There are a few schools of thought as to how one should review a game. Some (myself included) think that, under an ideal schedule/workload, one should finish the game as much as possible to properly deliver a verdict on the complete package. Now, obviously, there are circumstances that make this utterly impossible. A recent spate of RPGs all hitting at the same time was a good example, as multiple 40-plus hour experiences are all but impossible to finish unless one forgoes sleep in favor of 72-hour gaming benders while shoveling handfuls of crystal meth into one's system. Still, it represents a goal that I try my damnedest to stick to.
Another practice, and it's one I'm increasingly starting to consider after some of the gems I've had kicked my way, is to simply approach the game on the merits of how it presents itself from the get-go. I've played plenty
of games that either nosedived or somehow climbed out of their own cesspool toward the end, but there's something to be said for essentially replicating the very same process you or I would go through when plunking down cash for a game and firing it up for the first time. Does it have a hook? Were seeds of entertainment planted right from the get-go? In the same way a caustic series of notes or a terrible acting performance can turn someone off to music or movies before they ever have a chance to grow on you, a game's opener can often be the litmus test for the rest of the experience.
Air Conflict: Aces of World War II is the first game in quite a while that seemingly tried
to save me from playing it. Our first office copy wouldn't even run in any of the PSPs we had, and after finally getting in a few missions, I realized just how much I wish I could have reviewed the game based on the non-playable first copy. It seems keenly invested in dissuading a player from actually spending any real time with it. The load times are atrocious
, sucking away well over a minute of your life every time it loads up a mission (some of which are over in seconds), while the menu text was clearly designed for the monitors the dev team was working on with little consideration for how it would look when shrunk down to the PSP's screen.
Perhaps no "feature" could make the case better for the game's repellant nature than the fact that it's actually quite difficult, and when you fail a mission you're taken all the way back to the main menu
(with more loading, of course) so you can experience the slog of listening to your poor UMD drive grind away for another minute or so. Not surprisingly, Air Conflict is probably the most battery-sucking game I've ever thrown into my PSP, and it's not unfair to say you'll likely spend more time staring at the loading screens than you ever will actually playing
the damned thing.
That, too, is probably a saving grace, as all the load times don't really translate into a game that's visually appealing. It's less praise toward Air Conflicts and more of a dig at the atrocious Red Baron Arcade
that hit the PS3 Store a few weeks ago, but this one might actually look better -- at least when there's little to concern yourself with on the ground. The fights in the Pacific show just how smooth the game could
have run under ideal circumstances, and it makes actually tracking and gunning down targets far, far easier.
Unfortunately, the more common missions are anything but ideal. The framerate can chug during heavier firefights, and because of it, the controls end up feeling rather clunky. That's hardly the case, as the featureless open water missions make apparent; the planes respond fairly realistically, turning well, climbing or diving with the kind of speed and resistance that their size (and one would assume design, though I'm hardly the WWII plane buff I was more than a decade ago) would warrant. Most of the time, though, you'll be more concerned with just trying to fill another plane with lead, and that can be a chore in and of itself thanks to your bullets apparently just passing through other planes (I exhausted what must've been a thousand rounds trying to take down another plane before I crashed into it and had to start the whole mission over again).
The attempt to offer a breadth of flying experiences for multiple sides of The Big One is evident here; you can fly separate campaigns for the British Royal Air Force, the Luftwaffe, the U.S. Air Force and even the USSR, all following the timeline of the war and some of the advancements that came with it (stuff like the addition of dumbfired rockets instead of just machine guns or heavy bombers, for instance). Some missions can even be mercifully opted out of once you've failed them, and they all at least attempt to follow the chronology of historical skirmishes.
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