Flight combat games have had several different vehicle types featured in the last few console generations. Aside from the obvious jet fighters and spacecraft, players have gone into the cockpits of biplanes, WWII planes, and even classified flying crafts from various wars in history. Interestingly enough, no flight games during this generation or the previous one have had combat helicopters take center stage, aside from appearances in first-person shooters and open-world sandbox games. Players who wanted to take to the skies in combat helicopters would have to dig back into the 16- and 32-bit eras with titles like the Strike series from EA. The release of Pacific Liberator on the Nintendo Wii attempts to fill this gap. While the title's core aspects are quite fun, there are enough flaws to hold it back from being a fun little sleeper hit.
The plot comes off as both an homage to and parody of straight-to-video action films. In an unnamed region of the world, a man only known as El Presidente has built up his empire on a manmade island. Not content with his own island, he has decided to occupy the neighboring islands as well. As an unnamed operative in an unclassified attack chopper, your mission is to free those islands and stop El Presidente once and for all.
The game's campaign takes place over 18 different missions, which can fall under three different gameplay categories. Combat missions have you squaring off against the military might of El Presidente's forces occupying land, sea and air. Protection missions have you defending civilian lands and structures like the "Place of Important Things" from waves of enemy forces. Finally, some missions have you simply taking out as many supply buildings as possible, with or without enemy interference.
The gameplay suffers greatly from one major factor: overall length. Despite saying that the game has 18 different missions, Pacific Liberator is short since the missions are short. On average, each mission can last five minutes so a player can conceivably finish the title in about two hours. There are three difficulty levels present, but at the hardest level, it would take you a maximum of three hours to finish the game. With most major games hitting the high single digits or low double digits in terms of gameplay length, the amount of gameplay in this title doesn't make it an attractive purchase. The short game length isn't helped by your attack chopper's regenerative health. For some reason, you can get away from combat and let your health bar slowly refill, just like some first-and third-person shooters. It isn't explained why your vehicle can suddenly heal itself, but it makes an already easy game even easier.
Controls for helicopters have never been easy since the vehicle entered the 3-D era. Luckily for players, the game designers seem to have found a method that works well enough. The Wii Remote is used for general aiming as well as camera movement and helicopter rotation. The A button is used for missile fire while the B button activates machine gun cannon fire. The analog stick on the Nunchuk operates forward and backward movement of the helicopter as well as left and right strafing. Tilting the Nunchuk up and down will result in elevation changes. The C button shoots out more powerful rockets, and the Z button handles speed boosts. It becomes rather easy to control the helicopter this way, and it would have been perfect if it weren't for some major gameplay flaws.
During a few missions, the game will be suddenly interrupted by a cut scene before bringing you back to the game. This somehow resets the motion controls in the Nunchuk, forcing you to hold the control at odd angles to finish the mission. For example, if you were tilting the Nunchuk upright when the cut scene started, you'll have to tilt it further just to prevent the chopper from crashing into the ocean. The aiming cursor also has a tendency to disappear when aimed at screen edges, and unlike other games that keep you spinning until it senses the cursor again, this one simply stops spinning altogether.
This wouldn't be so bad except for the fact that the chopper is pretty slow to turn anyway, and in a situation where you're turning away from enemy gunfire, this can be a big factor in whether you evade the shot or have to restart the mission. There is a definite ceiling for how high the chopper can go, which makes aerial combat frustrating since almost all of the jets tend to fly higher than you can see. Finally, there is no lock-on mechanism for your missiles. No matter how good your aiming is and despite the presence of a larger icon that circles out the target and displays its energy meter, most of your missiles will simply miss their target unless you stand perfectly still before firing.
At first glance, the graphics in Pacific Liberator look great. The frame rate is smooth and locked in at around 60 frames per second. The textures on the environments and chopper aren't the best, but they look clean and the foliage on the islands makes them look lush. It won't take long, though, before the flaws start to creep in. Almost all of the explosions look like tiny mushroom clouds pasted over the object being destroyed instead of a natural particle effect that gamers are used to seeing. Both the sky and ocean seem to mirror themselves a bit too well. With the sky either being in a perpetual sunrise or cloudy haze, the water also reflects that color. Players can still tell what's what, but a bit more variety would have helped greatly.
Fog is also a major issue in just about every environment, specifically when it comes to structures. It is more apparent when you come across a large bridge that suddenly fades into view, but it is also noticeable when you see a tiny speck of a tank in the distance and move in closer to realize that the same tank is behind a crane and another building. Finally, there were a few issues where collision just wasn't there. Mission 15, for example, has an island with a large hill that you can hide behind. However, even though the tanks are on the other side, you'll still see missile explosions appear on your side of the hill, and the occasional rocket will hit you through that same hill.
The category of sound comes with many high points as well as a few low ones. The music is great and unexpected from a budget title. Every level features a score that would seem perfect in any Hollywood action movie scene, with its full orchestration and bombastic pieces. The sounds of gunfire and missile fire are perfect, as are the sounds of your chopper being hit by enemy fire. Where the category falters is in the sounds coming from enemies. You never get any sounds of the enemies being hit or exploding, forcing you to rely on viewing their energy meters or waiting for a confirmation message that the target has indeed been destroyed. There are also times when the sound effect choices for cut scenes just aren't right, such as the scene from the second mission when a speedboat driving away is accompanied by the sound of water trickling from a faucet. Finally, for all the cut scenes in the game, there is no voice acting. With the musical score playing constantly, it would have been nice if someone briefed you on your mission as opposed to you reading it for yourself.
As stated earlier, Pacific Liberator is actually a fun game at its core. The missions are pretty straightforward, and the simple nature of said missions makes it so that anyone can enjoy blowing up everything to kingdom come. The many blemishes, however, really do drag down the game. Bad fogging, restricted camera views, unreliable missile aiming and control issues make for some problematic moments. Combine all of this with short game length, and the $20 price tag starts to become less and less tempting. If you're looking to spend an afternoon with a simple game that gives you the power to destroy things, go ahead and rent this title. Those who are looking to make a serious investment in a helicopter flight game would be better served by waiting for someone else to come up with a more substantial title or giving up altogether and going for a different form of flight combat on the system.
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