Top Gun: Hard Lock is a good, old-fashioned, arcade-style flight sim. You're in the cockpit of a deadly jet fighter and tasked with blowing up anyone and anything that gets in your way. Top Gun: Hard Lock is both a single-player and a multiplayer experience. The single-player story is a pseudo-reboot of the original "Top Gun" movie. The pilots have aged and now are combat instructors, while you play as a hotshot rookie trained by Maverick and his pals.
The controls are exceedingly simple. The left analog stick functions as your joystick, allowing you to move up and down. You have one button for missiles and one for your machine gun. Machine guns can be manually targeted, while missiles can be locked on by holding the enemy in your targeting reticle for a long enough period of time. Missiles aren't quite one-hit kills, but they're hard to avoid and incredibly powerful. You can even equip multi-lock missiles that let you attack multiple enemies at once. On top of that, you have infinite missiles; they gradually recharge after use, so it will never be a long wait between shots. However, the downside to this is that missile strikes are only really effective against weaker pilots. Ace pilots can and will dodge your missiles, even if you lock on. In order to compensate for that, you'll need to take advantage of some of the more unusual combat options.
Top Gun: Hard Lock gives you a lot of mobility options. The right analog stick is dedicated to various special tricks and moves. Right and left on the stick allow you to do barrel rolls to avoid missiles. Forward on the stick triggers your afterburners for a huge boost in speed. Back allows you to pull a "cobra stop," which allows you to quickly kill your speed. Each of these is pretty crucial and plays into more than what you'd just think. For example, afterburner isn't merely used to go fast. Near the end of the demo, you're told to buzz the command tower of a ship. This involves zooming in close and hitting the afterburners just as you pass by, and it causes quite the distraction when you do so. Barrel rolls are useful in combat, but as mentioned, they're also necessary to avoid enemy missile locks. If an enemy locks on to you, you've got to quickly barrel roll to avoid it or get blown to pieces.
What really sets apart Top Gun: Hard Lock from the other arcadey flight sims is the titular "hard lock" system. When you get behind an enemy, you have the option to enter a hard lock sequence by pressing X. At this point, the camera changes to a more cinematic angle, and the heavy flying is automated, so your goal is to catch the enemy within your reticle. Firing your machine guns does more damage, and a missile strike while hardlocked is basically an instant kill. When you first enter the hard lock sequence, your targeting reticle is pretty miniscule. Holding it on an enemy long enough to lock in the missile is extremely difficult, especially with the enemy bobbing and weaving all over the place. Machine gun hits are more helpful but far weaker. If the hard lock sequence lasts long enough, you're challenged to complete a Quick Time Event. Complete it successfully, and you'll remain the chaser. Fail it, and the enemy hardlocks you instead.
If you get hardlocked, things switch around. The enemy's reticle appears behind you, and you try to dodge it. Remain still, or let the enemy target you and … well, let's just say that missiles are just as effective on you as they are on your enemies. On the other hand, surviving lets you once again turn the tables on your foe. Complete a QTE, and you'll be back in the chasing position. Completing a QTE isn't just a live-or-die thing, as the speed with which you do so also has an impact on the hardlock. If you complete the QTE quickly and continue to hold it, your targeting reticle increases in size next time you're the chaser. This makes it a lot easier to get that instant-kill missile strike on your opponent. The scoring system is actually built around this; blowing up enemies lets you win the stage, but if you really want to get a high score, you must get multiple hardlocks in a row.
The multiplayer mode allows up to 16 players at once to fight to the death. Surprisingly, the hard lock mode is also supposed to be in the game's multiplayer mode, which should be quite a sight. Two players competing in hard lock mode will inevitably involve some crazy back and forth until one of them manages to get the other with that all-important missile shot.
Sadly, the build we were playing wasn't complete, so hard locks were not available for every plane type. This let us see that certain planes have locational damage. A group of bombers was attacking a carrier, and our plane was tasked with taking it out. Since we couldn't hardlock it, we had to do things the old-fashioned way, but this is one area where our machine gun could've been particularly effective. Each of the bomber's engines was an individual target and could be taken out to down the plane without using up missiles. This is a good example of how the game isn't entirely based around hard locks. Even in regular combat, there are plenty of ways to take out enemies, and that helps to keep the game from feeling like a one-trick pony.
Top Gun: Hard Lock is shaping up to be a pretty fun arcade-style shooter. The movie was well known for its ridiculous plane-based action, and the game seems to be going out of its way to capture the unique feel of "Top Gun." The demo was brief but surprisingly fun, and the fast-paced dogfights with hard locks feel quite exciting. Hopefully the rest of the game can maintain the same enjoyable feel as the demo and provide some awesome single- and multiplayer arcade action. Top Gun: Hard Lock is due out sometime later this year.
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