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Iron Aces
Platform:  Dreamcast
# of Players:  1-2
Developer:  Xicat
Publisher:  Xicat
Features:  Rumble Pak Compatible
Ratings:  Everyone
Memory Req.:  
Iron Aces: High Speed WWII Aerial Combat is a pretty cool flight simulator set in the World War II era. The actual fun of free form dog fighting and bombing, and the diversity of the missions is enough to keep the average gamer hooked despite the gameís shortcomings. It can be very difficult at times, and the between-action scenes are pretty long winded, which makes for a frustratingly slow cycle of failing and retrying some of the missions. Itís not a huge drawback, though, because, overall, Infogrames has done a really good job of making the game play very diverse and keeping things interesting. Not only that, but the maneuverability of the planes, the chance to let the little daredevil inside all of us shine through, and the Dreamcastís smooth graphics really make you feel like an expert flying ace.

More than just fun, maneuvering is a necessary part of the game. There are no fixed techniques Ė the planes fly like WWII planes did, and you basically just have to figure things out for yourself. I think this is the coolest part of the game. The first time I skimmed a bomber within 10 feet of the oceanís surface, pulled up just before colliding with an air craft carrier and dropped a big fat one right on itís runway Ė I felt like Luke Skywalker taking out the Death Star. Dog fighting requires a lot of maneuvering as well; weather youíre chasing someone down or dodging flak. The designers have made speed and the type of plane youíre flying the deciding factors concerning how well you can move around up there in the wild blue yonder. Damage doesnít so much play a factor, though occasionally your plane will smoke and cloud your vision. Finally, all of your rolls, loops, dives, and what-have-you must be carried out without the use of a horizon. This can be tricky when youíre making a steep climb (itís easy to get lost in the clouds) and when youíre flying close to the ground (itís easy to turn down and to the side, instead of just to the side). All of this contributes to the feeling that your success is based on personal skill, rather than how well you know the game or understand a mission Ė it makes you feel like a WWII ace.

In addition to the fun of freeform maneuvering, there are a few other aspects of the game that keep things fresh and interesting. First of all, you have the choice of which plane youíll be maneuvering. Different planes are made available to you for different missions, and you always have a choice between at least two. Though some of these planes donít seem to be all that different, many have very distinct characteristics of speed, movement, and firepower Ė which isnít just how much damage a plane can do, but also the arrangement of its weapons and its accuracy.

Another fun aspect of the game is the difference in mission objectives and settings. The three main mission types include bombing, defending, and recon. Each of these utilize very different attributes of a plane, and you need to fly differently in each situation. In one, youíll be very confrontational Ė charging every enemy plane you can find, in another, youíll be desperately hoping not to be spotted, then running away with your tail between your legs if you are. These broad categories are further broken down by what your actual mission objective is, so you really donít get bored with the missions, even when playing several of the same type in a row. Also, things are further mixed up by playing at different times of day and night. The time of day is static throughout a mission, but there are daytime and nighttime runs, as well as a dawn/dusk setting. There are also different types of locations that your flight will take place over, but that doesnít really change the dynamics of the game the way the direction and amount of light do. With so many differences in game play, both within specific missions and throughout the game, itís hard to get bored.

Of course, every game has its faults, and with Iron Aces, the problem is the frustration factor. There are two main contributors to this problem, which wouldnít be so bad on their own, but form a lethal combination when mixed. First of all Ė the game is damn hard. The designers made a couple of decisions while they were putting this game together that I just donít think make any sense. My biggest gripe is against the panoramic view the screen automatically switches to when you drop a bomb. Itís cool in the training runs, when all you have to do is drop a bomb and watch the ship blow up Ė but when youíre flying in low at some kind of weird angle, dodging flak, and trying to maneuver your plane just right at high speed so your attack will be on target, the last thing you need is for your view to change when you are desperately trying to make your get-away and avoid smashing into the surface of the sea. You can toggle this off in the options menu, but Iím still pissed off that they set it as the default. Defense missions are fairly difficult as well, because you need to take out bombers before they drop their bombs, and there are usually a few of them, or a few waves of them, that will appear at different times and from different directions. What Iím really trying to get at here is that many of the missions are hard enough that you will end up replaying them at least a couple of times, and some times, a whole lot more. Like I said, thatís not so bad on its own, but the fact that the between-action scenes are so slow and long makes it really terrible. The amount of time from when you screw up a mission to the point when you actually get to start flying again is around a minute and includes an ego crushing ďFAILUREĒ screen, which lasts at least 20 seconds. All you can do is sit there and watch the slowly moving letters and listen to the depressing music and curse for 20 whole seconds. Then you have to decline to watch the replay of your defeat, then you have to move passed a screen showing how many things you did or didnít destroy, and so on until, finally, you start all over again, and maybe screw up again. If thereís any reason not to like this game, this is definitely the one. It can be frustrating as hell.

Overall, Iron Aces is a pretty fun game, though, and there are little things that give the game some character as well as serving practical functions. Your flight commander, James Baker Ė the Unskippable, always has some dumb-sounding and almost useless advice for each mission youíll be flying which you just canít get passed hearing, and the subtitled chatter of your squad mates lets you know when youíve hit something, in case youíre too far away to see. You can watch a replay of each mission you fly right after you finish it, view the action from lots of different angles, and save it to your VMU if you want. This is actually a pretty cool feature if you like playing the daredevil. Thereís nothing better, after pulling off some truly heroic maneuvering, than sitting back, watching it over and over, and then bringing it to friendsí house to brag. Thereís also a VS mode where 2 people can face off with teams of between 1 and 7 fighters in either a dogfight or a bombing mission. You can even combine forces and take on the computer, or just go head to head with the machine by yourself. If you do get frustrated with the game, you can always put together a 7-member attack force and take out your aggression on a solitary, computer-controlled fighter pilot.

Urban Martin

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