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PS2 Review - 'Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War'

by Hank on Nov. 19, 2004 @ 3:08 a.m. PST

With more than 50 different licensed planes and an intense storyline extending over 30 missions, players will be put to the ultimate test, including air-to-air combat, air-to-ground fighting, air-to-sea assaults, rescue, recon and much more. Incorporating ultra-realistic beautifully rendered in-game graphics and cinematics along with unparalleled game play; Ace Combat 5 goes a step beyond the traditional air combat gaming experience.

Genre: Flight
Developer: Namco
Publisher: Namco
Release Date: October 25, 2004

Buy 'ACE COMBAT 5': PlayStation 2

Recruit, are you prepared for battle? If not, it’s time I grind the basics into your system for your training. Here you will learn the basic flight controls needed to excel as a pilot: climb, descend, yaw, roll, turn, loop, evade, pursue, and attack. Learn these well, for these basic maneuvers will determine if you come home in one piece.

For those new to the series, the first thing you must know is that Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War is an arcade sim, not a flight sim. If this is your first Ace Combat, I strongly suggest playing AC4, although this game stands on its own in so many different ways.

The enemy AI in Ace Combat 5 is so innovative that I never get sick of replaying the missions. Even though I know where the enemies are coming from, their attack pattern is never the same. Patience and correct timing is what leads to a skillful ace pilot, which my roommates can vouch for. I let them try the game, and they found it to be extremely difficult and were unable to land a single missile. All I can say is The Force is weak within them. Their struggle is a prime example of how crucial timing can be in this game because the planes fly around and dodge with great skill instead of being sitting ducks. Even if you achieve a good lock on a target, they won’t always give you the kill. It all depends on the enemy plane; for example, if it’s a fast plane, they can easily evade, making much harder to take away their wings. Being trigger happy is never good; you must wait for the perfect opportunity to attack.

Everyone wants to be trigger happy, but that's not a very good practice for this game, even if it is an arcade sim. You may have 40+ missiles, but the supply is finite, and you will eventually run out, between the smart enemy AI and the massive amount of enemies on some levels. On average, an enemy plane takes two missiles to destroy so if you have 40 missiles and don't miss, you can hit a maximum of 20 planes. Not missing is certainly doable, but it's not as easy as it sounds, which is why Namco has implemented a better machine gun system. If you remember AC4, the machine gun was rendered almost useless. They have completely changed that, and it is incredibly fun to kill an enemy with the machine gun, though it’s not recommended against faster planes which never give you the opportunity to land a clean hit. The HUD actually tells you if you land a shot or not. Another factor that makes the machine gun more useful is that it has infinite ammunition! If there were limited ammo for the machine gun, I would probably have to resort to crashing into the enemy or utilizing my teammates.

If you have played AC4, you would know that your teammates were mostly useless scrap metal with wings, but in this installment, they are actually helpful to a certain extent. This is where the new wingman system comes into play, which is a way to control your team of three or four, depending on the game segment. The options are: "up" to attack the enemy in front of you, "left" to disperse, "down" to cover, and "right" to allow the use of special weapons. "Right" (the ability to use the special weapons) can be triggered with any other option, while you can only trigger one of the other three. You should understand which mode to use, since each mission will have its ideal formation. Personally, I use "attack" when I run out of ammo or need to destroy a key object, "disperse" when the enemy is spread in a wide area, and "cover" when the enemy is riding on my tail and locking onto me. Sadly, this is where the teammates' AI is found lacking. When I want someone to cover my six, I want them to take care of those pesky planes that keep locking onto me, but their support is unpredictable so I get hit by missiles more often than I would like.

Like the enemy crafts, your plane can only take two missiles so it’s strongly advised to break and maneuver as much as possible in order to avoid getting hit. Flying around with damage affects the stability of the plane, which I learned firsthand on the follow-up mission after the raid on "The Fortress." I had chosen a slow plane to help the ground units, but to my surprise, the mission was linked to several others, and I was stuck with a slow plane on a mission that required a fast one. Having six enemy planes behind you is never a pretty sight, but with the addition of machine gun fire, missiles, and constant warnings that they have a lock on your plane, I have got to say that mission was insane.

In addition to the new features mentioned above, the ability to buy planes for your squadron is a big plus. AC5 doesn't let you customize your plane's special weapons anymore, and I don't know if this in a bid to make the game more realistic, but it just makes it extra important that you select the correct plane for each mission.

Yet, this is not even close to the hardest mission in the game. There are several different types of missions: escort, destroy targets, air support, protection, and retreat. As you can see, there is a lot more variety than the last installment, but it's both incredibly fun and difficult at the same time. The mission I had the most trouble with was the tenth one, where they brought in radar jammers producing fake planes. I could never find the jammers, and it took me a few tries before someone informed me that the jammers were at 20,000 feet. The other mission I had problem with was where you and your team must simultaneously hit targets. That mission was incredibly difficult because you needed to time the exact moment when all four of your squadron members blow a radar post. I found the escort missions to be the most impressive, and I truly believe that it’s a phenomenon that occurs quite often, especially when a plane is flying over enemy airspace. All in all, I have to say the hardest set of missions would be the rescue ones. Keeping those helicopters alive is hard work, and I truly wished they had more health, but this quality adds to the sense of realism and makes me respect pilots even more. During these missions, you will see one of the best storylines ever told.

Namco has done a superb job in telling the story of this "Unsung War." After each mission, you are granted a cut scene sequence explaining the situation and leading to the next mission. If you remember AC4's rather simple map interface, it is back, but before you see this layout, they give a more flashy view of the targets, informing you like they do in war movies. Though the briefing is well done, the overall story is really well scripted, making it this much easier to move onto the next mission. One such example is the in the air briefing; not all pilots can return after a mission, and Ace Combat 5 portrays this well. I would like to say more about the story, but I must not spoil the well-crafted plot.

Since you can’t always return home during these missions, you may be required to refuel, which was handled in AC4 by landing on a carrier or base. There is a new refueling method, and that is to refuel in the air, which is just as difficult as it sounds. First, you have to fly near the connection to attach to the gas tank, and once you attach, you must maintain your speed until fueling is complete. I have never gotten so riled up about getting free gas. Although these side missions are optional, it’s always fun to play and watch the replay.

Replays in this game are extremely fun to watch because the graphics are so detailed and extravagant: your plane do the Immelman turn or a barrel roll, or fly a few centimeters above an object and barely miss it. I really enjoy watching the planes fly through the rain; because of the speeds, the rain looks as if it’s going towards you, which is an accurate representation. Such effects adds to the feel of the game, and if you look at the sun for too long, you can get blinded for a few seconds, giving the enemy the time needed to escape or retaliate.

The plane and fighting graphics look quite similar to those of AC4, with a few added touches here and there. One such touch is that when you fly closer to the plane, you can see the detail of the other quite well, especially in the Arkbird mission. Another great graphical aspect is that weather patterns can now change during missions; you can be merrily flying along when all of a sudden, a rainstorm approaches and the sky goes really dark. Additionally, the graphics in the cut scenes are simply amazing, and none of the game trailers have done them any justice.

The game relies heavily on audio, from radio chatter to the firing of a machine gun or missile, and the voice acting is also well done. Whenever a game has both English and Japanese audio tracks, it scores brownie points in my book, but both languages also sound great, which is a definite bonus. The Japanese voice actor for Nanase is just so soothing, especially when fighting such hectic battles. It also eases my anger when I crash into the ocean. I swear, planes need underwater capabilities.

If you are able to get the Hori Flightstick – a sturdy flightstick and throttle designed specifically for Ace Combat 5 – it definitely adds another layer of realism to the game. With its force feedback technology, the flightstick adds so much to the feel that I strongly recommend getting it; if you enjoy flight games, it will be worth every penny. The only downside is that the price isn’t exactly consumer friendly, and the stick leans slightly to the right, which can easily be compensated for. Even though you can enjoy AC5 with a controller, I have to say that it’s best enjoyed with the flightstick.

Overall, Ace Combat 5 is one solid game. It may lack multiplayer or online play, which many, including myself, were hoping for, but the single player campaign clearly makes up for this. With a great storyline and about 30 missions, it is a truly enjoyable title that never feels repetitive. If you are looking for a good aerial combat game, I strongly suggest this title. It has better graphics, audio, and storyline than its predecessors, but even without those considerations, this game is truly a must-have for all flight fans out there.

Score: 9.2 / 10

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