When Ace Combat 2 was released, just about everyone who played it consisdered it to be the best home console flying game ever- but for some reason or another the title was produced in limited quantities, and to this day is a bit tough to track down in decent shape. After some long delays, the sequel is here, and I suppose you'd like to know if you should pick it up, or just keep searching vainly for the older game. Well, call off the bloodhounds, Sherlock- Ace Combat 3 blasts its predecessor out of the sky and brings this great series screaming into the new century with superior graphics, sounds, and playability.
Like the redesigned Ridge Racer Type 4, Namco has placed the new Ace Combat in the near future- a well-designed, graphically slick age of cool techno tunes and super streamlined, futuristic planes, boats, and buildings. There are some familiar-looking aircraft here, but many are original designs that show the artists at Namco in full creative swing. The look of this game blends so well with R4's new look, that you wonder what Tekken 4 will look like, if they use some of the same art team on that project. But back to the game in question- Ace Combat 3 is engineered to hook all from novices to the experienced flyboys with it's super stylized menus and easy to navigate option screens. Players can customize just about everything in the game, and it's best to play around with the settings, and fly a mission or two until you find what works best for you. Control is super precise, and the game also supports not only the older Digital pad, and Dual Shock Controller, but the NegCon as well, if you actually have one!
Throughout the game, you'll find yourself piloting at least 22 aircraft, from jets to a cool (and real looking) futuristic space shuttle, complete with lasers! The game's environments are very realistic and convincing for the most part, and you can see that Namco has maxed out the power of the PS to it's fullest. Visual effects are plentiful, such as moonlight reflecting off of the ocean, blinding lens flares, or vapor trails galore in a heated dogfight. There are two stock viewpoints to select from, either close behind the plane, or a first-person "cockpit" view, complete with HUD. Personally, I'd have preferred a few more selections, plus the ability to tailor the HUD a bit more than on or off. If you pause during a mission, you can select a dynamic view that switches over to your target as it's getting hit- I recommend leaving this OFF, as it can actually cause you to crash more often than not! Occasionally, there's a tiny bit of polygon breakup, and flying too close to mountains or the ground will give you a face full of pixels- but other than that, everything is rock-solid and believeable here. There are lots of fantastic in-game cinemas to wow over, and they give the game a very movie-like feel.
The import version of the game had an excellent and deep story mode that featured some nice anime-style art and scenes, but sadly, it's not included in the U.S. port. This is a big mistake, in my opinion, as most of the game now comes off as a simple "fly and shoot all the red targets on the map before time runs out" affair, rather than a game that give you the feel of taking on the persona of a young pilot moving up in the ranks, while being tempted to join the enemy. Namco did leave in many aspects of this story, but it's mostly spread out in the game via a series of text screens that leave you wanting to do more then just fly your plane. The slightly detached feeling i got from this left me a bit bored about halfway through the game, but the thrill of just wanting to see what the next mission had in store kept me flying (Most missions are a bit short as well, and the ability to choose a free flight mode would have been a nice addition). These are about the only things I found wrong with the game, but only diehard Ace Combat fans who've played the import will complain. Still, I'd have loved to have the choice of being able to play the Story Mode or not, rather than having that decision made for me. Also, there's also no two-player game this time out, no doubt due to the huge amount of great programming, but it's really hard to sit and watch someone play this game without wanting to pick up a controller yourself, and go head to head!
In the end, Ace Combat 3- Electrosphere is the best flying game on the Playstation, at least here in the States. There have been dozens of flight sim games released in Japan, but for some reason they just don't get ported over often enough, if at all. Now that Namco has put out the best of the lot, it's hard to imagine anyone else coming close on the current PS, at least... I can't even imagine what Namco has in store for the series on the Playstation 2, but judging by the movies I've seen of Ridge Racer V in action, we're going to be absolutely blown away by the next Ace Combat. For now, Electrosphere is THE way to fly- over and out!
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