Definitely not the Top Gun.
I've only been to a military airshow once (at NAS Mirimar outside of San Diego, California), but I remember it vividly. It was amazing and spectacular to watch all those different fighters close up in three dimensions dancing their air ballet. It impressed me something special, in a way that flying coach class on TWA never does.
It struck me at the time that these planes were works of art: the pinnacle of 5000 years of human innovation, packed with the best computers, the best metallurgy, the best chemistry, the best math, and the best designs we have yet to offer. If you further consider all the people throughout history whose work and inventions we now build upon, it has taken the coordinated effort of millions of 'em to produce a single modern fighter jet.
Lethal Skies - Elite Pilot: Team SW, on the other hand, is the product of a couple dozen guys in Japan, and while it's not bad, it fails to do justice to its elegant subject matter. Plus, it has three names when just one would do.
In the near future, our destruction of the environment will prove catastrophic. Global warming will accelerate rapidly and the sea level will rise dramatically, flooding cities, nuclear power stations and even whole countries. I blame all the SUVs.
Chaos quickly follows destruction, and the countries with the power and technology to do so build floating cities. Most of the floating metropolises join together to form the World Alliance, but the evil, nasty Republic of Gurtestein will have nothing to do with that, forming it's own alliance called 'WORF' to wreak global havoc. No relation to the Klingon guy.
You are an Elite Pilot in the World Alliance's Team SW, and your job is to blow up those stinking WORF guys in the (you guessed it) Lethal Skies.
Not particularly bad as far as plot goes, and it leads directly to one of the best things about the game - the interesting locations. The skies are bound to become lethal above the tips of the mostly-submerged skyscrapers of Manhattan or the blasted desert that used to be Paris. Unfortunately, the graphics of the landscapes don't live up to the creativity, with washed out colors and bland textures.
The planes, on the other hand, look great. You get to fly 9 of these real-world beauties, from the F-16 Falcon to the MiG29 Fulcrum. They are minutely detailed, down to the rivets and the landing gear, with terrific contrail and afterburner effects. They are really only marred by a slight case of the PS2 jaggies, those rough edges that folks just can't seem to get rid of.
The other part of Lethal Skies that excels isn't even in the game itself: it's the replays. Like Gran Turismo, Lethal Skies has a wealth of replay options that cannot fail to impress. You can save and re-watch any of your missions throughout the whole game. Theater views cut to lots of dramatic angles, including shaky-cam effects that look like they were taken from another plane. They will make your last kill look like a segment on the Discovery Channel. For more tactical feedback, you can choose to watch all the maneuvers in the ACMI display. On top of all this there is a "missile eye view" that's obviously quite cool.
Like the graphics, the sound is mixed, with good engine noises and a fairly innocuous electric guitar and techno soundtrack. But your wingmen turn out to be awfully chatty, and they've apparently only learned to say about 5 things from their Japanese-to-English phrasebook. Friendly fire can be your friend in circumstances like these.
But where the game really fails to do much at all, good or bad, is in the gameplay itself. This is because Lethal Skies: Elite Pilot: Team SW not only fails to decide on a name, it fails to decide what kind of game it is. Some parts of the game (like the rigidly accurate weapon loadouts) feel like they're straight out of a flight sim, but most of the gameplay is straight out of the arcade, with lenient physics, fairly small arenas and oversized level "bosses."
I think the game actually works better when it celebrates its arcade roots. It was when reality kicked in and I was supposed to refuel in midair or land my plane on a carrier the size of a bathtub toy with my tiny PS2 analog stick that I became really frustrated. There's nothing worse than defeating a horde of enemies only to be defeated in return by the immobile, weaponless water next to the ship.
The missions themselves mirror this inconsistency with levels that seem to randomly alternate between damn easy and damn near impossible. At least they don't make you try to land very often.
There were couple of glaring omissions that caused me to hit eject and bail out of these Lethal Skies. For some reason, when you run out of missiles (and you don't have that many), your enemy tracking software goes out, too. Sure, I can't get a missile lock-on anymore, but still I'd shoot them with my machine guns...if only I knew where to shoot.
Plus, there's no multiplayer at all. Some dogfighting would have really drawn out the gameplay once the missions were over and done with and pesky WORF had been sent to the bottom of the sea. Co-op play might have given me some wingmen that didn't yammer so much.
The mixed bag of names that is Lethal Skies - Elite Pilot: Team SW combine to form a quintessentially average game. The moderately good and the moderately bad even out into a game that simply is, without inspiring any real love or hate. These particular skies are partly cloudy, with average temperatures. Bring a sweater for later.