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Lethal Skies II
Platform:  Playstation 2
# of Players:  1-2
Developer:  Asmik Ace
Publisher:  Sammy Studios
Features:  Ahalog Control, Vibration Function, i-Link compati
Ratings:  Teen
Memory Req.:  740kb (varies for Replay save
A bit of history before the review: The Lethal Skies series actually got its start on the PS One in Japan as Sidewinder, a game that was tweaked a bit and released here as Bogey Dead 6 (which ended up shipping in Japan as Sidewinder U.S.A.). We missed out on a deeper PS sequel and at least two PS2 games (Sidewinder II, Sidewinder MAX, and the recently released Sidewinder V), but fortunately, Sammy Studios is smart enough to realize that the US market has been absolutely starving when it comes to flight combat games.

That said and done, Lethal Skies II is an excellent follow up to the previous game in the series, and one well worth your time and money if you're looking for a great blend of arcade and simulation action. While most gamers will automatically consider Namco's Ace Combat series tops in the genre, the developers behind the Lethal Skies games (Asmik Ace) have been keeping pace from the early days by focusing on a bit more depth in aspects of gameplay, presentation, and storyline. In that respect, my personal preference runs a bit more in favor of the LS games and the improvements make it a must-buy title if you're a fan of the genre.

Lethal Skies II continues the story from the last game and has a much better mission structure which makes events flow a lot better. Refinements in the control, graphics, and overall presentation give the game a tougher feel from the outset, and it's even tougher to put down once you start playing. Plot-wise, LSII picks up from the last game: A year-long war between the Frontier Nations (FN) and the World Order Reorganization Front (WORF) combined with the ravages of global warming has left the Earth a pretty tense place. You're dispatched to check out a report of unidentified planes headed toward an FN city, and shortly afterward, you're thrown into a deadly worldwide conflict as Team SW is put back into action.

There's a lot more to the story, and you'll see some post mission reporting that'll have you wanting to know the other side's story. In a great touch, the ability to play as the enemy side is here as an unlockable bonus, so you'll definitely be keeping this game for quite a while. As before, you start out with two planes to choose from, and you earn new ones as you complete missions with a high enough ranking.

There are 19 planes and (20 missions) this time out, from the F-14D Tomcat and A-10 Thunderbolt to a couple of cool top-secret jets that you'll be more than happy to pilot. As before, you can jump into the game proper or take on a robust tutorial that'll prepare you for the heavy bit of challenge ahead. The controls have been tightened up quite a bit from the last game, and you can choose from Novice or Advanced flight modes, as well as Easy, Normal, or Hard gameplay. On Easy and Normal, Chaff is launched automatically to distract enemy guided missiles, while on Hard, you'll need to press in the R3 button to fire it. On any mode, the game is pretty challenging, especially if you try to take on more than one pilot with no assist from your wingmen.

Some missions will have you zipping and twisting through narrow canyons or taking on numerous ground and air forces. While a number of the missions are solo affairs, in other missions you can issue orders to wingmen with the D-pad and they'll respond by taking on the enemy with swiftness and precision. The enemy AI is squarely focused on blowing you out of the sky by any means necessary, and as the game takes place in the future (gotta love that 20XX date), you'll see some really cool enemy aircraft designs as well a a few huge gun-toting surprises here and there.

Visually, the game is also improved over the last Lethal Skies, featuring even better looking planes and more environmental detail. There are some areas that could be better rendered (objects close to or on ground level and some explosions), but you'll be so busy trying to survive a mission that you'll only notice stuff like that in the excellent replay mode. One really amazing graphic technique is used for the cutscenes, and it's bound to make a few jaws drop. It looks as if a piece of painted war art comes to life and
animates fluidly and realistically. Coupled with the excellent narration, it's one of those things that make you want to see a complete game done in this style.

Speaking of style, the fantastically bold menus throughout the game practically jump off the screen, and the game also uses a few different styles of music from hard rock to mild techno beat to add emphasis to the gameplay. You can pick from 27 tracks to play to as you go through the game, or fly with no music at all and just dig the excellent sound design here. Every plane you'll fly has a distinct engine whine, your wingmen toss off a few choice comments and the occasional joke as they're in the air with you and you'll even hear some cool positional effects if you switch views during gameplay or replays.

While the game has a number of really nice multiplayer modes (a first for the series on the PS2), including i-Link play for those of you with one of those elusive cables (try Sony directly), 2 TVs and a friend with his or her own copy of Lethal Skies II, it would have been cool to see an i-Link co-op feature added to the single-player game. Then again, an online mode would be an even better idea, but I guess that's what sequels are for.

Overall, Lethal Skies II is a very solid air combat game that easily stacks up to any of its higher-profile console counterparts, and it can only get better from here. Asmik Ace is definitely dedicated to the preserving and improving the quality of the series and this is one game that deserves a much larger following. Give it a shot, and you'll be more than pleasantly surprised.


Greg Wilcox

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