Oct 22, 2007
Six years ago Ace Combat 04 dropped everyone's jaw with its photorealistic airplanes, fast arcade action and ultra-detailed environments. It was a piece of technological grace that both showed what the current generation of consoles was capable of and also provided the most white-knuckle jet experience in memory. Now we have a new champion of the skies, and it's Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation.
Take everything we just mentioned - the planes, the intensity and the terrain - and nuke it all with a gamma bomb. The irradiated behemoth that emerges is Ace Combat supercharged in every conceivable way, from literally stunning graphics to dizzying battles that have to be seen to be believed. Gone are the sparsely populated skies of the PS2 games - these battlefields are completely jammed with anti-aircraft fire, enemy pilots, surface-to-air missiles, aircraft carriers, dozens of friendly units and about a billion smoky missile trails splitting the sky.
These enormous fronts are divided into multiple "operations," and you're free to tackle them in any order you see fit. However, your actions will affect the rest of the mission, so if you save an airstrip, for example, you can use it to re-supply the plane. Lose it and you'll have to make do with what you have. Complete enough operations and you're able to call in heavy-duty air strikes from your armada of trigger-happy friends. It's an absolutely gut-punching adventure from beginning to end, and if you fancy yourself a gamer or a graphics whore, you need to give this a shot.
Oh, there's still more praise to heap. It's just hard to put into words the feeling of screaming across a cityscape, the sun just starting to slink beneath the horizon as you send six specially-targeted missiles into a cluster of incoming jets. From one mission to the next you're constantly bombarded with tasks to perform and bogies to bag, from simple fighters to a gargantuan, flying superfortress that would make Nick Fury blush. The game's final battle is particularly exciting, but we won't spoil the details.
Now here's the sticky part - as breathtakingly paced as the game is, it's indecipherable to anyone who's never plunked a few good hours into the Ace games. All this data, from enemy positions to altitude to ammo to radar to individual operation status, looks like a mess of green text. To seasoned vets, it's a bunch of info that ranges from crucial to "get that off the screen." It's not the game's fault that piloting a 30-million-dollar death machine is complicated, and the dead-on controls make success easy for those in the know, but everyone else will need to spend some serious time acclimating themselves to the world of ace fighter pilots.
About a year ago we saw Ace Combat X hit the PSP. Its main function? To deliver wireless multiplayer to a series that had so far been stuck with split screen boredom. Lacking an infrastructure mode, Ace X wasn't quite the hit it needed to be. With Ace 6, you're getting a robust solo experience plus a whole range of fully online multiplayer modes.
There's the standard deathmatch of course, where groups of up to 16 players can shatter each other's planes with all sorts of multi-targeting missiles. Then you have team battles and team sieges, where one side attacks a group of targets while the other tries to defend. With that many ace players in the sky, these matches can turn into some of the fastest, most intense moments on Xbox Live. If it's a bunch of beginners, it's like watching the most poorly choreographed flight scene in history.
The co-op mode is something of a disappointment. There are only two missions available, and they're slightly tweaked versions of solo sorties you've already played. We're ready to believe there will be more from Live, but why not just make the whole game co-op?
Other downloadable content, from what we've seen so far, is very jet-centric. Longtime fans (or anyone who likes gawking at jets) will really enjoy the visual perks coming down the pike.
We love our Ace Combat. That's no lie. And we're ready to say this is the best one yet. Sure it's not the most accessible game in the world. Yes, other Ace games have more inventive missions (shout out to Excalibur from Ace Zero). True, the story's "go dance with the angels" catchphrase becomes obnoxious after the 50th time. But despite these small complaints, Ace 6 is still far better than any other flight game on the 360 - and it also happens to be a technical showcase for HDTV fanatics everywhere.