Flight combat games on the U.S. Playstation are about as rare as…well, flight combat sims on the U.S. Playstation. Just about every other genre has made it to the console, so it's a bit odd that there have been only a handful of games released for all of us flyboys out there. For those of you who thought Ace Combat 3 was a bit on the easy side, Eagle One will give you nightmares for weeks, long after you're done with it. It has all the makings of a great game, but a few annoyances keep it from being as good as it should.
First of all, the Harrier is not exactly the easiest plane in the world to fly, and despite the simplified control scheme here, you'll want to spend a lot of time in the Training level to avoid some massive frustration later. Secondly, the graphics are a bit problematic in spots. Large objects, like your plane, are generally rendered well, but are a bit too jagged around the edges. You'll notice this even more, should you have a big screen TV. The ground textures are pretty clean, without the terrain "tiling", like in the Ace Combat games. But if you get too close, welcome to Pixel City! There's some slight distance fogging to keep the frame rate up, but nothing to complain about. Stuff on the ground however, is pretty tricky to see, especially when the pixelly terrain makes your eyes all buggy. Since most of the missions have you going up against ground targets, you'll want to get real good at targeting from afar. There's another problem or two that I'll touch on in a bit, so keep reading.
Even with its flaws, the game is still quite involving. The opening movie seems to be composed of actual news footage edited together to spell out the game's plot. A Soviet aircraft carrier supposedly sinks with all hands, some scientists go missing, Hawaii loses all it's electrical power due to an electro-magnetic pulse, and all hell breaks loose after that. Soon after, a terrorist force occupies Hawaii, and it's up to you to help bring them down. Before each of the 25 missions, you get a detailed briefing (great voice acting in the game, by the way), and trust me; you'll have your hands full keeping up with all there is to do in the game.
The missions range from shooting down some very pesky MIGS as they bomb your base, rescuing a number of hostages, some tough dogfighting, and air-sea battles. In fact, the game almost seems like Syphon Filter, but in a plane, thanks to the wide variety of objectives. But in SF, you had checkpoints to make the game less frustrating. Here, if you go through a particularly grueling mission, and say, crash into the sea or ground at the very end- you'll probably want to jump out of the nearest window. You won't fly at all, by the way. Thing is, the game tries to balance a serious story with arcade-style controls combined with the feel of a simulation. If that sounds confusing, well that's how the game plays. I wasn't expecting Afterburner or anything like that, but you'll need the patience of a saint, and the wings of an angel to finish this one.
There are some nice features, such as a two-player mode, and the ability to pull off stunts and unlock more features, so the game isn't a cut and dried, dull as chalk simulation. The music in the game is really well done heroic orchestral stuff, a nice change from all the techno/alterna-rock stuff in too many games these days. The best thing I can say about this game is that it makes me want to see just what the developers can do with the Playstation 2, so chalk up at least one system sale for Sony, in that respect. You can clearly see the direction they wanted to go with this one, but the hardware wasn't exactly up to the task at hand. I guess that I answered my own question about why there aren't so many flying games on the system here, but then again, Warhawk is what, six years old, and it's still the best game in the genre.
All in all, Eagle One is a pretty decent game that will no doubt please most flight sim fans, as well as those looking for a game that won't be finished in one sitting. Hopefully the PS2 follow-up, should there be one, will improve on the original somewhat.
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