Aerial shooters like the Ace Combat series are in an understandably short supply. It's hard to relate to flying death machines, even if they do look badass as hell. This makes creating and pushing out a space shooting game even harder - with no Star Wars or Star Trek license to carry the action, it all boils down to piloting pretty ships through an empty void, occasionally stopping to blow something up with pretty pink-and-purple missiles.
For the most part, that's exactly what Project Sylpheed delivers - a black blanket of stars draped over your ship, your wingmen and an assortment of allied and enemy spacecraft. Normally, this would feel rather empty, but Sylpheed's idea of cramming countless enemies into the same space does seem to make the battles much more intense. As in "utterly chaotic," almost to the point where you have to stop and reassess what it is you're supposed to be shooting. The mission may be to protect your giant carrier, but the infinite laser trails and radar blips make it near impossible to decide on a target. Some choppy moments here and there also make it tough to keep track of swarming enemies.
Above: Go get 'em! Um, all of them!
Despite how utterly difficult it is to choose a course of action, we have to admit there's a strong sense of urgency at all times. The ship's many evasive moves and upgradeable armament really put you in the hot seat, forcing you to switch between bullets, lasers, rail guns, multi-targeting rockets and beams at any given moment. Chargeable moves also let you fire all your guns at once or enter a bullet-time slo-mo mode where you can sneak up on the overwhelming enemy fleet. If only the targeting button would cycle a little faster... as it is, we spent a lot of time sifting through far-away enemies trying to get a lock on the guy we're already shooting at.
All those weapons are slowly accessed in the hangar and arsenal menus outside of battle. The more successful missions you fly, the more points you earn towards developing new technology. Each weapon comes complete with attack, weight and reach stats, along with a description of its overall uses in combat. But, as with any garage mode, loading your ship up with too many heavy weapons makes it all bloated and surly, and thus a pain to pilot once it gets moving.