Flying a fighter aircraft has always appealed to me, but I haven’t been hardcore enough to get into the PC simulators. The Ace Combat series seems to be made for me. I haven’t played the Playstation 2 originals (1 through 5), but now that the sixth instalment is available on the Xbox 360, I’m ready to see what it’s all about.
Now, air combat is certainly not to everyone’s tastes. Ace Combat makes things a lot (a lot) more visual and frenetic than they really are, but there is still a lot of playing by HUD. You look for rectangles, line them up, maneuver until you get a lock-on, and launch away homing missiles. Playing on an SDTV, you’re likely to not actually see your targets much of the time – it’s just the rectangles, the horizon, and the bright blue skies.
Except Ace Combat 6 takes things to a level I have not experienced before. There are dozens of planes at each other’s tails, and a normal kill count for the player hovers somewhere around the 50 mark. When enemy forces meet in the skies, a frenzied furball of a dogfight ensues after the initial, clinical HUD-faceoff upon approach – it sort of feels like shaking the enemy’s hand, you count their numbers and let off a couple of missiles, they do the same, nothing much happens… Then you meet head-on, zooming by each other at around mach one and really get into it. Missile warnings never silence, you rarely get out of a tight loop, just change directions to dodge missiles and at the best of times, you could drop an enemy plane every ten seconds or so. It’s intoxicating.
It is very pretty, too. SDTV performance is a little irritating, as the contrasts in the HUD are not quite high enough – it’s easy to miss the little red “TGT” indicators, which highlight the mission-critical targets for you. Tiny text is a little irksome, too. Otherwise, it’s hard to imagine how it could look any better, somewhat lacking ground detail notwithstanding. The clouds, jet trails, missile trails and the aircrafts themselves are as good as it gets. The sky during an intense combat is amazing to behold, with the intersecting vapor trails telling tales of clashes past the blink of an eye ago.
The story is very hammy, but I find myself enjoying it. You know what’s going to happen and the voiceovers grate, but somehow it’s just charming. You take it seriously, even though it’s obviously not very good. Weird, that.