Inside Pulse 12

Ace Combat Zero: The Belkan War (PS2)


Title: Ace Combat Zero: The Belkan War
System: Playstation 2
Developer: Namco
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Players: 2

Zero is the new Six. Got that? Ok. Here we go. Ace Combat 4 is the absolute king of the genre. It has been that way for five years now. Some argue that it’s sequel, the aptly named Ace Combat 5, is the superior game, but either is damned good, and in my opinion 4 was better. Now after taking some time to help Nintendo develop a version of Starfox that left much to be desired, the crew at Namco’s Project Aces have returned to the familiar world of Ace Combat to tell a story that needed telling. Shall we begin?


It’s official. The PS2 has been squeezed for all its worth. Maybe it’s the graphics whore in me who’s been spoiled by Blazing Angels on the 360, but Ace Combat Zero is exactly the same as AC5, which was a few hairs better than AC4 in the graphics department. The game runs smoothly, even with multiple enemies in the air around you, missiles flying all around. The ground is bland; with draw in occurring for forests and such on the ground the faster you fly. Nothing at all like the full featured cities of Blazing Angels, but then, I can’t honestly sit here and say that a PS2 game should be able to compare to a 360 game. It’s just not right.

Instead, lets just say that when compared to a PS2 WW2 flying game, Heroes of the Pacific, AC0 compares favorably. Both do some things exceptionally well, be it plane models in AC0 or giving you the feeling of actually being in the fray with hundreds of planes in a giant fur-ball in HOTP. Where Ace pulls ahead is in all the things that having produced 6 games in a series will teach you, like user interface or even level creation.


Sound:

All of the mistakes made in AC5 have been corrected, thanks largely to the fact that there is no singing and very little speech making going on while you fight. You do hear a radio broadcast at one point, and for some reason you hear civilians talking in the Ace Zero version of liberating Paris. Otherwise, it’s the same old standard music during the briefings. It could very well BE the same music. The game sounds good. Explosions are well defined; the voice acting is fairly solid with only a few weaknesses. Nothing to make you reach for the mute.


Controls:

After having to endure flying games that just don’t understand what Yaw is all about, it’s a pleasure to sit down with a game that knows exactly how to let you fly. The controls haven’t changed a one bit in 3 games now, and I’m not at all saddened by that fact. Why more games aren’t stealing their user interface I’m not sure, but who am I to argue with other companies, I’m just a gamer/reviewer who knows what works.

Once again your pitch and roll are on the one stick, while your Yaw is controlled by the L2 and R2 buttons. R1 and L1 are your throttle buttons. O fires your missiles, Square controls your map, X is your guns and Triangle targets and zooms in on whatever you’re targeting when held in, allowing us to remember that the Dual Shock 2 controller had pressure sensitive buttons as well as analog sticks. Select changes your main weapon, and the D-Pad gives your wing man his orders. The right analog stick is used for looking around your fighter while in flight. There are other control options in the main menu, but that there is the way to go. Ubisoft, I’m looking at you.


Gameplay:

Like the controls, the basic gameplay hasn’t changed all that much in a few games. It still takes two missiles to shoot down an enemy fighter, the same missiles will target ground targets, and your plane will always fly at roughly 300 knots unless you are holding the throttle or airbrake. The wingman feels like it’s far less effective this time around, leaving you to do most of the work. This might have more to with Zero’s new Ace Style system, which gives you the option of flying through the missions as a Knight (who allows wounded foes to leave the field of battle), a Soldier (who does the job and nothing more) or as a Mercenary (who kills everything on the field of battle to get paid more). In fact the more I think about it the more that makes sense. Ok, so that was a design decision to make the wingman useless. Fair enough.

Once again though, like in the previous installments, the only difference in what plane you choose is the number of missiles they can carry. Actually, that’s not true. It’s the number of missiles you can carry and the different type of special weapons that can be carried. No maneuverability or speed difference since every plane flies at 300 knots most of the time. It’s a little depressing really. I know if it’s not broken don’t fix it. But it’s getting a bit….rusty.


Balance:

I found the game to be a bit on the easy side. Of course, that can be remedied by upping the difficulty, so if you think you’re breezing, just go into the options and go nuts. I think part of the reason I found it so easy actually has more to do with the gameplay not changing much from previous entries, as I’ve become so adept at knowing when to dodge missiles or fire my own that I’m a God Damned Air Marshall, you hear me? Still, the missions are well designed and can very easily kill you if you don’t pay attention for a few moments. The latter missions specifically can be deadly, as canyons and boss battles await.


Replayability:

Namco have seen the light and have brought back the coolest part of replaying levels in Ace Combat 4, the enemy ace pilot who just happens to be flying somewhere over the battlefield at the same time you are. If you catch him and kill him you unlock his plane for purchase. Now, in Zero you have all that plus you get a sheet that tells you the name and squadron of every pilot you’ve shot down in the game. Sort of like Pokemon for fighter planes, it makes you want to hunt them all down.

Each plane in the game has a number of skins, and achieving certain goals in the game will unlock them for you. I completed the game in the Knight Ace Style, and as a result every plane in my inventory was given a Knight paint scheme for me to choose.

The game also comes with a multiplayer function, which is sadly offline only. Two players can battle each other or with each other against computer opponents in five separate gameplay modes. Some of them involve one on one combat, others Squadron combat, still others involve Pilot Wings style racing. I found the different modes to be entertaining, and I think I would love to see what these guys would do with an online game like Crimson Skies.


Appeal:

If you are a fan of the series, you will find nothing here that will take away from your enjoyment. The game delivers everything you’ve come to expect from the series.

If you’re not a fan of the series, you will find nothing here that will add to your enjoyment. The game offers nothing new in terms of game play.

If you’ve never played the Ace Combat games before, then go find Ace Combat 4, then 5, and then play this one. You’ve been depriving yourself of an excellent arcade flight experience. For shame.


Originality:

It pains me to say this but this is a game in a series that is screaming for a break. While 3 games in 5 years doesn’t seem like a lot, the reality of it is the game just hasn’t changed at all since Ace 4. Sure you have some minor tweaks here and there, but any mission in Zero could be easily mistaken for a mission in 4, and while some of that is to be expected, I mean how much variety can you really add to a game like Ace Combat, you could still try. Things like Air to Air Refueling are nice, but what would be really interesting would be adding VTOL aircraft like the Harrier Jump Jet. Possibly a mission where you can fly a helicopter. No it’s not your typical Ace Combat, but that’s the point.


Addictiveness:

It may not be original, and it may have some flaws, but the game isn’t boring, and its got a small amount of cocaine in it somewhere I’m sure, as you will not want to put it down. The game isn’t very long though, so you may want to savor the moments.


Miscellaneous:

It occurs to me that Namco could make a really stellar compellation with its PS2 Ace Combats. Each on their own is really good, but while Ace 5 is fairly beefy, 4 and Zero can be beaten in a day’s rental if you just want to finish the game. And since they are all so similar like I mentioned above, you’d get a great package without having to learn each games style of play.


Story: GOOD
Graphics: ABOVE AVERAGE
Sound: GOOD
Controls/Gameplay: GREAT
Balance: ABOVE AVERAGE
Replay Ability: CLASSIC
Appeal: GOOD
Originality: DREADFUL
Addictiveness: GOOD
Miscellaneous: GOOD


Short Attention Span Summary
While still a solid gameplay experience, the luster is fading on the crown. The Ace Combat franchise should probably spend some time in the hangar for an upgrade in its avionics package.

Final Score: ENJOYABLE