Ace Combat 3: Electrosphere (PlayStation - 2000)
After the great success of part two, Namco saw fit to totally change the way Ace Combat was to be perceived. This one took place far into the future and instead of real world planes, Ace 3 featured make-believe super jets that don't exist. Even piloting the aircraft was something out of a sci-fi book - each pilot was essentially entombed in the plane, surrounded by a solid cockpit interface called COFFIN (Connection for Flight Interface). Basically, the pilot and jet are one unit, able to scan 360 degrees of sky at any time. This ability, to look around the battlefield in any direction, would be carried into future installments. The control and graphics improved again as well, making this look almost as good as the PS2 games that followed.
We were willing to look past the setting and out-there design ideas, but the butchered US release is what made Ace 3 such a disappointment. In Japan, the game shipped with anime cutscenes, an involved storyline, more than 50 missions and several helper characters. For whatever reason, the US release came a year later with no cutscenes, barely 30 missions and most of the storyline removed. Huh? If it weren't for the next game in the series, this could have been the end of Ace Combat.
We're not going to go into Ace Combat Advance at all, but it's worth mentioning that it returns to the general timeframe that Ace 3 inhabits. It's easily the weakest, least impressive game in the series (it only briefly touched the hands of key Ace developers) so only the hardcore should bother. And even then... just play Electrosphere again.
It's gotta be the space mission. As if the fanciful aircraft weren't enough, now you get to take one off the whole damn planet. All the games tend to balance realism with sci-fi craziness, but this one was pretty out there. Points for letting us slide back into the atmosphere though - don't get to do that in too many flight games, do you?