Ace Combat X takes the PSP into the stratosphere and looks great the entire way.
When I was but a wee little lad, one of my heroes was Tom Cruise. Long before he married a woman half his age or began pushing Scientology on the world he was Maverick in Top Gun. Cocky and brash, Maverick personified everything that was cool about fighter pilots. They get to fly in machines that cost millions of dollars for a living, defending their country in style.
The Ace Combat series, which has spanned two consoles and now two handhelds, captures that sense of speed and adrenaline that Top Gun oozed by allowing players to fly real planes sporting outrageously high payloads to decimate entire battlefields. Fans of The Belkan War or The Unsung War, Ace Combat’s two previous titles, will find everything they love about the series conveniently packed into an easy-to-carry UMD. Fast planes, frantic dogfights, and a few little Sci-Fi super-weapons will keep fans more than pleased and give PSP owners one more reason to defend their PSPs.
Whereas Ace Combat Zero on PS2 was a prequel to The Unsung War, Skies of Deception is entirely separate from the rest of the series. For this sortie, players will assume the role of ace pilot Gryphus 1 of the country of Aurelia as it is nearly wiped out by the nation of Leasath. In following with the rest of the series, players will lead their forces by beating back the invading army and liberating their country step by step. This formula has been altered a bit here and there since it was first used in Ace Combat 4, but you know exactly what’s in store here if you’ve played any other titles in the series. The “journalist covering the war” storyline aspect also returns, though the journalist is less involved with the actual war this time and instead paints the backstory to the invasion. Again, this is all familiar territory for veterans, but those who enjoyed The Unsung War or The Belkan War should see no fault.
Like every other title in the series, Ace Combat X takes the arcade approach to ammunition and weapon damage and blends it with realistic planes and scenarios. Jets flying into the battlefield will regularly carry 60 or more missiles and a dozen bombs while taking turns that would make a real-life pilot pass out. Missile’s homing capabilities are also reduced from what you would expect in real life, so each target can require multiple shots to bring down. The best part is taking on the Sci-Fi inspired super weapons that pop up now and again, like the flying fortress Gleipnir which can cloak and fire a concussion cannon to obliterate ground forces. This blending of reality vs. sci-fi works like a charm; it’s very tough to put this game down once you get going. The story is engaging enough to keep your interest, but the action in the air is fantastic, especially on the hardest difficulty level.
Controls on the PSP are slightly limited compared to the PS2 versions, but the improvised setups do a sufficient job of handling the load. Since the PS2 has two sets of shoulder buttons and the PSP only has one, the D-Pad serves as a substitute for these actions. Players can set the rudder controls to the shoulder buttons and the accelerator/decelerator to the Triangle/Square buttons, or instead put the speed on the shoulders and the rudder on the D-Pad. Though it’s not perfect, the adjustable controls do an admirable job in handling a control scheme originally designed with more buttons. You won’t be performing the super-bombing runs like you could on PS2, but then again you’ll still be able to chase down enemy jets with ease.
While it would have been enough to simply make the Ace Combat experience portable, Skies of Deception goes a step further by introducing both branching mission structures and upgradeable planes. As you liberate Aurelia, different mission paths will be available. Attacking a group of ground forces instead of chasing the wounded air fortress, for instance, will allow it to escape and regroup with allies. The best example of this is late in the game, when players must choose between bagging a team of top aces before they acquire stronger planes or stopping a weapons shipment from reaching that same base and making those planes more dangerous. Depending on what you choose, a later battle will either be against ace pilots or against normal pilots with new, strange weaponry. This function allows for tons of replay as many of these branching paths have three and four missions, each with their own ramifications on future battles.
Upgradeable planes, on the other hand, aren’t nearly as cool as they sound. The only planes that you can upgrade are Namco-made originals. You can’t, for instance, upgrade an F-14 Super Tomcat with a stronger engine or better armor. Who wants to stick with b.s. made up planes when they can rock a super-upgraded F-4 and challenge the most advanced craft in the game? The roster of both real and fictional planes is impressive, however, and will ensure that players can pick the right ride for any job.
One huge disappointment in games prior was the lack of online dogfights. In the case of Ace Combat 5, there wasn’t any multiplayer at all. Skies of Deception trumps the rest of the series by not only offering four-player dog fighting but by including a decent list of different modes for both co-op and competitive play. Instead of simply going fighting in a free-for-all, players can instead team up against four CPU opponents in team dogfights. The best mode is the Base Assault mode, where teams must destroy their opponents’ base while defending their own. While this is only in Ad-Hoc and not truly online, multiplayer like this has been sorely missing from the series. Hopefully, future titles will feature these modes and more on console, whenever those happen to come out.
As far as a PSP title goes, this one is up there in terms of graphics and sound. The sights are comparable to Ace Combat 4, the PS2’s first AC title. The music is equally impressive, blending techno and rock with orchestration for a soundtrack that’s both compelling and completely “Danger Zone.”
Ace Combat X on PSP matches up favorably against a majority of other PSP titles. Instead of simply porting over one of their best-selling PS2 titles, NamcoBandai took a couple extra steps to move the series forward as it made it portable. With only the small misstep in the customizable planes department, Skies of Deception could very well be seen as one of the best titles in the series.
Ace Combat fans should target lock this upcoming PSP release. by Patrick Evans
Whirling through the skies, your F/A-22 comes around behind that unsuspecting enemy fighter as it desperately searches for you. Taking him down with a pair of missiles, the warning lights on the HUD alert you of an incoming surface-to-air missile tracking your jet. A couple of fancy moves later, you shake the missile and blast that SAM missile truck to bits and continue on with the mission.
Knowing that any upcoming game will guarantee the same excitement described above is enough to sell me on a new Ace Combat title, but having this same experience on the go as you travel, or even fly, is a treat. Flight fans, may I welcome you to Ace Combat X: Skies of Deception.
Unlike Ace Combat Zero, ACX will not be linked to any previous plotline before it. After years of political and military infighting, the nation of Leasath has invaded its neighbor. As a pilot for the nation of Aurelia, players will begin a campaign to defend their homeland against the invading forces. Just like in The Unsung War, Skies of Deception will present its story of aerial combat and political intrigue with computer generated cut-scenes and in-flight dialog conversations.
It seems, though, that the more things stay the same, the more things change for the venerable flight series. In ACX, the mission structure will be more dynamic than ever before. While linear in structure, choices that are made during an individual mission have lasting effects on the campaign later on. For example, assume that a mission entails choosing between sinking a naval fleet before it leaves port or bomb a fleeing army division. Choosing to sink the fleet may allow the ground forces to escape and play a part in a later ground engagement, while ignoring the naval fleet could effect future naval engagements in the same manner. Instead of simply blasting everything you see on the radar, players will be forced to choose their targets throughout the campaign and deal with the consequences of those choices.
In addition, the selection of licensed planes will be supplemented with the ability to upgrade them and make them your own. By completing secondary objectives and bagging kills with guns instead of missiles, players will earn more money and unlock parts to alter the already hefty roster of selectable planes. Just think about how cool the Raptor would be with even better engines, or how deadly the F-14, with its long-range missiles, would be with added stealth technology. Tricking out your plane will be as much fun as blowing the enemy’s out of the sky.
Multiplayer on the PS2 has been a very big disappointment to flight fans for many years. For Zero, dogfights are pretty boring, while The Unsung War didn’t even include multiplayer. In Skies of Deception, pilots will be able to engage their friends in four-way dogfights using the PSP’s Ad Hoc Mode. Escort missions and team-coop missions will also be available as well, ensuring that players don’t always get stuck circling one another for hours on end for a kill.
It seems that Namco is following the “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it” philosophy with its premier flight series. Arcady flight combat coupled with realistic jets and an immersive campaign mode are all things that console fans will be familiar with. These same fans will likely stay for the improved multiplayer, blasting their buddies from the sky in ways that they couldn’t on PS2. Skies of Deception will be launching from the home television to the little screen in late September.
- Authentic flying experience: Pilot licensed aircraft such as the F-14D or Tornado F3 for realistic flying and thrilling action, anytime, anywhere.
- All new storyline: Set in an entirely new world and setting apart from installments on the PS2, this new story opens up a whole new universe ripe with a multitude of new skies to explore.
- Strategic AI System: The player must choose their course of action wisely as combat decisions directly affect their destiny. If the player chooses to destroy a military installation instead of backing up friendly forces that are under attack, the next mission objective will reflect this decision and change accordingly.
- Original tunable aircraft: Players can tune original aircraft with parts unlocked in Campaign mode further enhancing the flying experience.
- Wireless Ad Hoc: This new and exciting addition to the series allows up to four players to engage in a variety of wireless Ad Hoc combat competitions.