Although we've never been behind the joystick of a jet fighter, we imagine it's quite an intense experience. Engaging in tightly fought dogfights, racing around locations at speeds that threaten to rip your cheeks off must be fairly awesome. Yet, strangely, although M.A.C.H. features both dogfights and plenty of speed, it completely fails to capture anything even remotely approaching excitement.
Things actually don't start off too badly: the game has a decent level of polish with some nice graphical flares here and there. Gameplay wise, M.A.C.H. keeps things simple. Although it's a game featuring planes, it doesn't delve into the realms of a flight sim. Instead it offers a far more arcade-y experience that sees you racing against other pimped-up planes or dodging enemy fire in arena-based dogfights. In races, players go up against seven other high-speed jets in a three-lap sprint around a series of courses. Meanwhile, dogfights task you with collecting missiles, mines or cluster bombs and using them to take down your opposition, in a bid to get the most kills within a set amount of time.
In either mode, controls are very easy to grasp, making the process of barrel rolling, avoiding enemy fire and screaming round hairpin bends a doddle - because they're just a button press away. Unfortunately, while we appreciate M.A.C.H.'s flight path to accessibility, it's also very restrictive. Because it's so easy to become a top gun, the races and dogfights never pose much of a challenge. Even as the enemy AI gets smarter in the more difficult tournaments, you can still best most of your opponents with very little effort. Things aren't helped by the extremely forgiving collision detection, which sees your plane just bumping off most obstacles littered around the courses, despite the fact you'd probably be atomised if they hit you at full pelt in real-life. Should you smash into something more significant however - say, a mountain - your plane is magically returned to the track instantaneously and you're back up to speed within seconds.
Forgiving gameplay is all well and good, but becomes more of an issue when you factor in the extremely simplistic course design in M.A.C.H. Although you occasionally come across the odd hairpin or other obstacle, there's never anything particularly challenging to get your piloting skills around. What's more, although courses are both pretty and varied (including a Mayan jungle and icy tundra), there are only five to sink your teeth into. By the end of the final tournament you'll have raced through the same locations enough times to have them permanently etched into your cranium. And, obviously, knowing exactly when tight bends and only obstacles are coming up doesn't make things any more difficult.
Arena-based dogfights also suffer, thanks to some unimaginative and, ultimately, shallow design decisions. As with the racing element, it's initially fun dashing around, collecting weapons and shooting down bogies. However, repetition soon sets in, and you find yourself locked in a pattern of picking up missiles (which remain in the same position on each map), locking onto distant enemies and firing away to destroy them. Technically, you can also close in on your opponents and let loose with both barrels of your guns - but given the devastation caused by rockets, it's unlikely you'll be able to muster the enthusiasm to waste your time bothering.
As an incentive to work your way through races and dogfights, you're rewarded with new planes and money to upgrade your vehicles. Unfortunately, the customisation process is fairly basic, limited to three potential upgrades for the fins, engine, guns, etc. With six upgradable parts on each plane - and regular monetary reward - it doesn't take much effort before you've got yourself a blisteringly fast, ultra-manoeuvrable fighter - making proceedings even easier.
Of course if you've got a burning urge to show off your pimped-out planes - not that there's much kudos in doing so, given how easy it is to max out your fleet - players can always go up against seven pals in the multiplayer mode. Thankfully, dogfights are a little more involving when playing against fellow humans. With the increased challenge of real, live opponents, it's no longer enough to rely on a volley of rockets to sail through a battle. Of course, it's also far more satisfying to hear the agonised cries of your friends when a well-timed missile tears their plane apart. It's worth mentioning though that each player needs a copy of the game to participate in races or dogfights on every level and with customised planes. Otherwise matches are limited to a single map and one jet. Let's be honest too - the chances of finding seven other people with a copy of M.A.C.H. are probably lower than the chance of us being allowed to fly a real jet fighter one day.
©2007, IGN Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved