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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