Ace Combat 5: Squadron Leader ReviewCain Dornan
There is no denying that consoles have offered a limited number of quality flight combat games when compared to the mighty PC. With the PC offering some of the best flight simulators and a number of solid arcade flight titles, the home consoles have always been at the bottom of the barrel. Fortunately, Namco noticed this in 2001 and released Ace Combat 4: Distant Thunder for the Playstation 2. It was an action filled; arcade-orientated fighter pilot title that instantly gained the respect of gamers around the world. Considering the success of the game and that there was such little competition in this genre, apart from a small array of poorly-created flight titles such as the likes of Dropship, it was only a matter of time before Namco returned to the skies with a sequel. Ace Combat 5: Squadron Leader further improves on what Distant Thunder had offered. Combining Top Gun-styled action with some slight simulation, interesting storyline and improved visuals, Squadron Leader offers some of the best fighter pilot action available on the Playstation 2.
Unlike most flight games, the Ace Combat games have always offered an intense storyline that contains plenty of meaning and action. Squadron Leader continues this tradition with an immersive storyline that is depicted through cutscenes that occur both prior and following each mission, in addition to the in-game radio dialogue. Following the experiences of a small squadron from the Sand Island military base, a key stronghold for the Osean Federation, you play as Blaze; an elite fighter pilot who becomes the squadron leader after the captain is shot down during an interception of an unidentified aircraft. The Yuktobanian Republic, neighbor to the Osean Federation, soon declares war. It is then up to you to fight your way through some thirty missions in order to gain control of the Yuktobanian mainland.
One of the most noticeable new features in Squadron Leader is the ability to send commands to your squadron members. Giving your team orders such as attacking the enemy in your sights, or splitting up to defend the area is performed by tapping the directional buttons on the control pad. Although the idea in theory is a great addition to the gameplay, the problem is that your squadron members don’t effectively carry out your instructions. Too often you are required to submit the same commands several times in order for them to be carried out. This results in the feature ultimately becoming useless, and rarely used throughout the course of the game.
Namco has included a number of officially licensed, realistically modeled renditions of actual fighter jets. The famous American fighters make a star appearance, including the F/A-18 Hornet and F-16 Fighting Falcon. A number of Russian planes also make an appearance, such as the Su-27 and MiG-29. Although each plane both looks and sounds almost identical to the real thing, the controls are obviously far from authentic. Although each aircraft does vary in response and maneuverability, there is no real true, realistic difference between each aircraft. Although most gamers, such as myself, won’t be overly bothered by this, it would have made the game truly more believable if the aircraft were more accurate their real life counterparts.
As with the previous games in the series, Ace Combat 5: Squadron Leader is heavily based on dogfight action. Each mission essentially requires you to eliminate a number of enemy aircraft, which varies accordingly depending upon the situation and how far you have progressed through the game. The odd addition of destroying enemy ships or turret placements varies the gameplay slightly, with the dogfights usually remaining the key point of interest throughout the game. To keep aerial combat rather simple, developer Namco has included the standard arrow that points to where your next target is located. This allows for easier navigation during dogfights, ensuring that the game runs smoothly without any problems.
To add further depth to the campaign mode, Namco has included the ability to purchase new aircraft using credits that are gained throughout the missions. With each kill you undertake, you are rewarded a set amount of credits, which allow you to purchase faster, more advanced aircraft. You can also purchase aircraft for you wingman and, ultimately, choose which aircraft that they will use for each set of missions. A large number of authentic fighter jets are offered, allowing the gameplay experience to vary slightly depending upon which aircraft you choose to utilize.
Throughout the course of the campaign mode you will be occasionally required to refill your aircraft in the air or successfully land on a base runway or aircraft carrier. These side missions require you to carefully follow both verbal and on-screen instructions to successful refill or land. Although these side missions are optional, they do add some further variation to the gameplay, requiring you to carefully guide your aircraft to a certain position, instead of simply flying around and destroying everything.
In addition to the lengthy campaign mode, an Arcade mode is available for play. Focusing on straight action without the meaningful storyline, the Arcade mode pits you through a series of time-limited missions that simply require you to blow things up. This can vary slightly from the intensive aerial dogfighting to air-to-ground missions. Although not as much enjoyment is offered in the Arcade mode as opposed to what is found in the campaign mode, it is nonetheless a worthwhile addition that offers some solid gameplay life.
Computer AI is basic, with most enemies rarely pulling any evasive moves to dodge a missile that you have been kind enough to send. Enemies will generally only increase speed or turn slightly, therefore requiring you to simply shoot your missiles at the right time.
Throughout the campaign mode, your wingmen often have small pointless conversations that can be more annoying than interesting. Although the occasional, important mission-orientated statement or question is issued during gameplay, a large majority of the radio communication serves to be more of an annoyance than anything. Most of these conversations are overacted in a dramatic form, which can sometimes be humorous or downright annoying. Voice acting, as with most games that have been translated from a Japanese version, making a single, insignificant event, become a history-changing occurrence.
The roar of the aircraft’s turbines has successfully been duplicated, becoming more believable than ever before. Explosions, on the other hand, sound basic and vary little with each object. The sound of a missile being launched or the rattle of your machine gun remains convincing and varies appropriately depending upon the model that is being used.
The graphics in Ace Combat 5, although not as impressive as many of its PC counterparts, offer a realistic, detailed world that is only limited by the aging Playstation 2 hardware. Slightly improved over Ace Combat 4, Ace Combat 5’s visuals offer nicely detailed environments, characters, aircrafts and special effects. The ground detail has been slightly enhanced over the previous game, offering better vegetation and buildings. Meanwhile, aircrafts offer an impressive amount of detail in the air. Weather effects further improve the overall atmosphere of the game. At times, the game can be a bright, sunny day with perfect visibility. At other times, heavy clouds and bucketing rainfall reduce visibility to a mere meter or two. During these times, it is essential that you watch your altitude meter closely; for you could be flying directly towards the ground without the faintest idea.
With Ace Combat 5: Squadron Leader, Namco has successfully created a solid action flight title that combines action-filled dog fighting cleverly with an immersive storyline that not only creates meaning for why you are fighting, but also helps to keep the game interesting throughout the thirty missions. Fans of the previous games in the series will definitely find a lot to love in the fifth interpretation, whilst those who are interested in this genre will find a solid, worthwhile game. Although some slight variation in missions may be needed, Ace Combat 5 eventuates to be a worthwhile title.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.