As gamers, we love blowing stuff up. And jets, especially top-of-the-line ones, are made for only one purpose - turning things into flaming piles of ruin. So why is there only one major flight combat series up to this point? Maybe it's because Ace Combat does everything so damn well there's just no reason for anyone else to step up.
With Skies of Deception, you're getting everything that's made the series rock on the consoles - rich sound effects, hardcore dogfights and science-fictiony doomsday devices thrown in with your modern-day war machines. Most missions devolve into "blast everything in the sky," but there are a few alternative sorties that keep things moving along. One has you hugging a mountain range in search of radar-jamming bases, with nothing more than a trail of radio towers to lead you forward. Veer too far from this course and you'll be fried by the immense set of surface-to-air missiles resting on the mountaintops. It's a fresh break from all the arcade-style shooting, but hey, that's why fans of the series have stuck around for a decade.
For all its similarities, Skies does try out a few new ideas. Normally you'd go mission to mission in a linear progression, but now there's a battle map that can directly affect the remaining campaigns. Striking an incoming fleet, for example, will erase it from the map and prevent it from aiding the enemy base next mission. You don't have to think too hard about your choices, but if you love replaying missions, here's a way to tinker with the outcome.
For another layer of complexity, there's a set of planes that can be tweaked and upgraded for varying performances. Cash earned for successful missions can be spent on new planes, their special weapons or those aforementioned unique parts. They'll affect stability, speed or durability, so you really can mess with them to you heart's desire.
The catch is that these new parts, along with the battle map, don't affect how you play the game. We've been serious fans of the Ace series forever, but even if you've never played one in your life you can skip every cinema, every mission briefing and still make it through just fine. We beat the entire game (in two hours, even) without buying one single new part for any of the planes as well - not a ringing endorsement for such a trumpeted addition.
The PSP's broken design also factors into the experience. The lack of extra shoulder buttons and a proper analog stick have caused the developers to strip away simple things that fans will likely miss. For one, you can't order your wingmen around, a basic ability that the past few games have offered. Most of the time your pals seem to be minding their own business instead of getting into the thick of things. It's even more annoying because the only real reason the feature's gone is because there's no place to put in on the PSP.
Similarly, the pretend analog stick really makes things hard to pilot. We crashed more in this one game than we had in the entire series up to this point. Perhaps some will adjust easier, but it's a noticeable flaw that's not even the game's fault. Trust us, you're going to have fun, but the console versions handle better in every way.
Skies of Deception
also sports a grip of multiplayer modes, detailed here
. They're solid additions and, with four people gunning all at once, enough to keep you playing well after the (startlingly short) solo game is done. Too bad it's only ad-hoc - a true online mode would have brought all the Ace
fans together in a maelstrom of missiles and inappropriate language. Instead, we'll all happily settle for a portable version that, despite its flaws, is a rocket-powered ballet that'll ensnare new and old players alike.