"That was some of the best flying I've seen to date - right up to the part where you got killed."
A long, long time ago, way back in the 1980s, they made a movie - a film that influenced an entire generation and changed the way we look at war. That film was Top Gun. Now, over twenty years later, video game makers are still trying to capture the essence of this epic drama in flight-sim form.
[image1]The first thing you’ll notice about Ace Combat 6 is how completely ridiculous the plot is. The cut-scenes are equal parts Thelma and Louise, Schindler’s List, and of course Top Gun, but re-written and performed entirely by a group of 5th graders with down syndrome. Each in-between cinema switches between the story of two women from opposing countries going on a road trip to find their pilot lovers, and a war-wounded quasi-Russian (They’re not pinkos, they’re Estovakians!) officer interrogating a rag-tag crew of P.O.Ws. All of this seems to have very little, if anything, to do with you or your missions. They go for a "war is hell" theme, end up with a "cheesy drama is hell" message. Although your patience is rewarded by a scene where two pilots are conversing and one thinks to himself, “If I were a chick, I would totally do my Captain”, which might just be gayer than the volleyball scene in Top Gun.
If you haven’t bashed your head in by the end of the opening intro, than you have already passed the first mission in my book, and are duly rewarded with the ability to actually play the game. The minute you jump in that cockpit and head for the skies you will be amazed at the quality of the in-game graphics. The reflection of the sun off the water below is stupendous. You would think most of the time you’d be looking at a blue sky with fluffy clouds that look like things when you squint, but there’s also a surprisingly diverse palette of terrain.
The control system tries it’s hardest to keep flight fluid and has some innovative ideas such as the high-g turn, which comes in handy when looping back on fly-bys or avoiding missile locks. The auto-pilot levels you out when you can’t tell which way is up anymore. And of course the awesomeness which is yaw control, which is great for little tweaks to your flight path or slow turns but does not find much use beyond that.
[image2]You would think with all these new-fangled tricks up your sleeve you could win any fight, but, there’s one unrelenting enemy you can’t escape. The ground. Crashing into the terrain and shouting an expletive becomes all too familiar. In fact, you’ll probably crash more than you’ll be shot down, because there are a large number of missions where you’ll have to engage in Air-to-Ground combat, requiring low altitude flying. Maneuvering through ravines to destroy enemy fortress’ and blasting away naval destroyers along the glorious coastal cities of Emmeria becomes familiar early on in the game.
You’ll also be involved in more dog fights than Michael Vick by the end of the first level. Unfortunately engaging a bogey can be a daunting task. Even with the advent of the new high-g turn it can be ridiculously hard to lock onto an enemy. It’s not very hard to destroy them once you get a good shot though, since you have an insane number of missiles and unlimited machine gun ammo. Don’t ask me where you store 250 rockets on a small F-15, you really don’t wanna know.
The targeting system really shows its weak points when you’re in a combat zone with multiple targets. You’ll have a group of targets that are necessary to eliminate in order to progress, but are more often than not surrounded by larger groups of optional targets. Since the targeting system does not prioritize you find yourself hitting the target switch button a lot, which becomes annoying very quickly. Especially if you want to make a high speed assault on an SAM launch site or enemy bunker.
All the combat problems won’t matter much anyway as the difficulty is not calculated well. You’ll do one mission that will take you an hour and then the next mission is a 15 minute cake walk. While you are able to unlock more fighters as you progress, they never seem to be too different aside from their top speeds and physical appearance. And which one you choose seems to have little or no effect on the outcome of the mission, meaning the levels were of equal difficulty with one plane or another.
[image3]Most levels have multiple objectives that allow you choose one or two goals and skip over the remaining, which adds some replay value. The only problem is that most of the time the objectives don’t vary. There are some levels that spice it up, like the Giant Stealth Bomber mission, or when you have to fly through a base in the side of a mountain (think Millennium Falcon in the Death Star.). These are best parts of the game and there are not enough of them. The rest of the game feels like filler.
The music is repetitive and slow, like John Williams on prozac. It could lull you to sleep given enough time. Don’t worry though, when an enemy missile locks on to you, it sounds just like your alarm clock in the morning and is twice as aggravating. On top of that you will be informed of the obvious missile lock by your wingman over the radio. There’s quite a bit of jabbering going on throughout missions but it can be hard to tell which side is communicating as you hear both your side as well as the bad guys radio banter.
If Iceman and Maverick were here today they would hang their heads in shame at the painful disappointments of Ace Combat 6. They would probably have to go play hot, sweaty volleyball and sing classic Motown songs for months just to forget the pain. If you’re hardcore into flight sim games, you might find some satisfaction from the better parts of this highway to the danger zone, but if you’re looking for the next Crimson Skies, keep looking.