being either.
On the one hand, it's an engaging action-oriented flight sim, along the lines of something like last year's Secret Weapons Over Normandy; on the other, it's more of a 3D aerial shooter than anything else, a la Skygunner, with a physics engine that makes a token nod to reality without ever quite being real.
Delta Strike (also known, in Japan, as Delta: Blue Wing Knights, and in Europe as Deadly Skies III) is actually the third game in a multiplatform series that's been around since 1999. I haven't seen the other games on shelves, let alone played them, so unfortunately, I don't get to go into my patented compare-'n'-contrast mode here (which, for added effect, should be read aloud by the best Professor Frink impersonator you can find).
The game is about the wartime adventures of the ragtag Delta Squadron, the irregular arm of the Earth Defense Air Corps (EDAC). The EDAC is embroiled in a war with the technologically superior Orbital Citizen's Community (OCC), and is losing badly. In an effort to combat the OCC's air force, the Delta Squadron, emphasizing quantity over quality, is founded; here, state-of-the-art jet fighters go into battle in the same wing as prop planes, VTOL fighters, and old bombers, all of which are flown by pretty much anyone who was up for volunteering. The point of the game is to help slow the OCC's advance across EDAC territory, doing whatever it takes with minimal preparation and technology to accomplish your missions.
Delta Strike reminds me of nothing quite so much as a season-long anime series (I've seen it compared in online forums to Gundam SEED and Gunparade March, neither of which I've seen, so I'll just throw that out there), complete with a full cast of archtypes. The main character is nominally Ken Thomas, the Brooding Ace Pilot (tm) who you'll be playing as for the first few missions. As you progress through the game, you'll be able to play as more members of Delta, such as Ken's commander Ruth Valentine (the Inexperienced By-the-Book Commander), John Rundal (the Maverick Who Doesn't Follow Orders), Jamie Jones (the Old Guy who isn't actually all that old by Western standards), Brian Douglas (the Young Talented Pilot, also known to certain people who are me as the Fightin' Zygote; seriously, the kid might be twelve), and Alex Levine (the Laconic Dependable Guy who would be played by Denzel Washington in the movie).
All the characters are hand-drawn (the manual doesn't say, but it looks like the work of the same artist who provided designs for Suikoden III and Ring of Red), and during a briefing or a fight, are voiced by a largely talented cast. (I'm not sure what's supposed to be up with Constance, as her lines are either badly translated or she's the subject of some kind of running gag about mangled slang, but that's neither here nor there. Her voice is fine; it's just that what she says is strange.)
You'll be hearing a lot of their voices, since while you're in a mission, they won't shut up. If your wingmen aren't babbling, then your enemies, your allies, or Amelia, your controller, probably are. Most of the time, it's just stuff like "Viper 3, Fox 2," which adds to the game's versimilitude, but you'll also hear your share of repetitive one-liners and pointless chatter.
Each of your pilots fly a unique plane, with varying advantages and disadvantages. By going on successful missions and destroying targets, you can earn credit which can be traded in at the airbase to buy other planes. Each pilot has access to a different set of aircraft, which tend to play to that pilot's strengths or role in the squadron. Alex flies VTOLs, Jamie's planes are usually at least fifty years old, John's are all hideously tricked-out fighters, and so on.
Early on, the game pretty much just requires you to show up. The first mission is a cakewalk, and the second is easy once you figure out that you're supposed to be bombing targets, instead of escorting bombers like you've been told to do. After that, things get complicated.
Most planes are equipped with a machine gun and a limited stock of homing missiles, as well as a unique subweapon--bombs, better missiles, what-have-you--that can be purchased at your airbase. During a dogfight, your goal is to get within a certain distance of your targets to lock on with your missiles, while simultaneously trying not to get shot down. There are moments in dogfights where I'm reminded strangely of ballet, as everyone's constantly curving off to the side or barely missing each other, in daring midair acts of choreography that would be really impressive if they were at all intentional.
Delta Strike is often a lot more frustrating than it really needs to be. Your standard-fire missiles are kind of stupid, and while they've got decent range, anybody who dives, climbs, or swerves sharply enough can shake them off. Your wingmen aren't usually any help, let alone any unnamed friendly aircraft in the area (usually they're too busy telling you that Delta Squadron, and hence you, are worthless, so they don't notice when you knock out the entire enemy force more or less singlehandedly), so you're more or less on your own, wasting cheap missiles on distant targets. Once you learn to pick your opportunities more carefully, so you hit an enemy fighter at the right time, you'll get much better at it, but you're going to be frustrated for a while.
Another small problem is that it's not at all obvious when you've taken damage. Delta Strike boasts three camera perspectives, which you can switch between on the fly (third-person, cockpit view, and a HUD), and none of them adequately display damage. You'll usually hear Amelia ask you if you're all right, but unless you look right at your lifebar, you won't notice the impact. The screen flashing red, a more spectacular explosion, or a more prominently featured healthbar would all make this easier to handle.
Delta Strike is at its best in later missions, when it takes the kid gloves off and gives you some real challenges. Your fourth mission with the 3rd Element, Ken and Ruth, takes you into a shallow ravine with an anti-aircraft net above you, facing down bizarre rolling tanks. The challenge isn't fighting, as much as it is simply staying in the air and avoiding obstacles. It's a great test of the player's skill and reflexes, much more so than dogfighting ever is.
All in all, this isn't a bad game. Secret Weapons Over Normandy is the same kind of half-sim, half-shooter, but where it's a bit more realistic and historically-minded, AirForce Delta Strike is imaginative, broad-focused, and gives you a lot more characters and planes to play with.
Its biggest flaw is that the dogfights that are nominally its focus are satisfying and will keep you engaged, but escort, bombing, and recon missions are a lot more fun. If you can handle the in-game chatter (which you can mute, but not entirely eliminate), and maybe if you're a big anime fan, then AirForce Delta Strike will keep you entertained for a while.