After Burner: Black Falcon

Platform(s): PSP
Genre: Action
Publisher: SEGA

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PSP Review - 'After Burner: Black Falcon'

by Geson Hatchett on April 24, 2007 @ 12:20 a.m. PDT

Players will be able to battle through an in-depth storyline where 13 top-secret fighter planes have been stolen by an underground mercenary organisation known only as Black Falcon. Utilising an assortment of hi-tech licensed planes and explosive weapons, players must recover the jets by engaging in high-speed aerial combat as they dogfight their way through dangerous terrain. In addition to the in-depth customisation of 19 officially licensed military planes, players compete against friends in a whole host of multiplayer modes.

Genre: Shooter/Flight Sim
Publisher: Sega
Developer: Planet Moon Studios
Release Date: March 20, 2007

I lovingly remember the After Burner arcade games. They were, in a word, awesome. They had interactive controls right down to the pilots' sticks, huge sound speakers, explosive weaponry, the sense of speed as you engaged in dogfights against multiple planes at once, and a Screaming Missile Guy who would go, "NO MORE MISSILE!" whenever you ran out of missiles. Best of all, what I liked about the game was just how much it was able to do with its hardware, which is ancient by today's standards. All of those scaling, rotating sprites ... ah, memories.

The revival of the franchise on the PSP, After Burner: Black Falcon, takes most of what I loved about the arcade games and brings it into the 21st century. Unfortunately, Screaming Missile Guy and Pushing the Hardware didn't make the trip, but the end result is actually pretty cool nonetheless.

The game keeps things simple and low-poly. It's not ugly by any means, but none of the visuals push the power of the PSP. I gather one could have done this game on the Dreamcast, or even the original PSX, with little performance loss. This is supposedly to make sure that the game stays speedy, and that goal is accomplished. Still, my huge sprites have been swapped out for smallish, sleek and barely detailed polygons, and it's somewhat painful.

Even though Screaming Missile Guy is gone, the rest of the game isn't all that tough on the ears. It sounds something like a cross between classic Sega arcade tunes and a wannabe "Top Gun" soundtrack. Sadly, there's no voice-acting anywhere, even on the part of your commander, which is kind of a shame, considering how well he's written and how often he gives you orders. Still, odds are you'll be occupied enough with all of the explosions, machine gun rattles, sonic flight screams and zooming-rocket Doppler Effects this game throws your way. Do your best to play this game either wearing headphones or through very large speakers. You won't be disappointed.

Now that I've gotten my aesthetic gripes out of the way, let's concentrate on the rest of the game, which is just about all good. Much like OutRun 2, Sega and Planet Moon have managed to keep the great gameplay of the original After Burner titles intact, with additions that (outside of the game's paper-thin story) feel just right. Flying in your jet, you'll face all manner of enemies from standard planes to jets, gunships to battleships, submarines, and unforgiving terrain. On your side are two types of homing missiles (air-to-air and air-to-ground), a machine gun, the ability to barrel-roll, and your maneuvering skills.

You get no other help outside of power-ups that you're able to snag by using the game's novel combo feature. If you kill planes that are close to each other in quick succession (and thankfully, exploding planes can damage other nearby planes), you're awarded a combo bonus, and often you'll get parachute drops that refill your health and ammo, give you extra cash, and slow down time. All three are very important, especially after the first few levels. On-screen enemies can and will reach into the double digits, meaning that your plane has to stay in the sky despite it being peppered by bullets and missiles. The time slowdown allows for temporarily better targeting, and cash allows you to buy better planes and ammunition.

You'll learn to value cash above all else, because with cash comes better planes, ammo, and gameplay. The stock plane you start with, the A10, is a bit of a slowpoke no matter how much you upgrade it. Using it too often can make the gameplay seem slow and repetitive, because, well, at that point, it is. Even repeated usage of the afterburner doesn't help matters much. However, the second you upgrade from the stock A10 (I highly suggest the F14 as your second plane), you'll notice. You're screaming across the skies at breakneck speeds and are actually finishing stages in times that seem normal, all the while sporting faster firepower than you had when you started all of this.

After Burner: Black Falcon allows you to take the role of three pilots; one's mission is built around speed (Sonic), another technique (Shinsei), and the last, destruction (Bull). Bull's a good choice if you want to get lots of money for planes, Sonic's good if you like fast action, and Shinsei is your go-to for mission variety. Even so, whomever you choose, the core game pretty much comes down to shooting everything in sight and keeping yourself alive, level after level. If this appeals to you, then everything's hunky-dory. You'll get to experience a shooting Zen that doesn't pull any punches. (First-time players may want to set the game to "Easy." It can get that tough.) For those of you looking for titles that are a mishmash of gameplay types, you're better off somewhere else.

Multiplayer, once again, does not contain any infrastructure support (I'm beginning to think that maybe it was just a bullet point for Sony to put on its list of system "assets" at this point), which is a shame, because the modes for Black Falcon are actually something worth playing online instead of just with a nearby friend. You can go co-op through the story missions, doing your best to collect loot, or you can go competitive, with only one person being able to score the spoils of war until they're shot down and have to regain the privilege.

If you're a fan of the original After Burner titles or just want a nice shooting game in general, then After Burner: Black Falcon is easily one of the PSP's better choices. It's got a low learning curve, and once you get past the admittedly slow-going first couple of stages and pick yourself up a real plane, it's a sonic-booming good time all around. Buy with confidence, unless total speed and blowing up lots of things just isn't for you.

Score: 8.0/10


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