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PS2 Review - 'AirForce Delta Strike'

by Thomas Leaf on Feb. 18, 2004 @ 1:48 a.m. PST

Strap in and take off. The latest addition to the successful AirForce Delta franchise flies onto the Sony PlayStation2 this fall with AirForce Delta Strike. Join a cast of highly skilled pilots and get lost in this gripping universe with multiple endings and non-stop action. AFDS flies into uncharted territory with its unique brand of action flight combat, interplanetary missions, compelling characters and intense futuristic storyline.

Genre: Action
Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami
Release date: February 3, 2004

Fly the Friendly Skies, O.C. Style

Air Force Delta Strike (herein referred to as AFDS) by Konami heralds back to the grand ole days of Sega Dreamcast of yesteryear…wait, it was only a year ago right? Soon after X-Box launched, Konami put Air Force Delta Storm onto the American behemoth. There was even a Gameboy Advance version last year as well. To complete the platform trifecta, Konami finally flies over Sony's airspace this time around in what, if you think about it, a funny lineage of platform is hopping. I didn't realize that until two seconds ago…

AFDS is another entry into the sparsely populated world of console flight sims. When I think flight sims, I'm thinking along the lines of Aces of Europe/Pacific, Falcon 4.0, European Air War, Flanker 2.5 and the mother of all flight sims: Il-2 Sturmovik. With that manner of pedigree, you can imagine that there aren't many console based flight sims that can match up to those amazing games in terms of flight modeling, physics, depth and over all challenge. There is the illustrious Ace Combat series, but in the end that is merely an arcade game with realistic trappings. AFDS decidedly falls into this latter realm of arcade style which is more reminiscent of the awesomely old school Wing Commander series (the very games that got me hooked in the first place) which is not a bad thing.

This game had me confused at first. There is a very cinematic opening with you taking on the role of 2nd Lieutenant Ken Thomas. You are a pilot for the Earth Defense Alliance Force (EDAF) and you are fighting the nefarious Orbital Citizens Community (OCC). The rest of the cast is rounded out by Joel, the reckless and sometimes ruthless ace pilot who no one can depend on, Ruth the good hearted yet naïve young pilot who only wants to prove herself, to Iliya whose function is to the cutesy girl with the bad temper but whose job I'm not so clear on, and then there is a laundry list of stereotypical fighter pilot types a mile long. I was wondering as to why there are so many pilots until I found myself having to perform the missions of other elements within my squadron. Whereas I was flying Ken's F-5 Tiger to intercept bad guys and shoot down the horribly and depraved Albert (no really, that's the guy's name) to all of a sudden flying a P-38 Lightning while protecting a train load of civilians. This design decision bothered me a great deal. One of the strengths a game needs to capitalize on is that the player should be able to identify with the character he or she is playing and if you're forced to switch characters without any discernable transition then you're jarred out of character. While Konami did this to justify the inclusion of 130 flyable planes, the overall experience was weakened for me.

AFDS is also a slow paced game. There is a lot of down time in between missions. There is even a turn based component to the game which is a nifty idea. Konami was hoping to implement a sort of dynamic campaign to which they have succeeded in as limited a fashion as they could with a console. The way it works is that the game is broken down into phases and turns. Each phase consists of ten turns and at the end of each phase the game calculates the player's progression and sets up the next series of missions accordingly. The idea is great in theory and it should vary the gameplay accordingly, however there is a slight flaw to the overall design. AFDS' engine is so oversimplified that the different planes you fly aren't really all that different except for speed and turning rate. On top of that, the mission objectives are rather vague and usually amount to "kill everything you can". Most of the time I wasn't even sure of what I was supposed to be doing, I just locked onto bandit after bandit and shot them down with my 80+ missiles that I didn't know my trusty little MiG-15 carried. The flight mechanics of this game are also hampered by the fact that Mach 1.5 feels more like a casual jog. Flying down a canyon at 500+ miles per hour shouldn't allow for me to put the controller down to take a sip of chocolate milk in mid turn (actual example).

AFDS salvages some dignity in the fact that what it does slowly happens to look very cool and you'll undoubtedly get a long enough look at it. Aircraft modeling is very distinct and nicely textured. The steamy vapor trails your missiles leave behind look cool, but not as cool as the murky brown blossoms they turn into as they streak home to their ill favored targets. Each plane can be piloted in three modes, external, HUD and first person. Wit the external view you get a good look at your plane and is perhaps the preferred view, but I always liked the HUD view best of all for its sense of immersion. The only problem with the HUD is the realism. The HUD view for every plane cuts down considerably on how much sky you can see and makes the game more difficult, but it is a good difficult if you're a flight sim fan.

The in game art in between missions is a nice hand painted 2D affair. The character portraits are of the same quality in their two dimensional splendor which not only captures some very Anime inspired poses but the two dimensional nature of the personalities as well. This is perhaps where AFDS crashes and burns. The arcade flight modeling and action flavored gameplay I can accept; this is after all a console game where the input is limited to ten or so buttons. The story line, dialogue and characters are what I could hardly stomach. This game reminded me so much of the recent Anime series Full Metal Panic. I saw FMP's box art and still shots and fell in love. The mech designs were robust and slick. The character designs looked a little glam-rockish, but I could accept them. Then I saw the movies… What could've have been a gritty and cool war story turned into yet another inane Anime Teenage Sex Comedy complete with panty sniffing. While I don't recall any panty sniffing sequences in AFDS, I was totally let down by the story and the lame characters. After a while I found myself scrolling through all of the dialogue to simply skip the "cinematics" because the poorly translated dialogue (which was horribly written to begin with) was too horrible to endure. In the end, it is sad because AFDS becomes ultimately a parody of itself. To top it all off, there is some vague storyline of a rivalry developing between squadrons on either side of the line. I found it preposterous for pilots to be more concerned over what "Emperor Sergei" was up to rather than winning a desperate struggle where the very existence of Earth was at stake. I had enough when the "So the whole world will know my power" line came up as Joel was talking about how much of an ace pilot he was. By the third mission I had over 30 kills. Don't see me bragging about how powerful I am, do you?

There are things about AFDS that I liked very much. The gameplay during actual missions is fun. While each mission amounts to how many planes you can shoot down or things on the ground you can blow up, it is still pretty frenetic. Just stay away from the ground so the sensation of slowness isn't so apparent. The amount of planes you can fly and the various upgrades you can purchase for them do not become realized until later on in the game when you can pilot the vaunted Vic Viper. Some of you should be giggling. If you're not then it's because you're too young to remember one of the illest shooters of all time: Gradius. Were it not for this one addition to the roster of AFDS, I would've been one sad puppy. The fact that this plane was available to me to fly was really cool, but at the end of the day it's only a gimmick. AFDS looks good, and for such a simple flight model it plays fairly well. What hampers this game is the down time in between missions which is further marred by horrible scripting and story arcing. If you were to be a pilot in the Air Force, you'd find that for every hour of flight time you rack up, you also rack up ten hours of ground time. The same ratio applies to AFDS, unfortunately, due to the game's simplistic nature and mechanics the pay off of that one hour simply isn't enough to raise this game out of its current mediocrity. I wish there was more for me to praise in this game, but there simply isn't. I can feel its charm and want to like it, but at the end of the day AFDS doesn't deliver what it is supposed to: high velocity action with white knuckles wrapped around your controller. What you are left with feels worn out, slowed down and paper thin. A shame really.

Score : 6.0/10

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