Ace Combat: Squadron Leader

Gamestyle Archive Intro:  here’s a rarity where Richard tackles a PlayStation 2 title. Richard or Mr Ten as I like to think of him now was most at home on a Nintendo console or later on the Xbox. He loved to give out a ten score particularly for the Gamecube and rattled up quite a few perfect reviews! 

This review dates from February 2005 and the game was released as Ace Combat: Squadron Leader in Europe but was known as Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War in other territories.

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Ace Combat: Squadron Leader (or Ace Combat 5 as we’ll refer to it) is the latest instalment in the long-standing Ace Combat series which began life as a launch title for the original Playstation – then entitled Air Combat – and has since become the most popular flight simulator series on console.

Although Ace Combat 5 doesn’t take huge strides to advance the series, it most certainly will not disappoint fans. Like Ace Combat 4, there is a story-driven narrative that follows the single-player campaign. At the beginning it is a time of peace, however, after a short skirmish between fighters, two neighbouring countries are thrown into war. Throughout the campaign you will move up in rank and take control of more pilots and their fighters (you will even gain insight into the politics behind the war). Unlike Ace Combat 4, the storyline here is intertwined with the missions, and these vary greatly throughout the game. Some will be simple air-to-air missions, while others will involve jamming the aircraft that hide your targets.

Some airborne missions even require you to weave between radar coverage areas and lead a friendly plane to safety. Air-to-surface missions may include land and sea battles against a variety of targets (such as ships, tanks, and personnel carriers). However, most of the missions include a mix of air and land targets: an example of this would be a C130 deploying tanks by parachute, requiring you to fend off their escorts while providing close air support to friendly ground troops. The variety of missions keeps things fresh from beginning to end. Upon beginning the game, you will be assigned a certain fighter plane. Throughout the missions you will acquire credits which will unlock planes – over fifty licensed planes are available, including many different loadouts of special weapons. Special weapons, such as advanced air-to-air missiles for taking down long-range fighters or cluster bombs for multiple ground targets, are used periodically to add a layer of strategy to the game.

One aspect of Ace Combat 5 that surpasses its predecessor is the graphics. The fighter planes are all photorealistically-modelled, and details such as missile contrails, jet exhaust, and auto cannon-tracers add much to the visual experience. The skies and clouds have received a small makeover from the previous game and sun flares are as beautiful and blinding as ever; you will notice this the first time an enemy fighter uses the sun to evade you. Your plane’s lighting effects are all done in realtime, based on the positioning of the sun. Since many of the missions take place over the ocean, much attention has been paid to how the water looks – light reflects off the ocean and other bodies of water as well.

Another characteristic of the Ace Combat series that sets it apart from other flight games is the controls. Although you can choose a more simplistic control scheme, the default settings are the closest yet to how a plane is really piloted – pushing to the left or right will only make your plane roll, to turn you will need to use this in combination with your pitch controls. Lateral motion is possible with the yaw controls, but with the left and right shoulder buttons it is severely limited, and used mostly for small corrections, mid-air refuelling, and zeroing in for auto-cannon kills. The map button doubles as your radar button, and uses analogue sensitivity to show more of the area the harder you press (you can also issue commands to your wingmen using the directional pad).

The controls, while numerous, are very well laid-out and afford complete control over your aircraft. The only issue that keeps this game from greatness is the lack of multiplayer gameplay.  Ace Combat 4 continued the series’ staple of split-screen versus play; at the very least, Ace Combat 5 should have taken advantage of current technology to provide online play – but instead there is neither. Namco has included an arcade mode (featuring wave upon wave of planes) that should placate those who have finished the single-player campaign. Ace Combat: Squadron Leader is a worthy successor to the Ace Combat series in almost every respect. Fans will love this game and many more may succumb to its charm. The one major flaw is its lack of multiplayer options, however, if you are a flight game fan, there can be no doubting the veracity of the Ace Combat motto: “Nothing else comes close.”

Gamestyle Score:  8/10

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Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Gamestyle Archive Intro: Gopinath takes on the thankless gig of reviewing Charlie and the Chocolate factory in 2005.

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A game based on the enigmatic, zany and (when played by Mr Depp) dark Willy Wonka could have been great, but developers High Voltage have chosen to focus instead on Charlie for this videogame cash-in, unlike the film. Have they created a delicious gaming morsel, possibly worthy of the great Willy’s factory, or have we instead ended up with another film cash-in more at home on Electronic Arts’ factory line?

The first thing that should be made clear is that this game, plot wise, has nothing to do with Tim Burton’s film. There’s no eccentric Johnny Depp Willy Wonka and no Oompa Loompa songs about mischievous children – instead, the plot revolves around Charlie. The game begins with you chasing a ten dollar note (yes, dollar; unfortunately the game fails to keep to the book’s original British setting). This then eventually leads to Charlie winning one of the famed Golden Tickets – an invitation to tour Willy Wonka’s famous Chocolate Factory. The game changes Charlie’s role in the plot completely: unlike in the book, once one of the greedy children have performed their naughty deeds and are reaping their just desserts (intended pun), the player, as Charlie, is then expected to try and rescue them or clean up the mess they leave behind, aided by a band of Oompa Loompas. Therefore, the game’s levels consist of having to clean up the machinery that sucks Augustus Gloop up the chocolate river, or stopping Veruca Salt from being incinerated. There are different types of Oompa Loompas, each conveniently fitting the role required for each of the tasks set before you.

The player has to choose when they should use a ‘gatherer’ Oompa Loompa or a ‘welder’ Oompa Loompa, etc. The correct selection of Oompa Loompa determines the success or failure of the task. Far from being a complaint about the game not following the original plot, the above comments should instead be taken as praise for the developers’ initiative to explore a different side of the license; however, what High Voltage have failed to do is to take an interesting concept then apply it in an interesting way. Each level requires the player to follow a sequence of tasks to achieve an end goal, and then repeat those tasks several times to finish the level. Having to do the sequence twice is boring and repetitive: the player often has to do them four times.

The controls also don’t help: you’ll often find yourself pressing buttons several times in frustration, trying to get an Oompa Loompa to do your bidding, while he just stands there shrugging his shoulders. Once you’ve finally got your Oompa Loompa to carry out your orders, your patience is then tested again as you have to watch them trying to navigate their way around (but most often into) the scenery. Unfortunately you can’t tell them exactly how to get to their destination, you just have to sit back and hope they work it out for themselves. The poor controls, including the feeling of unresponsiveness, flow over into the platform sections too: you may end up button bashing in the hope that, for instance, Charlie will eventually understand that he’s supposed to be jumping now.

The camera is also poorly implemented and moves around a lot, then gets stuck behind scenery. The plot is presented by stylish cartoon movies that narrate the story very well and in an interesting way; these are definitely one of the few plus points of the game. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about the in-game graphics, as they don’t seem inspired at all by either the distinctive visuals of the film, or the imaginative descriptions of the book. Instead of a busy and vibrant factory, you are often presented with levels that are devoid of detail, and one of the game’s main stars, the sweets themselves, only come in two generic types – bars of chocolate or power dots. Another of the game’s few highlights are the music and sound.

Considering the general disappointed tone of the review so far, it may be a surprise to find that the entire cast (minus Johnny Depp) is included in the game’s voiceovers, and they do a very good job of bringing their characters to life. The addition of some Oompa Loompa music would have done wonders for the game, so it’s a shame that they’re completely missing. Unfortunately, despite the great effort that seems to have been put in the sound department, the rest of the game is very poor. The game play is too repetitive and a combination of poor controls and poor visuals make it frustrating to complete the levels.

It’s hard to imagine many people, whatever their ages, having the supreme patience to actually sit through more than a few hours of this game. If you really do have to buy this game, the Xbox version would be the console version to go for (the PC version was made by a different developer and is quite different to the console versions), as it features Dolby Digital sound and support for high resolution video. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is potentially a great licence for a game, but unfortunately High Voltage have failed to live up to that potential.

Gamestyle Score: 3/10