IGN Review of Ace Combat X: Skies of Deception
Ace Combat has been the premiere flight series for consoles since its debut over ten years ago. In that time, developer Namco has shipped six titles, the last of which shipped for the PS2 in April 2006. Each new game improved the basic flight combat formula started by the original title, and the same goes for the first PSP effort, Ace Combat X: Skies of Deception.
What makes this handheld version special, though, is how closely it mirrors the console games in quality and content. Everything fans have come to expect (and love) about the series shows up in full form. Developers covered their bases with this one, from the way it looks and sounds all the way down to how it plays. Not only that, it actually adds some things in the area of multiplayer, so fellow pilots can take to the skies together. It's a very well rounded package, overall. It's the kind of Ace Combat game fans have been waiting to appear on a portable system.
That's the short version of things. The not so short version continues below, so keep reading if so inclined. The story has little to do with previous games, other than sharing the similar tone and theme of a futuristic world at war. The Ace Combat series has always mixed real-world aircraft and politics with a dash of science fiction - Deception continues in that tradition. The game tells the story of a journalist who has just moved into the Republic of Aurelia, an area recently taken over by an aggressive faction. He's not there long before realizing something's amiss with the new government of Aurelia. He then starts snooping around to see he what he can find.
Obviously, gamers won't play the journalist. Instead, they play as a member of the Gryphus Squadron - a pilot who barely escaped a surprise attack by the invader's secret weapon at the start of the game. It's this weapon, a flying fortress, which creates much of the game's drama early in the single-player campaign. See, it's not just any old secret air fortress. This one fires a massive laser that can decimate a whole squadron of planes (or fleet of ships) in a single blow. Making things worse for the peace-loving loyalists of Aurelia, the fortress uses advanced optical camouflage, making it virtually invisible to pilots trying to shoot it down. The story progresses form here, though, and it's a pretty good one.
While the plot itself won't win any awards for originality, there's far more to Ace Combat than blowing stuff up. Better still, the story offers campaign mode a good sense of urgency, heightening the level of immersion and satisfaction throughout the entirety of the game. As far as cutscenes go, always an integral part of any Ace Combat title, Deception doesn't disappoint. While the voice work for some of the characters could use a little work, the style and direction matches the quality of previous games on the PS2. In fact, some of them look better. Unlike those in the The Belkan War, however, these look closer to the anime-style scenes in Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War. And just as a side note, it's always nice to see a developer infuse story, even in small doses, into a game that cold have been 100% about destroying tanks and planes.
When it comes to actual gameplay, Deception brings in the big guns. It plays just like the console versions, meaning it's a sublime mix of arcade action and traditional flight simulation. It leans heavily toward the former, as flight purists will quickly point out, and that's entirely fine. In fact, it's the better game for it, as it keeps missions and the overall flow of combat brisk and decidedly intense.
The game offers various views of the action during a mission, from within the cockpit to outside the plane itself. It's not possible to go from view to view without opening the pause menu, so that sucks, but the game makes up for this in other ways. By holding down the two shoulder buttons, it's possible to pan around the inside of the cockpit or HUD view to see enemy fighters. While panning the camera, the plane switches to autopilot so there's little chance of this "virtual cockpit" feature messing with combat too much.
And speaking of the HUD view, the PSP screen does a fine job of showing everything - missile selection, ammo, radar, throttle, dynamic mission updates - nothing looks overly cramped and everything's where it should be.
Mission selection is fortunately varied. True, most of the time the Gryphus squadron is called upon to protect something (or blow something up), but it's how these missions play out that keeps things fresh. Rarely will a mission briefing detail everything that winds up happening thanks to surprise attacks and the like. It's all scripted, of course, so if death occurs before the end of mission the same "surprise" ambush pops up time and time again. It gets a little aggravating hearing squad mates screech in horror as enemy planes descend from the heavens for the seventh time. It would have been nice to skip mid-mission scenes after the first viewing, but in the end that's a very small gripe. Aside from that, missions tie well into the overall story and have a definite purpose - it's easy to see how a successful mission affects the war at large.
Mission selection isn't entirely linear, either, as tactical briefings offer a choice of one, two or even four different routes to take. Better still, choices actually matter and have a lasting impact on how the game flows from there. It's impossible to backtrack, so once the decision is made to invade a sector, for instance, certain missions that were available prior to the invasion will disappear. Not only that, but each available mission is totally different. For example, early in the campaign, gamers face a choice of three missions. The first choice is a direct attack on the air fortress, the second is a rescue mission involving allied tanks, while the third is a counter attack to recapture a fallen base.
If gamers decide to attack the air fortress first, they won't have to deal with long-range missiles coming in while trying to rescue the allied tanks. Conversely, if they choose to rescue their comrades first, then they'd have to weave in and out of canyons during the rescue operation to avoid being hit by the air fortress bombardment. On the plus side, the rescued tanks would help a ground invasion later down the road. All of this adds to the sense of accomplishment when beating missions. There's little to be done during a mission to affect what's going on, aside from the basic stuff (win or die), but in this case there are still plenty of choices that players can make. Deception offers real decisions and freedom, not just the appearance of it, in other words.
Before leaving for any mission, however, Deception has players make a set of preliminary choices. These involve what planes and ordinance to use, but also whether said planes need tuning. The hangar offers plenty of material, too, from special weapons and aircraft, to armor and wing improvements. Everything costs money, but the game offers plenty for beating missions. Good thing, since later missions require very specific craft with special weapons; the heavier the armor and the bigger the warhead, the better in most cases.
Deception also includes a thoroughly groovy multiplayer mode. With flight mechanics as tight as those in Ace Combat, specifically in Deception, it'd be a crime not to have competitive dogfighting. Using the PSP's wireless functionality, would-be pilots can battle for air supremacy through a number of maps. Better still, the game offers a number of team-based and cooperative modes in addition to basic dogfighting. There's Base Attack, where players split into teams to defend (or attack, depending) a base. There's also Air Superiority, which has pilots patrol a stretch of sky under strict weapons limitations; the longer a pilot stays alive the more points he scores. Every mode included in multiplayer is a worthy addition to the package. They all make great use of the PSP hardware and they grow increasingly addictive the longer one plays.
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