Air Combat (PlayStation - 1995)
You are the team leader of an elite corps of mercenaries - fighter pilots hired to strike where NATO air forces have failed.
It's the summer of 1995. The whole world is eyeballing Sony's PlayStation, a machine that's supposed to somehow topple videogame giants Sega and Nintendo. While Sega digs its own grave with a rocket-powered backhoe, Nintendo sticks to its guns in all the wrong ways, leaving Sony with a free, open road to success. Part of that initial success was, without a doubt, Namco's trio of excellent launch titles - Ridge Racer, Tekken and the original Air Combat.
The first game in the series lacks the polish and shine of the PS2 and even PSP entries, but there's no denying how thrilling the game was back in the day. As far as consoles were concerned, this was the first true realization of jet warfare. You could roam 360 degrees in pursuit of targets. A hangar of 15 custom-painted aircraft was at your disposal (provided you had the cash), each one handling differently and specifically to the plane's real-world design. Taking an A-10 out for a spin shouldn't be the same as an F-22, and here it wasn't. You could feel the tank killer's massive, unstoppable girth barely floating through the air - it was a truly perfect flying experience for the time. Today, not so much. It's aged as poorly as all the other 32- and 64-bit games, so going back to check it out may or may not spin your turbines (actually, it won't). But for flight fans, the mix of arcade fun and just-enough realism would prove potent enough to last for more than a decade.
Sure, there's barely any story and the plot has nothing to do with any of the other games in the series, but the goal here was to prove that (semi) realistic dogfighting was possible on a console. Yeah we know, jets can't hold 50 missiles at a time or even pull off some of the aerial stunts these planes do (cutting out of a loop in the wrong direction, for one), but at the time, this was it.
After the first game, the series was renamed Ace Combat in the US and began its relative, kinda-sorta continuity that players enjoy today. Air Combat was also the name of both arcade games that preceded the PS version - the very first hit arcades in the early '90s and lacked a great many features that its sequel, Air Combat 22 introduced.
There are two missions near the end of the game that really brought the sensation of piloting a winged bullet into your hands. The first has you screaming down a highway and eventually through a red suspension bridge that leads to the enemy. Blasting across this Golden Gate look-alike was something we just couldn’t do on another system at the time. Then, one mission later, you're carving a path through a narrow ravine, unable to ascend beyond the top due to overwhelming SAM fire. So sweet.