Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation Review

Paul Michael

Not everybody wanted to be fighter pilot. But probably, during the days of Top Gun, the young lads back then could have that dreamed of streaking the blue skies with a fighter plane; or even imagined the intensity and excitement of experiencing an air battle. Most of all, it could be for the simple love of flying. Enter the latest instalment of the highly successful Ace Combat series. Namco's Ace Combat 6 delivers adrenaline pumping action and new features not found in the previous Ace Combat titles. Now an exclusive to the Xbox 360, aspiring flyboys may now live up their dreams with the TV as their cockpit and the flystick/controller to take full control of the plane they’ve always wanted.

The plot is basically similar to the previous titles; one country is explicitly attacked by another country that is run by a superior military regime. During the course of the following missions, the struggling country gets back on its feet and retaliates against the invader. Though it may seem like a generic backdrop, the arrangement of events, the characters and their individual experiences make up an engaging and worthwhile story that players will appreciate.

Estovakian Pilot to ally: Stay away from that blue field, newb!

The locations, though fictional, were always referenced from today’s nation. Estovakia for example, is an obvious representation of modern-day Russia. For the game, the plot revolves around the two superpowers that is dragged into war by the militaristic policies and ambitions of one of them.

AC6 puts players in the shoes of a pilot known only as Garuda 1 (call-sign Talisman). It is a tradition for all Ace Combat titles that the face of the main pilot the player plays as is never revealed, or voice never heard; even during an important mission briefing or radio chatter. With the help of wingman Garuda 2 (Shamrock), they are able to turn the tides of battle with their accomplishments.

Harnessing the power of the Xbox 360 hardware, the game boasts semi-realistic graphics only a next-gen console can deliver. Planes, even during close up shots, were very detailed right up until the last rivet. The environment was brilliantly sharp and at some points, distinguishing whether it is real or not became a challenge. The cutscenes and character models were beautifully rendered, and the landscape was surprisingly real.

Real life San Francisco or just a view from your TV screen?

During battle, players will be immersed in almost life-like physics of the objects around him or her. From the smoke trailing out of released missiles to tracers from machine gun fire and even debris from exploding aircraft and vehicles; everything is realistically rendered at any perspective.

The voice acting of the characters is great. Players can feel the emotion and dread as portrayed by the on-game characters. The game features orchestral background scores that really help in further immersing the player in the game. Sound effects are not that bad either; machine gun fire, explosions, flak hits, radio chatter and even the very sound of metal being shredded by hostile strafing are perfect.

Diving into the fireworks is not that bad as you think…maybe

One of the new features of the game is the DOS (Dynamic Operations System). Most of the missions in AC6 are comprised of several operations or individual battles, which players need to complete a certain quota of in order to accomplish the whole mission.

Individual operations were first introduced to earlier titles, like Ace Combat Zero for the PS2, but the main difference between the operations of AC6 and Zero is that operations of the first are real-time; multiple operations will be happening simultaneously and players can choose what operation to participate at the start of the actual mission. This arrangement puts players in the midst of a large, chaotic conflict. The latter will allow players to choose the operation they want to be part of before the mission starts.

From time to time, you will have multiple requests for support. Players will sometimes be caught in a burden of deciding on who to help and when to help; you and your wingman are just humans after all. You can’t be in all places at the same time. The best way to address this is to read through the briefing before the mission starts and decide what operation players would like to participate in.

Another great addition in the game is placing checkpoints, as it was a long time complaint for veteran players of the game. Checkpoints after completing operations and during mission updates give the players a chance to try and accomplish the objective without restarting the whole mission and do everything again.

In the player's HUD, the new AS (Allied Support) Gauge has been added. This gauge fills up when the player and his/her allies destroy targets, and once the gauge has gained at least one bar players can request for Allied Cover and Allied Attack commands. These are similar to wingman cover and attack commands but on a larger scale. Allied units from completed operations can be called for support as well, leading to more effective attack runs.

The wingman, a feature first introduced in Ace Combat 5, can be ordered to attack or cover the player; though you can't choose when the wingman uses his SP weapons. This is just a small letdown, especially when your team is caught in a tight web of enemy fighters and your wingman just goes around chasing enemies in an attempt to shoot them down with conventional missiles. Either way, having a wingman takes a bit of the load off the player's shoulders.

Frontline Resupply is another great addition to the game. In some missions, there are operations that will require players to defend or capture airbases/runways, and when cleared, players will be allowed to use the runway for immediate re-supply, re-arming and repairs. Players are vulnerable from enemy fire while landing or taking off so they will need to clear the skies or order an allied cover while doing an emergency landing. The game also features return lines in all missions. Return lines are available in other AC versions but only on select missions.

The game has only a small line-up of modern and efficient aircraft. The old favorites such as the ADF-01 Falken and X-02 Wyvern are not featured in the game. Instead, a new fictional aircraft CFA-44 Nosferatu is included, and will be the most powerful aircraft in the game. One noticeable change in the game is the increased missile and SP weapon payload on all aircraft. This is due to the lengthy missions and multiple operations.

The Raptor's Russian rival

ESM (Electromagnetic Support Measures) is one of the new features in the game. Certain facilities and planes provide an ESM field where it greatly enhances the tracking ability of guided weapons, even ordinary missiles of the units within the field, whilst also reducing the tracking ability of enemy weapons. ESM is different from jamming since it doesn't entirely prevent affected units from spotting their targets through radar and their lock-on capability is not as severely hindered.

Multiple ESM fields can overlap each other for stronger effects. Having an allied ESM field over an enemy ESM signal doesn't negate each other but the effects are still experienced by units from both sides within the field's effective range.

A great musical score provides the much needed theme for fast paced gameplay. The voice acting is excellent and brilliantly delivered. The sound effects are amazing; from the warning systems in the player’s cockpit to the radio chatter from both allied and enemy forces, the game’s well balanced audio blends with the action and immerses players in the heat of the battle.

Semi-Realistic environment and aircraft, not to mention awesome CG and mid-battle scenes. The physics are not taken lightly either, with jet streams, contrails and even the movement of the flaps and rudders being seen in great detail. Tracers from machine gun fire, the fading smoke trails left by missiles, even the smallest debris from exploding targets were but a few minor yet clear points of proof showing the game’s visual quality.

Game mechanics are easy to grasp, with the learning curve being climbed in under an hour or so. Controls respond beautifully and the tutorials are very helpful in assisting new players. After less than 30 hours or so, players can successfully complete all secrets. Other than online gaming, non-XBL players may stop playing the game after completing all the extras.

The gameplay is exciting and the storyline is engaging. However, previous players of the series will recognize the repetitive patterns that became a “tradition” in almost all Ace Combat titles. First, is the trench run. Players will need to fly their aircraft into a very tight space and make the impossible, critical shot a reality. Next is that the invading army is always technologically and militarily advanced than the player’s country. And they always have their “trump” cards, oftentimes in the form of superweapons and doomsday facilities. The game never lost its appeal though. The visuals, audio even the character scripts are carefully chosen to add life and a new experience to AC veterans and newbies alike.

The game’s achievements are not that bad. In fact, almost more than half of the achievements can be acquired offline while the other half are through online battles. Some of the easiest achievements can be unlocked by completing each mission of the campaign mode; the game may only take 5-6 hours to finish for previous AC players. Players can also get a easy 20 pts just by clearing the game once.

Other achievements can also be unlocked by completing in-game requirements. The hardest probably is getting the All Medals (50 pts) achievement. The requirement to unlock each medal varies and there is a good few of them that may pose a challenge to players. Online achievements can be unlocked easily by boosting with friends. Co-op exclusive levels are also great ways to earn achievements while enjoying online gameplay.

With all that said, Ace Combat 6 has really good strengths in most categories. The replay value is not high, but completing all the extras and achievements in the game will sure keep players busy and engaged. Even the online feature and DLCs will surely keep dreaming flyboys tight on their flight sticks and still ask for more.

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