The first game in the Ace Combat series to be released on PSP and it’s so good I hope there are more. This game a kind of mixture of strategy and flying combat missions, and although the strategy elements aren’t really in depth (no resources managing and you only really get the choice of going to certain places in certain orders) it can have a dramatic affect on future missions. For example, you may want to return to a certain area to stop it being re-taken by the enemy, but if you don’t, you find your special weapons supply lines have been cut off for the remaining missions. There are much better examples than this which I could tell you – however I don’t want to spoil the brilliant plot.
I say brilliant, but unfortunately, the storyline can be very confusing at the start. Basically, it is about a war between two countries, Aurelia the peaceful nation of ‘goodies’ and Laesath (the ‘baddies’). Laesath has just come out of a civil war and has declared war on Aurelia, to get revenge for years of alleged exploitation. There are three different ways in which plot information is revealed to you, and two main characters, which never meet. The first is a newspaper journalist, covering a story about Laesath’s army’s commanding officer, Diego Navaro, and starts to investigate for himself the flow of money around the officer – eventually uncovering the true reason for the war. This happens during a series of FMV cutscenes, which are not affected by the decisions of the player. The other character is you – ace pilot Gryphus 1 (or ‘Nemesis’, as the enemies like to call you). We don’t find out anything about Gryphus 1 except for the fact that he is male and the best pilot in the Aurelian Air Force (AAF). This is who you play as during all the missions and take the role of during mission briefings, with your mission co-ordinator Eugene (codenamed Crux during all missions). There are briefings and debriefings for every mission, and tactical updates at relevant points. This is the second way you find out about the plot. The story has a controlled branching method, with critical game nodes at certain points, but branching pathways branching out after them, and being brought back together before the next one. After a while, it starts to feel a bit like you really are deciding the fate of your country in a war. The other way is the in mission radio transmissions (you can even pick up enemy communications – although they never seem to notice). This works well with the cutscenes and briefings, to create a storyline which is detached from the missions, yet also strongly involved in them. It also helps to make the enemies seem like real people, instead of mindless AI robots.
I’m not really much of an expert on game visuals, but I’d say that overall its pretty good. The planes look realistic, and so do the environments – until you get to some buildings.
The problem is that not all of them are 3D modelled. Some are just painted onto the ground. That’s fine if you’re up in the sky, but many missions involve hitting ground or sea targets. Another thing I’ve noticed is how the scale compared to your plane doesn’t seem to be quite right – the buildings are still small even if you nearly crash into them. More on that later…
There’s not really much people can say about videogame music except if they like it or not, or if it’s suitable. I’m putting this in because I really love the music in this game. Every piece of mission music somehow manages to be exciting but calm and focusing at the same time. The briefing music is always the same, but it’s not very obvious, so you won’t tire of it easily. When you complete the game, you unlock a music player option, which allows you to play all the music tracks in the game, from one of the menus. The tracks don’t seem to end, so I can only conclude that it’s cleverly looping itself.
It may be more arcade than flight sim; however that just makes it more fun to play. The controls system is clever and easy to pick up, with advanced controls for more advanced players. It makes good use of the limited buttons available on the PSP, and I would even say I can’t imagine how it could benefit from L2, L3 R2, R3 buttons and an extra analogue stick. That said, I think it would be good to have the wingmate command controls back from the non-portable version. Without it your allies are virtually useless and you have to kill every enemy yourself. Not that that’s a terribly bad thing, as it’s really satisfying, especially if you’re on a roll. There is a wide variety of enemies and a wide variety of weapons to kill them with. My favourite special weapon (you get infinite machine gun ammo, loads of regular missiles and a few special weapons of your choice) is one that fires four different missiles at separate ground targets simultaneously.
There are loads of missions and you don’t get to play them all (at least not in all the conditions they could be played in) if you only play the game once, so it has immense replay value. The missions are also varied so you won’t get sick of bombing enemy complexes all the time (although there is quite a bit of that sort of thing). There are also dogfights, stealth missions, rescue missions and more. The planes are unrealistically manoeuvrable, enabling you to fly under telegraph poles in valleys, and dive bomb from not-very-high-up. It’s tempting to just fly along the ground for the entirety of some missions and if you’re not careful you might forget you’re in a plane altogether and stop at some traffic lights! The developers must have noticed this because the put in an annoying computer voice who tells you to pull up every now and then, but you’ll soon learn to ignore it. The feeling of superiority over ground and sea targets, which are mostly defenceless and move really slowly in comparison to you, is greatly amplified by their transmissions to each other, but you never feel like a monster. In contrast with the flying controls scheme, the menu system and controls are a mess. Firstly, the circle button and the x button are both used to select options, which can be confusing thanks to the fact that the PSP normally uses the circle button to go back. Secondly, the way the menus are laid out isn’t very satisfactory, as you can see in the picture. The multiplayer mode offers a lot of different game modes and options to customise your battles (but not always battles), however it only supports Ad-Hoc mode, which means you need multiple PSPs in the same place, each with its own copy of the game to play.
For me, the best bit of the game is the terrifying super weapons Laesath keeps creating for you to destroy, including the Flying fortress Glepnir, and its SWBM killing machine missiles. Worse, Laesath has a habit of concealing its aircraft in optical camouflage. Good Luck!
Ace Combat X is an amazing game, with loads of variety and a great interactive storyline/plot. It is well designed and plays well, but there are areas which could be better, like the way story information is revealed and the menu system.
This is one of my personal favourite games. 9/10
- Ace Combat: Assault Horizon and Joint Assault media does a flyby (joystiq.com)
- Ace Combat Assault Horizon PS3 X360 (godisageek.com)