But say you don't want to stick to the mission, word for word. Zero introduces a style system that tracks not just what you bring down, but also how you do it. Primary targets are highlighted by red boxes on your screen. Ace 'em in short order and you'll pull down a soldier rank. Veer off the beaten path a bit and you'll find some secondary, yellow targets. They're not key, but trashing the extra SAMs and anti-aircraft guns makes you more of a mercenary type. Finally, wounding, but not necessarily killing your targets (by using less-than-lethal doses of weaponry) heralds you as a knight, the most discerning and honorable of pilots. Kills your smarted-up wingmen bag don't count towards your rank, so order these flyboys targets to chase, but save the big stuff for yourself.
Choosing one style over the other won't overtly affect the story or game. Enemy aircraft placement and other minor mission tweaks are the only changes you'll notice. Getting all three ranks in every mission reveals bonus medals and trophies that flesh out the back stories of rival aces.
You'd think such a respected aerial combat series would want to take the dogfight online. Sorry, still no internet play, but the game does borrow Ace Combat 4's two-player, split screen battle mode. Throwing two jets into an open air arena tends to involve more banking and turning than shooting, but as an extra it's a welcome decal on this consistently impressive, well-oiled machine.