Review by sfcalimari

"A must play for ps2 owners, but will leave you hungry for more"

GAMEPLAY

AC0 is pretty much exactly similar to previous Ace Combat games, so I won't really go into the details of what playing this game is like. You zoom about in very realistic aircraft, blowing up enemy planes and ground targets. As always, the action is rather arcade-ish and unrealistic, in that your plane can somehow carry well over 60 missiles. But it's all good.

The good news is that the various levels hew more towards those of Ace Combat 04, with a nice mix of ground assault missions and aerial dogfighting. Gone are the tedious and rather annoying "fly through the hoops" type of levels found here and there in Ace Combat 5. One nice thing about AC0 is that, as in AC04, in certain levels you can return to base and restock your weaponry and repair your damaged plane. The levels generally give you a large amount of time to complete them, often 30 minutes, so you never really feel pressed for time like in AC04. This is kind of a good thing and a bad thing, because although you can relax and take your time in AC0, the stringent time limits in AC04 made certain levels feel a lot more intense.

There are a few levels where you can pick 3 different missions to take (like anti-air, or anti-ground, or a mix of both); this adds a bit to replay value and also the different missions give you access to different planes when you complete them.

Enemies in AC0 are pretty similar to those in previous AC games--ships, SAM launchers, tanks, enemy planes. AC0 seems to really emphasize dogfighting, and most levels have several aces you have to down, which is no easy task. You have to chase them around and around until you finally get a chance to fire some missiles, and even then you usually miss because the aces will craftily split off in some other direction and evade you. I really found the dogfighting to be a lot more intense than in previous AC games.

As for available aircraft and weaponry, there isn't really anything new, and most of the planes and weapons found in AC04 and 5 are here to punch the clock again.

A feature continued from Ace Combat 5 is the wingman control system, although in AC0 you only ever have one wingman with you. You can tell him to cover you, disperse and choose targets on his own, or attack selected targets. The wingman seems a bit more responsive to your commands than in AC5, and he will help you out by firing missiles at air and ground targets, though it gets a bit annoying when you fire at an enemy and your wingman blows up the target instead, causing you to waste a missile. Overall I still prefer the "go it alone" style of AC04, where you have no wingmen, but AC0's wingman system is a bit better than AC5's simply because it is more responsive. Also your wingman in AC0 is pretty quiet, unlike the AC5 wingmen who would always seem to be running at the mouth instead of attacking the enemy.

So overall AC0 doesn't really provide you anything new in terms of gameplay, but the level design is good and the action is often more intense and furious than previous games. The overall challenge of AC0 seems a bit light and none of the levels are very long, so skilled gamers should be able to buzz through the game pretty quickly.
GRAPHICS

The landscapes in AC0 are quite good but not really any sort of improvement over the previous games. In terms of explosions and so on, AC0 does look a lot better than AC04. But overall AC0 doesn't really represent any sort of overall graphics progress from previous games.

On the other hand, cut-scenes in AC0 do look quite good, due largely to the real-life interviews with actors portraying different aces being interviewed about the "Demon Lord." Unfortunately these actors are a bit too wooden, but considering how realistic the airplanes and action in AC look, these real-life videos suit the series a bit better than the psuedo-anime cgi characters of AC5, although I still kind of prefer the primitive manga-esque still scenes of AC04.

CONTROLS

Really no different than AC04 or AC5. Very responsive, intuitive, and well laid-out. This time, as in AC5, you can use the d-pad to give commands to your wingman. This time you only have one wingman, and like I said he actually seems more responsive to your commands than your teammates in AC5 were.

SOUND

AC0's background music is quite decent, but doesn't really match the goodness of previous AC games. I found some of the generic background battle music to be surprisingly annoying and techno-ish, and there is a Flamenco-style theme that is played in a few levels which aspires to be a grandiose major theme, but while it goes in a different direction for the series, it doesn't really rise to the heights of the themes for AC04.

As for sound effects and voiceovers and so on, I found everything to be very fitting and well-done, although as usual some of the voice-acting could have used some more life.

STORY/CUTSCENES/CHARACTERS

Anyone who has played an Ace Combat game knows that story is a very important factor in an AC title. The AC games try quite hard to provide an interesting background to the action, and have a whole alternative-universe where the series' events take place. While the aircraft in the series are from our world (usually), the nations that use these planes are made up, with their own histories and conflicts, although most gamers will see the faint basis on World War Two.

As in previous games, your character in AC0 is a nameless enigma, although this time you are a (gasp) mercenary. The story is told from the point of view of a journalist trying to dig up information about this mystery pilot guy some 10 years after the war.

I found Ace Combat 5 to be a rather annoying game because of the really rather naive and annoying characters, and the game's insistence on focusing on these characters at the expense of atmosphere. Fortunately, AC0's story is more like that of AC04, with much less focus on characters and more focus on atmosphere. It also takes things in its own new direction, with cut-scenes featuring a few interviews with the aces you shot down, and some great but short faux news reports about the Belkan War. The overall effect is rather like that of watching a documentary about yourself. It's best to watch the cut-scenes for their unique atmosphere and attempt at realism than for their entertainment value. The journalist narrator is a bit too vague and scattered about his purpose, and his lines and vocal delivery are not the best. The interviewed aces are also somewhat bad actors, and their delivery is too wooden and their lines too poor and cheesy to really be taken seriously. But it's still very fun to sit back and view the cut-scenes and watch something that most games have never tried to do. So the background story is still fun, but I hope that in the future Namco hires some writers who can provide AC some more serious and interesting dialogue and narration.

REPLAY/OVERALL

Overall AC0 is more or less a must-play, especially for fans of previous games in the series. Its levels hew more to a pure and no-nonsense form of combat like that of Ace Combat 04, and it is a very good thing that the tedious "fly through hoops" levels from Ace Combat 5 are nowhere to be seen. Unfortunately the game only has 18 levels, and they are over with quite quickly; I buzzed through the game on Normal difficulty in only about a day and a half. Even on Hard I didn't find the game to be particularly difficult.

As for replay, as in previous AC games you have a fair amount of stuff to do in multiple playthroughs. You can get medals for completing certain objectives, and biographies about the different enemy aces you shoot down, and unlock special planes by completing certain objectives. You also have something called the "ace style gauge" which is affected by your style of play. Destroy all targets (neutral as well as enemy) and your gauge will show you to be a "Mercenary;" destroy only enemy targets and you will be a "Knight." Right in between you will be considered a "Soldier." This slightly seems to me like a gimmick, though your "style" will affect one of the later missions in the game, and also completing the game with each style will unlock a special plane.

Overall the replay value is rather a mixed bag. Like I said you can unlock special planes by completing some rather difficult objectives, but the medals aren't really that compelling except to completionists, because they don't reward you with anything particularly useful; a special plane or weapon would have been nice.

Although many people loved it, I found AC5 to be a step in the wrong direction because of its annoying characters and often mundane levels. AC04 remains my favorite AC game because of its austere focus on action, but AC0 makes a step in the right direction by similarly focusing on intense action. AC0 basically matches the fun of AC04 and exceeds that game in some categories like graphics and dogfighting. But overall it is not quite as hard and will be finished a bit more quickly, leaving gamers hungry for more.


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 10/11/06


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