Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation Review (Xbox360)

Ace Combat 6 caused quite a stir when it was announced for the Xbox 360. You see, this was something of a coup for Microsoft as the first five instalments of the series were Sony Playstation exclusives with nos. I-III appearing on our old friend the PS1 and the remaining onÖ.you guessed it, the PS2 (with the notable exception of Ace Combat Advance on the GBA). So with so many predecessors all glaring down at you and an expectant, if not somewhat disappointed fan-base ready to compare and contrast Namco Bandaiís latest offering with its forerunners, how does it fare? Well Iíll tell you.

The scenery looks great from up on high. Just donít get too close! Sort of like Pearl Harbour, without the suicide

Well for starters theyíve implemented a Dynamic Operations System which basically translates to the world youíre flying around in is living and breathing and the word Ďreal timeí crops up often. Multiple attacks can break out at any time from land, sea or air and you can pick and choose (sometimes) which ones you want to take out and when. Thereís also Live play which we will come back to later and of course all the latest in high tech combat aircraft. Mouth watering yet?

The first thing I noticed was how easy it was to get to grips with the craft and the controls. There are several tutorials which walk you through the basic manoeuvres step by step and before long youíre ready to embark on your first mission. As youíd expect this is just a basic shoot the planes out of the sky type affair and is over pretty quickly. However, prior to Mission 1 we are treated (and I use that term loosely) to one of the most sugary, sickly sweet, Americanised fingers-down-the-throat type cut scene where a skinny, white, blonde and beautiful mother saying goodbye to her skinny, white, blonde and beautiful daughter on her way to field trip with her school. After an endless amount of the most clichťd monologue I have ever borne witness to, planes attack and your impetus, your motivation for fighting back is to of course restore the beautiful land to these beautiful people. I just sat there gawping in disbelief. Still, itís game play that counts, right?

I was looking forward to soaring through the air amid realistic landscapes, diving and skimming the trees then soaring to dizzy heights like a real jet fighter pilot. Disappointingly however, the landscapes are just a few high res (another term Iíll use loosely) photographs with some trees cut and pasted on top making them look rather comical. Itís not so bad that youíll be writing a letter to your closest High Definition Gaming Graphics Representative (HDGGR for short) to complain, but they couldíve done better in this regard. Still, itís game play that counts, right?

So much information on the screen at once can be quite confusing Red 5, Iím going in!

The aircraft models themselves however are in stark contrast to the landscapes and are beautifully and realistically rendered for your plane spotting pleasure and there are many types of craft available/unlockable/available for a few pennies for download from Xbox Live. The game runs at a silky smooth 60fps without so much of a drop which is surprising considering the feeling of speed isnít really there. Yes, you get a nice heat glaze when the afterburners are lit but that sweaty palm gaming you get from a good racer, you know, that feeling of hurtling literally 100ís of miles an hour simply isnít conveyed here and thatís disappointing.

The missions are varied enough, with new objectives been thrown at you every once in a while mid-mission including taking out bombers to sinking battleships. However, sometimes it felt like a lonely experience and you even though your wingman is at hand throughout, I never loved him like Tom Cruise loved Val Kilmer.

The gameís saving grace is its Live implementation. Play with four of your friends and take the missions head on. This is where you really feel like youíre working as a team and suddenly the whole game makes sense. You do feel like youíre flying a fighter jet, your sense of disbelief is suspended enough that you get that sense of speed. You donít even notice the landscapes and the plot just becomes some insignificant aside that wouldnít be worth mentioning.

The music is your bog standard military pomp and circumstance with a by the numbers attempt at deep, stirring strings and a few horns and when heard in-game and not in a cut scene youíll hardly notice it which yet again is a shame as the single player game lacks so much atmosphere that a rousing soundtrack could really have heightened the experience and made you grip your controller that bit tighter. So definitely a custom soundtrack game if ever I played one.

I hold my hands up, that looks great! Looks like I picked the wrong day to quit sniffing glue!

So where does all this leave us? So should PS3 owners feel aggrieved? If youíre a fan of the series and happen to own a 360 then go right ahead and dive in, Iím sure you wonít be disappointed so obviously if you are a big fan and donít own one then yes, youíre missing out. However, if youíre relatively new to the series I suggest you make sure a few of your mates have bought it and get online with them and youíll have a blast. If the single player campaign does grab you then the missions are varied and numerous but in my opinion over long and ultimately lifeless. With so many games to choose from at the moment I suspect youíd really have to get turned on by this sort of thing to want to spend full price on it.

Top game moment:
Avoiding in-coming missiles whilst taking out some bombers.

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